The genre of co-op beat-em-ups has been becoming more and more saturated after the great success of Castle Crashers during the early years of XBLA.
However, even though the genre itself has seen more releases, none have managed to take the title of beat-em-up king of XBLA from Castle Crashers.
While Final Exam also misses the mark due to a few notable issues, it still ends up being a title worthwhile for those who are fans of the genre.
The story of Final Exam begins and ends with four friends going to a party and being attacked by monsters. Even though one could make the argument that events unfold during the course of its eight stages, why they happen is a mystery to me even after having completed the game in full.
Luckily, this being a beat-em-up, the story doesn’t matter at all. Instead, the problems with the events that unfold within the stages have more to do with the mundane, repetitive objectives they have laid out for the players.
Being told to follow objective markers to four pieces of scrap metal and bringing them back just to be told that I need to go pick up another item off the ground that I passed by already without any indication of its importance is an exercise in patience, and this kind of scenario happened time and time again.
Also, whoever thought it was a really fun idea to have the player carry around explosive barrels to a destination multiple times and have them blow up if they get hit by an enemy once should probably re-evaluate their definition of “fun”.
Instead of creating interesting scenarios where I would have to think outside the box, I was left doing the same sort of activity that wasn’t fun the first time over and over again.
Fortunately, even though the objectives were uninspiring and frankly, a hassle to accomplish, the actual beat-em-up game play felt responsive and satisfying.
Each of the four characters available have their own starting stats in things like strength (melee damage) and precision (gun damage). On top of that, they all have a unique skill tree that defines how they are played. For example, Cassy specialized in quick attacks and using dance like movements to deal damage to foes. Sean was a gun specialist and could even unlock the ability to have unlimited bullets for a short time.
As the player gains more CP and SP by completing secondary objectives in each stage, they can upgrade the characters in between the missions to fit their play style.
Each stage also holds a host of secrets to be collected and a number of new weapons, so it made sense to try and explore each one thoroughly, but that was a bit of a hassle due to the infinite spawning rate of enemies in most situations.
As the player racks up combos by repeated attacks without taking damage, the combo counter goes up granting bonus points that the player can “confirm” and bank after a certain point. Since the combo multiplier increased exponentially, I was left thinking when I should bank those points before I lost it by getting hit.
I was able to do things like dodging attacks quickly then knocking enemies into the air and juggling them as I threw grenades down on the monsters waiting for me below as the combat felt quick and responsive.
Still, there was a serious lack of variety in the enemy types as I was left fighting the same four types of enemies with very small variations thrown in here and there. Worse yet is the fact that there is actually only two truly unique bosses in the whole game and that’s quite unfortunate given the combat itself is fairly well executed.
Given this is most certainly a co-op focused title, I was able to go on XBL to test the functionality and came away relatively pleased. While there weren’t too many games to join, when I created the session and left the “drop in” co-op option on, I quickly found that I was with a full group of people and everything worked relatively smoothly save for a few lag issues here and there.
The stages’ difficulty was tuned on the fly as more players joined in to keep things challenging, but I never found myself dying excessively due to the difficulty.
Once the 3-4 hour campaign is finished, a new difficulty and time attack mode is unlocked for those who are looking for some extra challenge.
While it’s not a title that will redefine the genre of beat-em-ups, it can be a relatively good time given you can grab some friends to play with.
Fun Tidbit: The charge attack on the sledgehammer is amazing! Abuse it as soon as you get it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.