If smashing your way through gaggles of thugs and low-life bozos sounds like a good time to you (and let’s be honest, of course it does) then you certainly have your choice of solid beat ‘em ups to choose from. The genre has seen incalculable iterations since the days of Double Dragon and Streets of Rage, but a surprisingly small selection of them have ever really introduced anything revolutionary to the genre that fundamentally changed the format. This has turned out to be completely fine though, seeing as the genre is still as alive and round-house kicking as it has ever been. It’s a genre that often finds itself far more concerned with style and execution than any major innovation, and Midnight Fight Express seems to have a very clear understanding of that with its attractive visuals, crunchy combat, and speedy sense of progression.
Midnight Fight Express wastes no time getting you into the thick of things. With its story being told from the perspective of our captive hero Babyface as he recalls the various brawls and levels that lead up to that moment. These recollections are the stages you get to play through, and it only spends a couple minutes at the top introducing you to the situation. Babyface is a former criminal who finds himself enlisted by a mysterious drone into a final push to save the city from the same notorious gang of dangerous hooligans with which he was formerly associated, and that’s about all you need to know for a game like this, but Midnight Fight Express does make some notable strides to flesh out its world with highly detailed levels that really sell the setting of an overrun city on the brink and the occasional well-written conversation with foes and friends alike that you’ll come across throughout the game. Not to mention, the drone character dropping some exposition and gameplay tips here and there. It’s not a story or a cast of characters that will blow you away, but these efforts do bring out the game’s tone and personality well and add some extra pizazz that the game might have otherwise missed out on.
"It’s a genre that often finds itself far more concerned with style and execution than any major innovation, and Midnight Fight Express seems to have a very clear understanding of that with its attractive visuals, crunchy combat, and speedy sense of progression."
More important than anything though is how fun Midnight Fight Express makes bashing your way through its many altercations. The combat is fluid, fast, and kinetic. Standard combos are punctuated with lots of temporary weapons that you can throw or wield until they break, as well as throwable objects like trash cans and boxes that you can instantly send careening across the room to chip away at an enemy’s guard or just keep one occupied for a couple seconds while you focus on somebody else. I also like how we see any sort of hard lock-on function traded in for a subtle indicator of which enemy is currently being focused on, which makes aiming your attacks feel more manual, but still removes the mystery of who you’re aiming at. Which allows for the best of both worlds in a way.
The game has a healthy number of enemy types and after the quick introduction you’ll then be introduced to new sorts of foes at a steady clip and while they are nicely varied in concept, they do start to blur together rather fast. You’ve got larger brutes that are harder to stagger, blade-welding dicers, grapplers, and a nice selection of others, which, for the most part, don’t put up much of a fundamentally different type of challenge than their counterparts, but the variety still manages to contribute something towards the game feeling fuller than many of its contemporaries. As do some of the little scenes you’ll stumble into like enemies tormenting citizens or arguing amongst each other before they realize you’re there.
A stylish mix of occasional slow-motion finishers and an outstanding suite of punchy sound effects top off the combat nicely and keep it exciting well into the game’s 40 levels. As far as difficulty goes, I found it easy enough to mash my way through a lot of the game’s bigger brawls, especially if you upgrade the more passive abilities early on, but the game encourages variety and style so heavily, with bigger rewards at the end of the level and being able to save cool GIFs of your combat, that you’ll find yourself far more interested in mixing things up and challenging yourself with different approaches than merely surviving.
"A stylish mix of occasional slow-motion finishers and an outstanding suite of punchy sound effects top off the combat nicely and keep it exciting well into the game’s 40 levels."
Once you do claim those inflated rewards at the end of the levels, you can start dumping that money into the plethora of wardrobe options and spending unlock points in the game’s six skill trees that you get to visit in between stages, and if you do consistently well with keeping your enemies guessing you’ll get through more of them in less time, keeping you ahead of the curve. Mediocre performance will still keep you on a steady pace of unlocking new moves but again, you’ll find yourself organically motivated to overperform more often than not. Overall, I think it would have fared better with a slightly more nuanced combat system that made you pay for your mistakes a little more heavily, but it’s hard to complain too much when the short levels do such a good job of obscuring the combat’s few shortcomings.
The look of Midnight Fight Express is a unique one for the genre, especially among modern games. The simplified, sleek look of the characters pop off the gritter, more detailed backgrounds nicely and give the game a visual texture that fits surprisingly well with the overhead isometric viewpoint. It’s not the first game to look like this, but it certainly is one of the better ones in recent memory. More importantly, it runs well and should be pretty easy to run at full speed on anything with at least 8GB of RAM and a GTX 660, which at this point, covers a massive percentage of even the most budget-friendly gaming PCs.
Driving home the style is the sound and music, which I touched on earlier but it bears elaborating. The soundtrack in this game is stone cold awesome, and I can’t imagine a better genre of music for this game than this edgy-techno that somehow feels like a not-too-distant descendant of dubstep and early 2000s pop at the same time. The intensity of that coupled with the near constant cracks of you landing massive blows on enemies is a soundscape that does just as much to jam the game’s style into your ear canals as the graphics do to pound it into your eyes. It might lose a little bit of its luster after a while, but for the most part I was thrilled to hear every little thing this game wanted me to.
"Driving home the style is the sound and music. The soundtrack in this game is stone cold awesome, and I can’t imagine a better genre of music for this game than this edgy-techno that somehow feels like a not-too-distant descendant of dubstep and early 2000s pop at the same time."
Tense combat encounters that reward versatility and adaptation is a key ingredient for any beat-em-up to work, but the option to mash your way through a lot of Midnight Fight without thinking too much also means that the more casual gamers among us can enjoy it just as well. This could go down as a minus for those of us looking for the next Sifu, but from where I’m sitting it looks like a pretty well-maintained balance for what it is. Aside from that, and the numerous enemy types that never really add up to a particularly impressive roster of opponents, this game has plenty to offer fans of the genre with its finely-tuned style, aggressive pacing, and surprising number of ways to approach each and every dust-up.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Great look; Cool setting; Fluid, kinetic combat; Fast progression; Addictive replayability.
Enemy roster is large but same-y; Combat is a tad on the easier side.