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Why are Sega, Capcom and Konami trying to kill off the beat 'em up?

A sobering look at the release sheet

Today I underwent two important realisations. One: that I'd managed to get as far as the breakfast table (or at least, the breakfast window sill) without cottoning onto the fact that my trousers were on backwards. Two: that three of my most anticipated games are coming out in the UK before the end of February 2013.

There's Anarchy Reigns on 11th January, a PlatinumGames effort whose core concept must be shrouded in secrecy lest it cause nearby brains to catch fire. Not far behind you've got DmC: Devil May Cry on 15th January, a parallel universe reboot developed by Ninja Theory, the team behind Andy Serkis and Friends: The Videogame. Finally, there's Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on 21st February. I wasn't too fussed about this one when Kojima re-announced it earlier in the year - I've never really bonded with Metal Gear's wonted taste for exposition. But my apathy turned to exhilaration on discovering that, among other things, you get to dice a helicopter like a cucumber.

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Continuing this article's thrilling enumerative tendency, all these games have three things in common. One, they're 3D beat 'em ups (that's to say, specimens of the hack 'n' slash genre, otherwise known as a distinct subgenre of the beat 'em up - thanks, comments thread). Two, they all have utterly awful titles - Revengeance in particular is up there with Infinite Undiscovery for Worst Tongue-Twister ever. And three, they're going to die. Die like humpback whales parachuting into the middle of the Sahara Desert.

Revengeance should have the softest landing, as Metal Gear is by far the biggest property. Devil May Cry also has something of a reputation to trade on, though it has to reckon with an immense, lingering cloud of utterly misguided fan hatred. But only a handful of franchises have the momentum, the pull to offset the terrible draining effect of the January-February period, and much as I love Raiden and Dante, I can't see them making it through to March unscathed. Anarchy Reigns? They might as well ship it to the surface of the sun, for all the copies it'll sell.

There's a special kind of sadness which comes from reading late winter sales charts. As far as you lucky, trusting, innocent readers concerned, it's all roses - somebody comes top, somebody comes second, and everybody has a massive, enjoyable fight in the comments. Those of us who get to peruse the associated figures have a gloomier time of things. Demand is at lowest ebb across January and February, as consumers recover from their Christmas excesses.

Ergo, the games that sell best generally sell a fraction of what they might if they were released in October or November, the commonly agreed-upon yearly "sweet spot". I can't tell you how depressed I was earlier this year, when a kindly internet person mocked me for "low-balling" a certain title after spotting it atop the week's all-format chart. The game in question had barely scraped 7,000 sales.

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Again, only a handful of titles can weather those conditions - Call of Duty, FIFA and GTA amongst them. The average beat 'em up doesn't have a chance, and these particular beat 'em ups have each other to contend with besides the high gravity commercial environment. It's not so much unsound thinking as creative genocide. Somebody is sending these games to their death, readers. These brilliant-looking, original games.

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