Hit Me Baby, One More Time.
Platform: X-Box 360 / Price: £14.99 / Time Played: 18 Hours
It’s not a party in video game land until somebody dies.
Based on this logic, then, the final collaboration between Platinum Games and Sega is the ultimate send-off bash; it’s not just that things die. They burn, they boil, they explode, they fry, they dissolve, they get sliced and diced a hundred different ways, they taste a thousand shades of metal from chainsaws to bullets. It’s a buffet of sheer, unadulterated violence, seasoned liberally with the course salt of Platinum’s distinctive ranking systems and the sharp, spiky peppery hit of challenge that so encapsulates their work. Anarchy Reigns is the sort of game you know only Platinum Games would dare come up with in such a modern age. It’s unashamedly, unapologetically and unconditionally insane. And yet, playing it makes perfect sense.
If there’s one thing I’ve come to expect from Platinum Games, it’s the best use of HD visuals of any developer right now. Where so many keep it quite dull and muted, Platinum Games know that the real joy of having an HD screen is to turn the colours right up to eleven; this allows them the kind of playful design abandon that would send many lesser developers scuttling into the shadows. Trash enemies explode into satisfying blue bursts of mutant gore, there are lights and flashes and neon effects. Things explode. Things crash. Bombs are dropped from planes. Helicopters tailspin into a satisfying end conclusion. Everything is bright, breezy and satisfying, in spite of the anarchic spirit that lays within.
Which is strange because Anarchy Reigns is more of a side-liner to the very artsy black-and-white-and-red MadWorld, from the Wii. Where MadWorld left off, Anarchy Reigns tends to take over. There are plenty of puns and sound effects but unfortunately no Greg Proops this time on the announcer system (shame! FOR SHAAAAAME!) . Jack is suffering from the loss of his daughter. A new law enforcement group is in town. Mutants are going manic. There’s a tentacle joke. Frankly, the plot is so all over the place there’s very little point in trying to focus on it. All you really need to know is that this is frankly as close as we’re likely ever to come to a proper Sega-fuelled Streets of Rage (and they missed a real trick not having Blaze Fielding in there!).
The combat is rather simple, certainly nothing like the fluidity that we have grown to love from the likes of Bayonetta, but surprisingly it feels very solid and meaty. Things happen, and react, and everything is in its place as long as you know what to do. This dependable sensation is quite nice, although sometimes item usage seems to get stuck and you end up wasting perfectly good items without really needing to. But with things in good supply throughout the single player – which is stereotypical in every single way with a cast to rival an entire season of Jeremy Kyle – it’s not always the end of the world. There are plenty of good ways of practising in the game world, with a steady stream of enemies to test yourself on before the ranking events and a chaotic, broken landscape begging to be explored by dropping down holes, floating up via fans or opening up teleportation black holes to get about. It’s true that the single player does at times feel like it’s TOO silly, that really they should have reigned it back from anarchy just a little. With so much variety, with racing and shooting events to offset more laboured but still impressive boss battles, Anarchy Reigns does at times tend to live up to its name all too well.
But I can’t stay mad at the single player because I love a mad story, I love the craziness and I adore the lonely brawling. I’m the sort of person who does play Dynasty Warriors to laugh along at the voice acting and the plot anyway, so I am a weird sort of person, but Jack’s story (which I focused on) is endearing and interesting. I didn’t expect much. I got a whole lot more than I bargained for, in spite of the retro-feel of it. So there. I LIKED the single player.
Anarchy Reigns also comes replete with a multiplayer option, which is even more interesting. It’s quite busy and showy, with a raft of characters (including Bayonetta) each fighting in an arena. The 16-man Battle Royale is the highlight but Capture the Flag is also worth a decent mention. The only real problem I have with the multiplayer is that against strangers it all feels a bit… gruelling. They’re obviously much better than me and I can’t withhold the beer when they’re winning, but some will love this tough, unforgiving landscape and more power to them for it. Against friends, and people you know, this really is a riot and a half though; it shines when you’re in good company, brighter than almost any multiplayer game I can think of to date. Stay in good humour and it’s a gift.
But not as much as a gift as the price; £15. Anarchy Reigns finds itself on UK shores at a less-than-budget retail price, and the real shame is that so few will buy it worried that this speaks of the quality of what is inside, and it’s just not true. Clearly, no-one at this send-off bash is interested in making any money; Sega and Platinum Games have blown an insane budget on a game with arguably terribly niche appeal, but if you really are into that niche and you’re on a budget, then this really is the party to be getting into. Lately brawlers like DmC and Ninja Gaiden 3 have been very serious, very intent on mechanics and ensuring stuff works. Platinum just seem to have a knack for that naturally, so everything else is just gravy – the fun, the jokes, the colour and the crazy-ass story all interweave but are underpinned by a solid, competent and reasoned combat system. The party has booze but they’ve laid on a minibus with a designated driver. There is some sanity that grounds the insanity.
With two more top-drawer Platinum brawlers due out this year – Metal Gear Revengeance and Bayonetta 2 – you’d think perhaps Platinum would be running out of steam. That Anarchy Reigns would show signs of fatigue. But no. It’s top-drawer entertainment; not as refined as Bayonetta nor as stylish as DmC, but satisfying and endearing in equal measure. It’s a proper punch-up in a decidedly old-school vein, a throwback to days gone by. And in doing so, it feels more forward-thinking than many of its contemporaries because ultimately, it’s fun. The single player is fun. In good company, the multiplayer is fun. You get two lots of fun.
It’s not perfect, of course not. Some boss battles are too easy whilst some are crazy-hard. The multiplayer can be a bit savage to the uninitiated, and sometimes you kind of miss the grace that Platinum’s finest had. But when it’s this good, when it’s this much fun and when it’s that cheap, you’re nitpicking at best. If sales of this can convince Sega to get on with a proper Streets of Rage, I will champion this game until the bitter end. If this is indicative of where Platinum are headed in the future under Nintendo, then I’m thrilled.
All I know is that this is one hell of a farewell. Sega and Platinum may be parting ways for now, but you can’t really fault the send-off. It’s a real shame no-one will make money from this. Shame also so few will buy it. Because this is the sort of thing I like. Not quite perfect or sensible; but something that just steals your heart.
And getting to punch a Kraken in the beak with a chainsaw arm will stay with me for a very long time.
- Utterly gorgeous.
- Dependable combat.
- Utterly insane in the best way.
- Bayonetta makes everything better.
- Single player can vary in challenge.
- Multiplayer can at times be unforgiving.
- It really is THAT crazy.
- That people will ignore this game.
- Why no Blaze?
- Come on, there is a little bit of racism in there.
- Racing bits handle poorly.
- That this won’t make money and we won’t see a sequel.
OVERALL CONCLUSION – Hooray!
I loved Anarchy Reigns. It’s not always without fault; but that’s exactly what makes you sort of love it. It hits the right notes often enough that you just find it endearing, and will it onwards. Those who buy into the low price point will find plenty of content – both single and multiplayer – to get their teeth into and a charmingly devious game ready for a big, loving hug. Compared to more full-priced games of late, Anarchy Reigns is not only comparable but far more cheerful and interesting to boot. A cult classic in the making. Might want to hang onto a copy for future profit…