The Year of the Brawler Part I: Anarchy Reigns

I'm a feeder bar gamer. Like a test rat I need buttons to smash to release endorphin pellets into my half-starved cortex. I get into games like Arkham City, Red Dead Redemption, and Hitman: Absolution - and when I'm playing titles like these I'm not just a guy with a controller in his hands, I'm completely invested, heart and soul, into these characters and their surroundings.

I'm careful playing these. I watch where I step when I play these.

On the other hand, when I'm playing a brawler like Anarchy Reigns I'm conscious of the controller in my hand, and I could care less. The separation between man and machine can be just as cardinal to gratifying gaming as the symbiotic connection between player and character. Anarchy Reigns certainly begs for players, and not anyone looking to role-play.I think the draw to this kind of game, at least for me, is the arcade culture I grew up in. Back then we called arcade games like Anarchy Reigns "quarter suckers." These machines ate your quarters most of all, but more than that, they consumed a lot of your waking thoughts outside of the arcade as well.

The heritage of the modern brawler/action comes from a long, scrappy lineage of titles beginning with Tecmo's Renegade arcade game and finding its stride during the era of Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Final Fight. Few games have the immediate reward - the feeder bar factor I mentioned earlier - of the action adventure brawler. These games can be as simple as smashing buttons to smash people. Or as complex as the combat system of Team Ninja's first two Ninja Gaiden Sigma entries. The ultimate pay-off is what you're willing to put into the title. Anarchy Reigns is the perfect mash-up of the button-masher and intricate brawler. It isn't as complex as Ninja Theory's new DMC game, nor is it nearly as uncomplicated as last year's Asura's Wrath.

If forced to describe Anarchy Reigns it feels like one of the bastard children of early millennium David Jaffe - Twisted Metal Black and War of the Monsters - bred with modern day boutique fighters like Super Smash Bros. and Playstation All-Stars.

Not that my experience with Anarchy Reigns was love at first sight. I reserved the game almost two years ago when it was first announced. (with a crisp twenty dollar bill - who knew that would almost cover the entire final price-tag once it was released?) Being that Madworld was, and still is, the only Wii title I own, I was more than excited that Platinum was giving Jack Cayman, (picture that bull-chimpanzee that ripped that poor woman's face off in Connecticut, but draped in chains and leather with a double-bladed chainsaw for an arm, and you get Jack Cayman) another game - this time in color.

Then the title kept getting bumped back to later dates. Then it got value priced at 30 dollars. Neither of these were encouraging omens.

Once I got the disc home I casually popped it in my Playstation 3, dorked-around with it for four minutes, then moved on to something else. The game looked alright, but it seemed basic. I was free to roam around the streets of Anarchy Reigns, beating up anything in sight. Not that there's anything wrong with that curriculum, but with Ninja Theory's new DMC game just a week away I could only hope the game would find a comfortable place in storage before entering the alcoves of my backlog vault for the rest of eternity. The next day, bored with my current gaming library, (sorry Darksiders II, but we need a break from each other) I gave Anarchy Reigns a second day in court. Mostly because I jumped in to the new God of War Ascension beta, and it not only reminded me how much fun it is to beat people up online, but also reminded me that a good brawler is something to appreciate and revere. Suddenly Anarchy Reigns didn't seem like a cheap diversion anymore, so I loaded it up again.

That was two weeks ago. I haven't stopped playing since.

I hesitate mentioning the thirty dollar price-tag in this write-up because this absolutely feels like a full value game title. Press a bit further into the interior of this game arena than the first thirty minutes of play-time and I promise you that there's one hell of a game waiting for you.

I've been tinkering with Ninja Theory's (absolutelygawdamn thrilling) DMC game, and as for comparing these two titles...? Think of DMC as a ballerina, and Anarchy Reigns as a ball peen hammer. One takes skill, grace, and  lots of practice to master - the other takes forward motion and brute force. This isn't the sophisticated choreography that Ninja Theory's game is, (and hopefully we'll discuss DMC more in an upcoming write-up - this new Dante game is a work of art) but it isn't anything to thumb your nose at either.

What Anarchy Reigns lacks in finesse, it makes up for in madness.

This is crunchy, crushing, instantly satisfying combat. Feel free to beat anything this game tosses at you - gas-mask wearing gang members, S&M soldiers wielding cattle prods, swarming robotic drones, helicopters, flame-spewing tanker trucks, reptilian executioners using entire cars as club ends, frenzied, ten-foot tall mutants of at least three different aggro levels - everything can be beaten into a puddle of offal given enough attention from your brawler's fists and feet. The attacks are relatively easy to program into your memory circuit board. You have strong, and weak/fast attacks. Juggles and grapples. Charged hits and individual weapon attacks. Feel free to play around with combos of each. The goal is to kill enough enemies to unlock challenges and boss battles in each of the four open world levels of the game as you play through the campaign on one of two sides. Black - Jack Cayman's missions. Or white - Leo's missions. Playing through both campaigns is the only way to unlock new characters for the multiplayer.

Not just content to throw coutless enemy encounters at the player, expect environmental hazards like vortexes and acid rain storms to weaken your killing resolve. The levels are also packed with hazards all their own, and it's a big miss that Platinum didn't include the ability to grab enemies - other then the ones blinking red, ready to explode - to hurl into level hazards like turbines and dust devils for quick disposal.

Anarchy Reigns features five returning characters from Madworld, eleven new characters, (my favorite are Sasha and Onkie) and two unlockable characters including Platinum's princess of pagan... Bayonetta.

There's a story behind everybody here. It's pure Asian gibberish, but it's generally well-spirited enough to keep the player plugged into Platinum's inhuman delineation of pain and sweet, sweet revenge.

The only encouraging thing about the online component of the game is that it's a total free-for-all. The frame rate can dip down to strobe light levels occasionally, and most of the time you're going to feel buffeted by nine different players as they each take a turn putting you in their individual hold animations. I haven't had a chance to play everything that Anarchy online has to offer yet - especially the lauded "Death Ball" game - but from what I've experienced this is just as pick-up-n-play as anything else in the game. The cage matches are a blast, and can get just as frenetic as any Street Fighter IV square-off.

2013 promises to be the year of the beatem' up. After Anarchy Reigns, Ninja Theory's DMC reboot, Metal Gear: Revengeance, God of War Ascension, Remember Me, and Castlevania Lords of Shadow II, it's going to be tough crowning a champion next December. With Platinum Games Anarchy Reigns we're already off to a great start.

Anarchy Reigns deserves its own arcade cabinet. The machine would snuggle up nicely with Double Dragon and Golden Axe, and would pick-pocket every last silver quarter from your pocket. This is a hell of a lot of fun, and a hell of a lot of game for thirty dollars. I'm hoping that we'll see more of Jack Cayman and his merry band of mercenaries and techno-assassins in the near future.