As Fight'N Rage loads up, it mimics the boot sequence of an old arcade cabinet, going through its various system checks, verifying and okaying its RAM before throwing up its ROM number and region version. It’s a nice little touch in a game jam-packed with nice little touches. With a heavy (and totally optional) CRT post-effect that makes everything look like its bending to the contours of an arcade unit’s screen – coupled with appropriately over-saturated colours and scanline effect – it really goes out of its way to let you know exactly where it's coming from.
Combine all of this with its name – an obvious amalgamation of Final Fight and Streets of Rage – and you have what may seem, on initial inspection, a rather slavish homage to the glory days of side-scrolling arcade brawlers. However, this is no token tip of the hat, and Sebastian Garcia – who, somehow, designed and developed this game entirely by himself – has created a surprisingly deep and sophisticated beat’em up that surpasses many of the greats it seeks to emulate.
You start out in Fight’N Rage with no other option but to jump into its arcade mode, choosing from one of three characters: Gal, F. Norris and Ricardo. You’ve also got just three buttons to get acquainted with: attack, jump and a special move. Simple. However, once you start to combine these three inputs and experiment with your chosen character, the depth of the combat on offer quickly becomes apparent.
Each playable character in Fight’N Rage has a bunch of directional grab attacks, ground arts, aerial arts and special attacks (one of which is secret) to get your head around through experimentation. This is made easier once you’ve bashed your way into the arcade mode a little bit and earned enough of the in-game currency to unlock its comprehensive tutorial mode. It’s perhaps a strange choice – and one of the game’s only missteps – to lock your tutorial off to begin with but, to be fair, roughly ten minutes of play will earn you what you need to open its doors.
Once you’ve gained access to the tutorial, a whole world of fancy chain combos, parries, dash attacks, cancels and counters reveals itself and you begin to realise that what you’ve got here is the good, old-fashioned structure of a retro beat’em up with a whole new level of depth baked in. This is Final Fight, Streets of Rage and Double Dragon all stirred together and seasoned with a hefty dose of Street Fighter. You’ll still move across the screen battering all-comers, smashing bins and barrels for a roast chicken dinner, picking up knives and pipes and dodging into the fore or background to avoid a vicious whip from some leather-clad biker chick, but there’s so much more opportunity to put your own stamp on how these running battles take shape.
With an expanded arsenal of moves at your disposal, Fight’N Rage then gives you exactly the right mix of enemies with the combat smarts to put your skills to the test. There’s very little in the way of boring, button-mash fodder amongst the crazed animal mutants you face down here. You’ll very quickly get to know each and every type of bad guy intimately, and you’ll need to if you hope to survive the onslaught of later levels.
There are electricats with Blanka-esque shock attacks, packs of belly-flopping biker hogs who charge you en-masse and birds dressed as Street Fighter's Adon who utilize a few of his Muay Thai moves, including some vicious anti-air defences. There are cats cosplaying as M.Bison who like to power-slide in your direction, killer bikers, whip chicks, Balrog-esque Doberman bouncers with charged up punch attacks, knife-flinging rats who hang back and wait for their moment to stab, huge rampaging bulls… so much delicious death to get your head around, especially when it’s all being thrown at you in quick succession.
Even at its most hectic, however, once you get a handle on your array of moves, learn how to chain normal attacks into specials, slide, parry and utilise that dodge into the foreground or background at exactly the right moment, you’ll find that beautiful rhythm that all the very best action games have, giving you the ability to stylishly weave your way through your enemies, a death-dancer rarely taking a scratch. This is old school side-scrolling beat’em up action elevated to another level; button-mashing taking a back seat to knowing your enemy, thinking ahead and pulling out show-stopping specials when given the opportunity.
Those special moves, by the way, are on a little cool-down counter in the top left-hand corner of your screen; every time you use one, you’ll need to give it time to refill. However, if you find yourself up against it with an empty SP gauge you can continue to pull off your specials at the cost of some of your HP. It’s a clever little wrinkle; giving up some of your precious life bar to turn the tables when you really need to. This is further added to when you successfully parry an incoming enemy attack, immediately refilling your SP to come right back at your assailant with a devastating counter. It’s little details and systems like this that make Fight’N Rage so addictive and clever, and so much more than you’re perhaps expecting at the outset.
Boss battles are all uniformly excellent and, much like the rank and file enemies you encounter throughout levels, there’s always a trick to successfully taking them on. You may find yourself getting absolutely pummelled to begin with, but each and every one of them has a weakness to be exploited. Finding that weakness is part of the fun.
There’s just so much to love about Fight’N Rage, so many little details and nods to old games to spot as you play through a main campaign which fans out in multiple directions with secret paths to discover, alternate routes to the final battle and some eight different endings to see with variations depending on choices you’ve made along the way. Player characters are also uniformly excellent, with each bringing something different to the table.
Gal’s a potent mix of Fatal Fury’s Mai and Street Fighter’s Chun Li; with powerful kick attacks and super quick combos, she’s fast but relatively weak, perhaps not the best place for a beginner to start, especially with regards to boss encounters which last that little bit longer (in an amateur’s hands) due to her smaller damage output. Ricardo, with his Mike Haggar-inspired outfit and wrestling moveset, clears screens full of mutants in short order but is cumbersome to move around, something that takes a little time to learn to work with. F.Norris, the all-rounder, was our fighter of choice for early runs; he's basically Final Fight’s Guy reskinned, retooled and spliced with Ryu, and a good character with which to learn the ropes and get to grips with the basic combat principles shared by all three player characters.
The arcade campaign, while tough, does offer endless continues to help you make your way through, and you can quit out and head back into the game’s menus safe in the knowledge that you’ll be afforded an opportunity to pick up where you left off when you reselect the last character you were using. It takes about fifty minutes to battle your way through the various levels on offer, which throw up plenty of surprises and nods to classics from back in the day and are, apart from one slightly annoying sewer raft level, uniformly excellent. A shout-out must also be given to a blistering soundtrack by Gonzalo Varela that includes over forty (!) tracks to accompany the on-screen carnage that veer between the guitar-heavy rock riffs you’d expect of this type of game to some superbly atmospheric – and totally unexpected – jazz and funk.
As we've already mentioned, you earn coins as in-game currency exclusively in arcade mode; the fancier you fight, the more coins you’ll get, and these can then be used to unlock a bunch of new modes and bonus goodies. There’s the tutorial arena and a battle mode which sees characters go 1v1 in Street Fighter style duels; the combat isn't really deep enough to make it a viable alternative, but it’s a fun way to brush up on your skills and combos. There’s also a speed-run mode, fifteen different costumes for each of the main characters, tip cards that further your knowledge of the game’s little combat wrinkles and the ability to unlock almost every single enemy in the game to be used as playable characters. It’s a hugely generous package overall and one that almost completely dispels the myth that beat’em ups need be repetitive or shallow affairs that lack longevity or a reason to return once you’ve been through them a handful of times.
Performance on Switch is excellent in both docked and handheld modes, although we did notice the tiniest bit of slowdown here and there when things get absolutely crazy with enemies. It's also a really beautiful looking game, packed full of little details, whether you’ve got all those optional CRT and scanline filters turned on for maximum old-school effect or prefer to play it with a sharper, more modern feel to the graphics.
Fight’N Rage arrives on Switch and immediately positions itself as one of the must-own action games on Nintendo’s console. Its surprisingly deep and satisfyingly weighty combat engine combined with three strong and varied player characters and a host of cleverly-designed enemies elevate it above the usual button-mashing experience perhaps expected of entries in this genre. It’s got an excellent arcade mode that branches off in various directions as you make your way to the final boss battle, as well as a ton of unlockable modes and extras to keep you coming back for more. Whether you’re a learned fan of old-school beat’em ups or you just like pummelling the life out of mutant punk pussycats and monkeys dressed as Bruce Lee, you owe it to yourself to experience what Sebastian Garcia has created here; it’s easily one of the best beat’em ups we’ve played.