Scrolling fighting games on Switch are clearly like buses; you wait years for a decent one to arrive and two come along at once. We've recently been blessed with the long-awaited Streets of Rage 4, an officially-sanctioned sequel created by DotEmu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games, and just a handful of weeks later we have The TakeOver, which – while not officially part of the Streets of Rage universe – is about as close to the real thing as you can get. What's refreshing is that these two games offer a slightly different approach which makes them both worth a look.
The TakeOver is developed by Pelikan13, the same studio which attempted to resurrect Sega-style arcade racing with '90s Super GT – a game which, at the time of writing, is stuck in development hell at new owner Nicalis. That game was shaping up to be something quite special and was a real testament to the talents of Pelikan13 founder Antonis Pelekanos. The TakeOver is best described as the same kind of deal, but with the aforementioned Streets of Rage as the source of inspiration; Pelekanos has taken everything we know and love about the classic series and given it a current-gen lick of paint while introducing some fresh ideas of his own.
Choosing one of three initially-selectable characters, you must fight your way through a series of hostile environments using a combination of melee attacks, weapons and firearms. The core mechanics will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played this kind of game before; you can grapple with enemies and throw them – as well as leap over their heads and slam them into the ground – and there are dash attacks and super-special moves, the latter of which drain some of your health but deal out massive damage to multiple foes.
What makes The TakeOver stand out is the inclusion of two attack buttons – one for punch and one for kick. While you can create automatic combination attacks by spamming just one of these, it's possible to chain punches and kicks together to come up with massive combos which, if uninterrupted, can deplete an enemy's life bar in one go. The catch is that you rarely go unmolested for long enough to complete the whole attack, which makes the management of the space around your character all the more important. The TakeOver quickly becomes a hugely satisfying exercise in controlling large groups of enemies using grapples and throws (airborne foes will clatter into others, knocking them down and buying you additional space and time) and finding windows of opportunity to unleash devastating punch-and-kick combos on isolated grunts.
There are other unique mechanics introduced by the game, too. Each character is armed with a gun which can be discharged by holding down ZR and pressing punch. Ammunition is always in short supply, however, so this should be considered a last resort. Thankfully, you'll occasionally find other firearms in crates which are incredibly useful for general crowd control. Another unique system is the Rage Guage, which builds up as you administer attacks and take damage. When this is full you can push down on the L stick and you'll gain a short period of increased power and invulnerability. Finally, there's another Super move which also builds as you dish out damage and is executed by pressing punch and kick at the same time; this mimics the 'police backup' special seen in the original Streets of Rage, and involves a series of projectiles hitting the screen and wiping out enemies (while thankfully leaving you totally unscathed).
You can run by double-tapping left or right – something that was absent from Streets of Rage 4 – as well as roll up and down the screen by double-tapping up or down. Both of these moves were present in Streets of Rage 3, so long-time fans of that particular game will surely appreciate their inclusion. They make The TakeOver feel more fast-paced and frantic, and the lack of juggling mechanics (something which made the omission of dashing in Streets of Rage 4 more tolerable) means you'll need to make good use of them to get out of danger quickly.
All of these systems come together to create a brawling experience which is supremely entertaining and enjoyable, especially if you're able to rope in a second player. There's no online play, unfortunately – which is a shame as that massively enlivens Streets of Rage 4 – but local play is just as much fun as you'd expect, and there's something to be said for being within shouting distance of your ally during heated moments.
While the main focus of the game is naturally side-scrolling combat, there are two bonus levels which offer up some welcome variety. The first sees you step behind the wheel of a car as you dash towards the enemy base; you're equipped with a machine gun which you can use to destroy hostile vehicles, and it's possible to jump off ramps to avoid pile-ups. The second bonus stage is perhaps the closest thing Switch owners are going to get to a port of Sega's classic coin-op After Burner Climax; strapped into the cockpit of an F-15 fighter jet, you can use your lock-on missiles to blow unfriendly craft out of the sky. Both of these segments look and feel absolutely amazing – and showcase the excellent technical ability of the developer. Sega, give Pelikan13 the After Burner licence, please?
The main story mode will take some effort to complete, as it becomes quite tricky towards the end and calls for you to fully utilise all elements of your arsenal, but dedicated players will have it licked in a day or so, which leaves the Survival and Challenge modes to keep you busy. Without online play, the appeal of The TakeOver is clearly limited somewhat, but there's arguably more gameplay here than you'd find in any scrolling fighter from the '80s or '90s, so it can hardly be criticised for lacking content based on other examples of the genre.
Visually, The TakeOver is likely to divide opinion, which is somewhat unfair because when detached from the pixel-heavy legacy of the games it takes inspiration from, it looks incredible in motion. Everything runs at 60 fps – even in handheld mode – and the visuals are pin-sharp at all times, with not a single instance of blurriness at any point. All of the levels are rendered in full 3D and look spectacular; as you walk along, aspects of the environment – ranging from street lamps to hanging chains – pass close to the camera in a realistic fashion, and the stages have a genuine sense of depth and scale to them. Reflections are convincingly cast in puddles of water and across polished floors, while strong attacks cause loose objects such as boxes and swinging shop signs to jolt and move.
The sprites, however, are flat CGI-rendered characters, and we'd imagine this will cause some consternation for hardcore fans of the genre – just as people took issue with Raging Justice's CG-heavy look. The use of these models is both a blessing and a curse; they look solid and are convincing in a faux-3D sort of way and they're more detail-rich than your typical 2D sprite, but they also exhibit a shiny, plastic look and many of the enemies are saddled with awkward animation that makes them appear like stop-motion puppets. Overall, though, the game looks great, but we can fully understand why some people will dislike the character models.
In-between levels the story is expanded using a series of animated comic book-style cutscenes which are illustrated in a completely different visual style to the main game (and the artwork shown on the game's title screen, for that matter). They're pretty light-hearted in nature and come with some amusing and witty dialogue, but it's a shame that they lack the cohesion which was present in Streets of Rage 4, which had a single artistic vision for the whole package. Still, this is a very minor grumble and you can skip the cutscenes if you so wish.
In terms of audio, the cast of the game is quite vocal and will utter amusing comments for even the most mundane of tasks, such as picking up dropped money which adds to your score. Combat is accompanied by realistic thuds and smacks, but it's the music which really steals the show here. Just as he did with Streets of Rage 4, the legendary Yuzo Koshiro contributes to The TakeOver's soundtrack, which is a mix of techno-style beats and harsh, growling guitars. It perhaps lacks the inventive nature of Streets of Rage 4's music, but nevertheless feels like the perfect accompaniment to the on-screen action.
The obvious question when reviewing The TakeOver is how it compares to Streets of Rage 4, and we're pleased to report that it's just as worthy of your time as money, even if it lacks online play and some of the extra polish that DotEmu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games' title possesses. Some players will no doubt take issue with the CG-style sprites, but every other aspect of this package feels spot-on and we especially appreciate the two bonus stages, which feel like love letters to other Sega classics. The TakeOver offers an engaging and addictive alternative to Streets of Rage 4, and any self-respecting fan of the side-scrolling fighting genre shouldn't hesitate to pick up both.