Despite its title being ostensibly plucked from the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola movie of the same name, publisher Sammy’s The Rumble Fish series bears zero resemblance bar the odd bout of fisticuffs. Or, in this case, bout upon bout of fisticuffs, with a cast of colourful and interestingly designed characters.
The Rumble Fish series’ distinct hallmark is in its graphical style, once poised to catch the arcade goer’s eye and stir up interest in Sammy’s Atomiswave hardware. Rather than using standard hand-drawn sprites, it instead uses a routine where limbs are independently animated using sleek Flash-like animation. Although this gives the characters a certain marionette look, it’s a far cry from the likes of Earnest Evans, a Mega Drive and Mega-CD title that applied the same idea to unintended comical effect. Here, the Rumble Fish cast look great, blessed with a dreamy colour palette that really pops off the screen.
Although 3goo president Nicolas Di Costanzo has said that “This series lit arcades on fire with its mix of mechanics inspired by a variety of fighting games,” there’s a touch of exaggeration in that press release statement. 2004’s Rumble Fish—available on Switch only as part of the Collector’s Edition of this release and not downloadable separately—was popular enough to have a sequel green-lit the following year, but the Dimps-developed title didn't make as much of a splash as other big fighting games of the time. It has, however, developed something of a cult following, and is still competitively played in certain tournaments. And deservedly so, as its system is intriguing, its styling delicious, and its speed and solidity alluring.
This sequel built on its predecessor in much the same way many fighting games develop from one iteration to the next. It increases the character roster to bring the overall count to 16, but three are held back as DLC here, including Greed, Hazama, and the new final boss, Beatrice. And we don't like that much. These characters were present in the arcade release, available by inputting codes in the operator options screen, and don't need to be held back in a game that already costs $30. For our money, DLC would have been preferably reserved for original content, or even exclusive characters.
Regardless, the newcomers are joined by Bazoo, Lud, Mito and Sheryl. It’s a female-heavy, personable cast, with plenty of variety in appearance. With gorgeous 2D sprite work set against equally beautiful 3D backgrounds, it’s a treat for the eyes, boasting stunning colour arrangements. A blend of sci-fi street punk chic and glowing futuristic cityscapes, industrial interiors, and derelict overgrown scrapyards, there’s a touch of cyberpunk about the Rumble Fish world. In fact, this Switch release, with its adjusted resolution and added panache, is even more visually impressive than the arcade original, working perfectly in both handheld and docked modes. The most obvious change, of course, is that it’s now in a 16:9 aspect ratio, expanding the screen parameters to give a broader view of its handsomely weathered locales.
It might take a moment to adjust to your Fish’s stirring limbs — possibly a sticking point for purists when it was originally released — but it’s purely aesthetic-deep. Mechanically, The Rumble Fish 2 is a remarkably clean, snappy, decisive game, with wonderful freeform combo building that encourages all sorts of experimentation. You can dive in and start teasing ideas from the get-go, and likely be surprised at how easily you can string moves together, especially since the default difficulty is considerably relaxed. This is one of the game’s major plus points, combining precision with a very broad and accessible canvas of impressive combat options. It’s easy to discover chains and then chains into supers, sending the combo meter soaring and triggering that all-important dopamine reward hit when it comes together. The ease of access for combo creation is an advantage in a strategic sense, forcing equally footed players to use counters and the defensive properties of the super gauge, rather than ploughing in blind.
New to the sequel was the Boost Dive, which powers up the player for a limited period and offers an opportunity for all-out wild attack combinations. The original’s offence and defence power gauges, accrued during combat, return, but are now split into three sections for multiple uses. When one block is filled, you can unleash a variety of specials with either offensive or defensive capabilities. This opens up strategic avenues dependent on where your health bar is or based on the play styles of particular characters. Each returning Fish has a few new moves in the bag too, as well as some refinements and adjustments to those in the previous game that better balance the cast.
It’s got flair, pace, and a balletic sway about it. Importantly, it feels good to get to grips with and deep dive into its characters’ unique styles. The blows are solid, combos and critical hits complimented by changes in background hue and dynamic black and white flashes. The camera pans in, Neo Geo-style, as the combatants draw closer, focusing on violent exchanges and super-attacks. Strings hit hard, allowing you to juggle, guard crush, air recover and ground pound with the greatest of ease, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see your training mode accomplishments come to life in a one or two-player match-up. Along with great character designs, clothing gets increasingly shredded and stays this way throughout the game. One may argue that this is an excuse just to expose Garnet’s chest, and they’d probably be right.
Rumble Fish 2 is certainly an underrated fighting game gem, capitalising on everything good in its predecessor and improving it with new features. The Switch ports haven’t skimped in the extras department, either. There are training, gallery, time attack, survival and versus options in addition to arcade mode. Versus is both on and offline, and you can check your world ranking against other real-world combatants. There's also a feature to allows online players to jump in and challenge during your one-player games. Most appealing is that rollback netcode is present, making online match-ups far superior, and breathing new, emboldened life into a title once confined to the arcades of yesteryear.
This is the kind of package we hope for when a relatively unloved, but largely excellent arcade title is ported for a modern system. There’s no slacking here, with all the options and modes a fighting game fan could desire, updated visuals for modern displays, and that all-important rollback netcode for online skirmishes. Superior to its already very enjoyable predecessor, it will be great to see the online fighting game community revive The Rumble Fish 2 in a way that never really happened with its original arcade release. Ideally, both the original game and this sequel should be on a single package — and DLC paywalls be damned — but this is a well-executed port of the best entry in this short-lived series.