Anarchy Reigns is generous in that it doesn’t require players to be fans of the equally uncouth 2009 Wii exclusive turned cult classic MadWorld, another Platinum Games-developed brawler that serves as its spiritual predecessor, to find something to enjoy here. In fact, gamers hardly have to be privy to MadWorld’s existence in order to jump right into the role of the double-chainsaw-armed brute Jack Cayman and begin laying waste to hordes of oncoming enemies. As with MadWorld, Platinum Games delivers a generally solid combat system that’s easy to pick up and master in a relatively short amount of time. However, the widespread artistic unevenness of the overall package, with its repetitive button-mashing combo routines, lame-brained central storyline, and the unmitigated ridiculousness of its campy supporting cast, ranging from a flame-fisted cowboy wannabe to a flamboyant humanoid assassin, diminishes the fun factor substantially. This barbaric beat ’em up inserts a sufficient amount of stock into its arena-based online modes, which when delved into in stride just might warrant a knee-jerk purchase (the game’s retail value is a justifiable $29.99), but the single-player experience, as tedious and inane as it is, is only worth a mere rental at best.
Taking pleasure in the game’s addictive multiplayer matches comes at a high, yet not completely unreasonable, price. In order to gain access to each and every aspect of its up-to-16-person battle royales, you have to trudge your way through the game’s narrative campaigns alone, unlocking various characters, stages and bonus settings as you go. I was reminded of last year’s somewhat overlooked Starhawk, a game that also suffered as a whole because of the extent to which players had to force themselves to swallow the nonsensical single-player before they could relish in one of the better multiplayer-centered titles to come along in ages. Anarchy Reigns deploys various yawn-inducing gameplay trivialities like securing checkpoints within predetermined interval limits, simplistic escort missions, sloppy vehicle races, and slaying a certain number of foes before the clock’s expiration, all interwoven between poorly scripted cutscenes that do more to take the player out of the game than motivate them to continue with their checklist of boilerplate third-person altercations. That being said, surprisingly, at around the conclusion of the narrative’s second act, with the majority of the lesser fighters ultimately pushed to the side, the game picks up some creative steam with a string of well-designed quests and boss encounters that finally recapture a decent portion of the merciless mayhem on display in Anarchy Reigns’s survival co-op situations.
What makes the game’s multiplayer shine is how it layers levels of simplicity on top of a uniquely complex core set of mechanics. Each of its 16 batty bruisers possesses a very similar array of command inputs, but the distinctive functioning and timing of the produced moves varies significantly depending on the size, speed, and carried weapons of the character being used. For example, the specialty assaults of Jack’s chainsaw arm and Baron’s fiery punches are initiated in virtually the same fashion, but the range of effectiveness of the maneuvers is vastly different; Jack’s chainsaw is less precise and does damage to a more expansive field, while Baron could K.O. a larger opponent with a singular well-placed blow. Comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of Anarchy Reigns’s quirky roster is another one of its subtle positives, taking advantage of its open-world 3D mappings to provide a fighting game atmosphere that’s as much Warriors Orochi as it is Power Stone. The movesets by name are nothing out of the ordinary (midair juggles, throws, evasions, and a myriad of projectiles), but deciding on which tactic would be most successful in the midst of a heated capture the flag bout or even a round of the game’s patented Deathball (basically NFL Blitz with a much higher body count) adds a coating of intuitive choice-making to the proceedings.
Power Stone 2 is one of the greatest multiplayer fighting games of all time, and I was intermittently rushed with fond memories of that Dreamcast nonpareil while playing Anarchy Reigns. Unavoidable distractions like falling meteors, giant aliens, and collapsing buildings would spice up the action during skirmishes, and while its diversion ploys aren’t as refined or memorable as that of Power Stone 2’s, the plummeting airplanes, endless pawn-spawning, imploding infrastructures, and uncontrollable traffic surges do well to add a smattering of surprises into what may have otherwise been another monotonous throwdown session. Of course, all this frantic pandemonium happening on screen takes a toll on the graphical smoothness, which isn’t all that stable to begin with. When too much havoc fills the frame, camera angles go berserk, pixel effects tear or blur, and slowdown halts even the most elementary of movements. Thankfully, this doesn’t occur as much in the single-player mode, which is where the game requires you to cut your teeth before perfecting your skills on the online battlefield.
Anarchy Reigns offers several noteworthy temptations, from its instantly satisfying multiplayer options to its unselfish $30 valuation, the game would in no way shape or form be a terrible way to start off your 2013 gaming year. That being said, after spending approximately a week with Platinum Games’s latest wacky piece of work, you’re likely to grow a bit weary of its predominantly humdrum warfare, hokey plotting, and snowballing vulgar whimsy. Here’s an idea, Platinum Games, how about a true sequel to MadWorld for the Wii U?