Fight’N Rage deserves a lot of credit for carefully managing to balance the line between nostalgic brawlers from years ago, while still providing a fresh experience. It helps that there is more replay built into Fight’N Rage than most brawlers than we usually see as well. For fans of the genre, this is an easy title to recommend, even though it is a somewhat shallow experience in places as well.
As soon as you fire up Fight’N Rage, you are presented with a myriad of visual options that really honed in on my nostalgia. You can play the game with a variety of filters that give it as much of an old-school, CRT, scan lined effect as you would like. This works rather nicely with the pixelated artwork, which all comes together to invoke vibrant brawlers like Double Dragon and Final Fight. A lot of times these retro graphics fall flat for me, but here they work quite well as there is still plenty of character and environmental movement to be had, with lots of fluid animations that come together to create a stylish visual presentation.
Speaking of the presentation, the music has that hard rock, throbbing quality to it that just fits the constant combat. At the same time, the soundtrack morphs a little with each stage, which can cross a variety of environments. Things start in the sort of neon glowing, grungy city environments most brawlers like Streets of Rage are known for, but can shift to swampy forests and beaches with water as well. It is safe to say that Fight’N Rage draws on a variety of influences, right down to a very Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired surfboarding stage that takes place on open water.
In fact, much of the game recalls these classic titles, but to Fight’N Rage’s credit, it tends to feel like a tribute to those games without ever becoming too derivative. It easily could have been. I already mentioned the surfboard scene that felt ripped right out of a TMNT game, but right before taking off on those aforementioned surfboards, you fight a trio of mutant battle turtles. Not that these are innately out of place as the loose storyline is about a trio of fights who are combating mutants who attacked the earth and used an electromagnetic pulse to take out all of our technology. This allows for a wider range of enemy characters visually, which is actually quite a nice change of pace from brawlers that sometimes struggle to differentiate their cast of human characters from one another.
Even so, the familiar archetypes begin to show themselves. You have standard brawling characters who are basically just combat fodder, to whip-wielding women to defensive blocking enemies, to oversized characters who will pick you up and pile drive you into the concrete. Even the final boss sits on a throne, watching things take place for a bit before joining the fray with a machine gun. The entire stage with its dimly lit, blocky design just harkens back to Double Dragon.
The trio of characters are Gal, Ricardo and F. Norris. Essentially all three of them function quite similarly, The controls are simple – perhaps almost to a fault. This makes Fight’N Rage super accessible as there is a single attack, a single jump and a single special move button. And frankly, I hardly use jump at all. The special attack is done well, where it recharges every so many seconds. It’s basically a quick get out of jail card when you are being overwhelmed by enemies (which happens fairly frequently here, as unlike the old days where technological limits prevented more than two or three enemies on the screen at a time, Fight’N Rage has no problem throwing a dozen things at you simultaneously). If there is a gripe about the super move, I wish maybe it put a visual indicator on the character (an aura, slight color change, smoke coming out of their ears – something) and not in the upper left corner of the screen. It is a bit of a visual distraction, because when you need it is when you can least afford to look away from the action, even if just for a split-second. Now, the special move does allow you to trigger it if the recharge has not fully occurred – but it drains your health in the process. I think in some fights, I lost more health to ill-timed use of that ability than to the enemies pummeling me.
Still, over ninety percent of the button pushing is simply the attack button. There are some opportunities to juggle enemies (especially near walls), and you can mix things up a little depending on who or what you are fighting (there are weapons – the boomerang is definitely my favorite). To the credit of your enemies, they do have some nice counters to some of the more predictable moves in brawling games. Early on you do not see this, but later you have bigger, more musclebound characters who block, sponging your attacks while hoping to create openings for their teammates. Kickboxing mutants try to shadow your movements and stay just a hair out of normal attack reach. Doberman enemies anticipate you standing over their fallen bodies looking for cheap shots and get a few invincibility frames as they spring up a few inches away from you. So that visual variety I mentioned earlier carries over nicely to the way enemies move and react as well. That being said – you do basically spend almost all of your time walking your character from left to right and then mashing the attack button repeatedly. There is a bit of nuance between the inherent stats of all three characters and the way you deliver the attacks, but not much. This is Fight’N Rage’s biggest weakness, because there is no real progression system. I know that the lack of lightweight RPG elements is something that the development team actually touts on their Steam page for the game, and most brawlers from the old days never really evolve – the moveset you start with is what you finish with. It does however, create a somewhat more shallow experience that is offset more by enemy variety than your own character’s variety.
Luckily, one of the best things about Fight’N Rage is that there is a decent amount of replay value. You do earn coins for your scores, and those coins can be spent on a variety of things in the store. Unlocking new characters, new difficulties, costumes and more. You cannot just grind through on easy five thousand times and unlock things – there are often prerequisites as well needed to unlock the item even before you choose to spend coins on it. The other bit of replay value is that the story, thin though it is, does have some variance to it right down to the ending. There are different story bits based on which character you select, but there are also a handful of times in the game where you are presented with branching paths. These actually change the levels and enemies you will face along the way, and some variance to how the game ends.
That being said, I feel compelled to point out that the raft level route sucks. It is too long and restricting, and I pretty much avoid it at all costs on my playthroughs now. Thankfully, there is not a lot of precision jumping to be had here. Most brawlers stay away from this, but I recall Double Dragon and a few others sprinkling in some pretty janky jump / platform moments (especially Double Dragon 2) rife with cheap deaths. I am happy to see that particular mechanic / bit of gameplay did not make its way into Fight’N Rage.
Also, it is worth noting that you can do some local multiplayer. You can battle one another, battle specific enemies, or take the game’s campaign on via co-op. It even has the option to turn friendly fire on and off as needed. I feel like ‘off’ is the way to go if you want to save some sanity, given just how many enemies are on the screen at any given time, but that is not to say turning it ‘on’ does not provide some hilarity of its own.
Fight’N Rage is a lot of fun, and will definitely tickle the nostalgia in games like me that grew up on arcade style beat ’em up games like Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more. The visuals and music as spot-on, and the branching paths with multiple endings and unlockables provide some pretty solid replay value. Unfortunately the combat itself is still a bit too shallow for my liking, some of the stages can feel a bit cheap / frustrating as well. Brawler fans owe it to themselves to give this one a try.Score: 7.75 / 10