Anarchy Reigns is a mixed bag of many ingredients from Platinum’s various stellar releases bundled together in an arena based brawler that is reminiscent to the likes of Power Stone. In many avenues it delivers in spades a fun and compelling brawler whilst in others falls short of the typical refinement found in the likes of Bayonetta and Vanquish.
Offering both a lengthy single player campaign and plethora of multiplayer modes there’s a wealth of value present, particularly at the subsidised price point set by SEGA. The campaign should be your starting point, as the skill entry barrier for online play will be unforgiving to newcomers. Split into two sides, Black and White, you first make a choice between which group’s perspective you wish to view the storyline from (along with varied missions and fight encounters throughout). Black is led by Jack, a double chainsaw wielding agent of a Chaser guild, a renegade tracking down targets for the highest bidder. White is led by Leo, a positron blade wielding agent of the Bureau’s Strike One team, essentially the game’s special police force. Black and white stereotypes of bad vs good scream out but in actuality it’s far more of a grey area as the story evolves and brings both Jack and Leo to a common cause.
The story itself is pretty nuts. Regardless of which side you take you’ll be taking down the rabbit hole of a typical Japanese anime styled storyline. The core story follows the tale of the law enforcement and Jack searching for a man by the name of Maxmillian, the former leader of the Bureau's Strike One unit, mentor to Leo and accused murderer of his own wife. This perfectly reasonable and straightforward storyline gets turned on its head thanks to frequent visits by bold characters who inject a little insanity each time.
There are the over exaggerated characters you’d expect from Platinum such as Big Bull, a heavily armoured bull-like man who charges head first or Edgar Oinkie a pig faced man juiced up on a Bane-like green toxin. The traditional Japanese stereotype characters are present too such as the two katana wielding ninja samurai Zero or Chinese Rin Rin of the Crimson Dragons who can shoot out fiery bladed fans during the night. Black Baron is the highlight though, a mountain of a black man dressed in the robes of a pimp with cane, hat and the addition of metal gloves that can turn into flaming eagles. Oh and he has a charming smile with gold teeth chiselled with the words “Fuck You”. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek with the story mainly told in non-interactive cut scenes and short dialogue sequences.
The campaign alone falls around five hours in length for each side, and by the close you’ll be more than ready to take yourself online to complete in one of thirteen multiplayer modes with a choice from a dozen characters able to be unlocked (not forgetting Bayonetta, a new game bundled DLC). The multiplayer lobby and an ability unlock system work well throughout and disregarding the occasional lag filled hiccup appeared on the whole stable, providing up to sixteen players to brawl which results in absolute mayhem. Aspects of the single player will also find their way into matches, from trucks that’ll devastate your health to boss encounter enemies suddenly appearing. Most of the challenge can be simply knowing when to engage or retreat from the cyclone of chaos that eschews from the middle.
One of the most crucial requirements for a game within this genre is for local multiplayer, being one of the few genres that benefit greatly from playing offline with a handful of friends to lose against and shout at. Somehow such a feature has fallen off Platinum's radar as there is no ability for local multiplayer of any kind, dismissing the ability to play local multiplayer deathmatches alone against bots. The outcome of this leaves Anarchy Reigns with a shelf life, as once the online lobbies begin to dry up a large portion of the game will simply cease to exist.
The combat system itself is quite complex to first get to grips with. On the offense there are two normal attacks; weak and strong, which can be performed in a handful of combination along with on ground or in air. Your normal attacks can be made more threatening by using your lethal weapon (in the case of Jack that's his double chainsaw arm), but this required you to first charge a bar using normal attacks. Similarly there is a rampage ability which makes you an unstoppable force for a short period of time but once again requires charging a different bar, this one being slowly filled by all combat performed. There are also throws and obstacles littered throughout the area that can be throw.
The offensive abilities are quite basic, a far cry from the mainstream fighting games that have you needing to recite a long list of moves and counter attacks. Anarchy Reigns grows in complexity however in defensive play, as any gaps in your defence will be devastatingly taken advantage of and can result in you instantly going from alive to dead. At the forefront of this is a guard that has limited use and once broken leaves you completely open, so careful use and frequent manual dodging is a must, coupled with mixing your time from being on the defence to offence in order to ensure both your guard isn't consumed but also your rampage and lethal weapon bars get filled. On top of this there are bonus ability items that can be unlocked or obtained, granting you a timed benefit such as a shield, invisibility or instant rampage.
The challenge behind the fighting system is only ever increased by the environmental chaos that can eschew, but ultimately pro fighter fans might find the gameplay mechanics quite shallow after the initial learning curve. This isn’t helped by the character roster being quite shallow at only a dozen fighters, and most of which don't change drastically in feel due to having no reliance on long move lists like traditional fighting games.
The characters themselves, and the arenas in which you fight, look fantastic. There is the typical Platinum design flare and fans of their past Mad World game will see a lot of familiar faces and design elements, namely gore. All of the characters are well voiced too with some great lines of dialogue, frequently tongue in cheap, quick gags or referencing popular culture. As you’re winning an early fight against Zero he screams out the popular internet meme “over 9000!” or Leo may spout out “I am the law!” as he defeats a foe. The music is also particularly fantastic with some great jazz and hip hop blended tracks. Both the music and the constant taunts come together well to raise the adrenaline of a battle.
Ultimately though, it is the lack of room to master an array of varied characters, a confused and frequently crazy story mode and the entire lack of any offline local multiplayer that really holds Anarchy Reigns back from its potential. Regardless of these unfortunate shortcomings there’s still a fair chunk of entertainment to be had there in the midst of all the chaos, particularly so with the campaign and for those who have the opportunity to step online for competitive play. Arena brawlers are underrepresented within the fighting genre, and Anarchy Reigns is a welcome nostalgic trip back to simpler days.