And not in the form of cynical cash-ins on nostalgia with pixel graphics, but with a focus on playability, salvaging long-forgotten ideas and outfitting them in new designs. Heritage that recalls smoky arcade halls, crackling speaker systems, classic audio jingles.
With Anarchy Reigns, the studio has repackaged the old-school arcade beat 'em up, crossing it with the modern online brawler, multi-path battles fought over, through and above arenas. The result? Sheer anarchy.
The world has this turned into a post-apocalypse on steroids where a constant battle royale exists between survivors. We follow two men,
Jack Cayman from Mad World, and bounty hunter Leo as they seek revenge on the same man.
The game reminds heavily of a playable version of classic anime Fist of the North Star. Reigns is a quirky and often shameless mix of aesthetic and gameplay styles ramped up to 11. The self-conscious and parody camps come together with melodrama and deadly seriousness. The final product is messy, but is hard to dislike.
In its best moments, it becomes as good as any empty entertainment violence can ever be. It is engaging, challenging and fascinating. Unlike, for example, Mad World, Anarchy Reigns never tries to deliver any overlying story themes, but concentrates instead on being as good an example of the genre as possible. The weight behind every attack and over the top special is almost cathartic.
In its worst moments, it is rather boring and monotonous, something that has always been the recurrent disease for brawlers as well as old-school beat 'em ups, and something that apparently not even Platinum Games can solve.
There's a gnawing emptiness between the open game world's disconnected missions and battles. But the worst sin that Anarchy Reigns commits is in the lack of extensive attack options.
Despite a plethora of amazing characters, there's little variation in technique, if not style. All too often we run out the same button combinations and attack patterns.
And even if its pitched as a brawler, Reigns works best in one-on-one battles, as even when there's multiple enemies on screen (often), you can only lock onto a single enemy.
But these problems are only with story mode. Online works much better because everyone's suddenly fighting on equal terms. And it is in the online mode that the game really belongs, so much that the campaign feels like an afterthought.
Online is the random chaos of bosses, great stages and special attacks. This randomness means while Anarchy Reigns may never become something that people invest serious time in, it makes for great party fighting. This is more Power Stone than Smash Bros.
Sixteen players feels just right for online brawls, and while the lobby takes its time to build matches, the code is stable during matches, and there's enough characters and game modes to satisfy different tastes.
Besides the standard diet of flag capture and death matches, there's also the violent Speedball-inspired Ball Death and Survival modes. That there is no split-screen mode feels somewhat incomprehensible, but one consolation is at least the possibility of using bots if you want. All in all, it's incredibly diverse range of content offered for both offline and online play.
While not ugly, visually the game leaves much to be desired. Though it seems the title consciously apes a budget look of garish colours and design. There's thought too with the characters that many could feasibly star in their own Platinum Games title. Garishness is in the soundtrack as well, as the audio sees the studio mash styles, the continued attraction to lounge jazz mixing here with electronica and hip-hop.
Anarchy Reigns is not perfect. A limp story mode and lack of split-screen are problems. But its one crazy party that offers enough insight into what made the old-school brawler genres so popular in the past and feeds that knowledge to us in the form of a rather unique, ballsy online slugfest unlike much else out there. It's greater than the sum of its parts, and should not be missed by genre fans.