Fight’N Rage may just be the best brawler ever made

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Brawlers are a misunderstood breed. The descendants of Final Fight and Streets of Rage are easy to dismiss as unfair products of another era, where they stood in arcade cabinets and where seemingly designed to drain your wallet by forcing countless retries against random attack patterns in order to get that one lucky break. But for those willing to learn their intricacies, punch ’em ups can be seen as part of a precise and demanding genre where victory is always possible despite the odds.

While there have been attempts at revival such as Castle Crashers or Mother Russia Bleeds, those offer more style than substance. I dove into recent Steam release Fight’N Rage [Steam page] (debut title from solo Uruguayan indie Seba Games Dev) with some trepidation, but came out the other side overjoyed. Faithful fans of fisticuffs, this may well be the best brawler I’ve ever played, and I’ve played them all.

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The gratuitous 90s-ness of the game may be off-putting, admittedly. In a Fist of the North Star-esque apocalyptic world of ruin, pointless NPC deaths, animal-themed mutants and Bodacious Brawling Bikini Babes with Bountiful Bouncing Boobies, it’s up to the Fast Girl, the Balanced Guy and the Beefy Mutant (or all 3 at once in local multiplayer, with AI buddies unlockable) to punch their way through a horde of furious furries and beat down The Boss. Shakespeare it ain’t, but who needs the Bard when the sprite-art is pixel perfect and the soundtrack full of lovely wailing guitars?

What makes Fight’N Rage sing where others merely bellow is the combat engine. Two parts Streets of Rage, one part Final Fight (hence the title), it brings a lot of its own tricks to the table without overcomplicating things. Digital movement and a simple 3-button layout (Punch, Jump & Special) belie a game of shocking depth where every attack can be evaded, parried or countered, and swarms of baddies can be cleared out in seconds, given practice. Every hit lands with a sense of power and purpose, too, with just the right amount of screen-shake to emphasise without obfuscating. It’s a delicately engineered beast.

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What really sets Fight’N Rage apart is responsiveness. Almost every move can be cancelled out of in some fashion, meaning you’re seldom stuck over-committing to a combo. Basic chains flow automatically into throwing your target forward or backwards, stalling other foes just by holding Up or Down. Every eight seconds, you get one free use of your otherwise life-draining special move, which also chains into and out of just about every other action, and otherwise deadly grapples can be escaped by tapping jump or special at the critical moment. Messy as it initially looks, with practice you can become an untouchable kung-fu demigod.

The story branches a surprising amount, making replays feel fresh while individual enemy attack patterns become familiar over time. You’re unlikely to see one of the 56 endings on your first playthrough, even abusing your infinite continues, but Fight’N Rage accepts failure while rewarding gradual mastery. Your first tries will likely provide enough unlock currency to buy access to the Training Mode – first of many extras – which teaches the finer points of each character. Further attempts will provide enough to unlock Easy Mode if you’d rather ease up on the heat, but true mastery only comes through practice. While an arcade game at heart, Fight’N Rage is expertly engineered and feature-packed for the long-haul.

Fight’N Rage is available on Steam now for £15/$20.

19 Comments

  1. fuggles says:

    Better than streets of rage remake…?

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Yes. And I do not say this lightly, as SoRR was my previous favourite. And the favourite of the developer as well – it has a lot of things carried directly over, including the branching level structure and upgrade shop.

      • fuggles says:

        I will have a look. Christmas soon! It can go on my shame pile with Witcher 3 and cuphead. I will probably YouTube it like mother Russia bleeds.

        Man, I miss having video game time.

  2. DasBilligeAlien says:

    My favourite brawler so far is Aces Wild. Maybe I give this a spin.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Aces Wild is very underrated too – quite unique, in that it almost feels like a shooter, but without guns.

      • Lorc says:

        Huh – the trailer makes it look like it might play like Noitu Love 2. Is that right?

        • Dominic Tarason says:

          Kinda… ish. Aces Wild is very much its own thing. The main thrust of the gameplay is perfectly timed dodges, Bayonetta style. Every attack is telegraphed and the timing is often pretty clear for dodging, but it loves throwing whole groups of baddies at you.

  3. takfar says:

    The fighting system looks delicious, but I’m not sold on the art style and, especially, the color and lighting that makes the characters and background look all muddled up, at least in the videos. Would buy it outright if it had a cleaner look about it, but will probably give it a try once it’s discounted.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      All the post-processing effects – bloom, CRT filter, screen bend, etc – are optional and I’ve got them all turned off, except for setting bloom to low.

      It’s shocking how readable the game is even in the bigger fights. I’m not quite there yet, but a couple streamers I follow are already switching up to Hard mode because they’re starting to find Normal too easy.

      • takfar says:

        Yes, I see some of the videos have different filters on, and some of them look better than the others, but I think my problem lies in the sprites having very high color contrast within themselves, resulting in very dark lines that get mixed up with dark backgrounds.

        Compare, say, the first screenshot in the article (very bad), with the second (still bad, mostly due to the super dark BG) and the third (mostly fine). It’s a problem I’ve never really felt playing or looking at traditional beat em ups.

        That said, I trust your opinion on it actually being readable during gameplay. I’m sure looking at a video and actually playing are going to feel very different. It’s definitely a game (and a dev team) that I’ll keep in my radar.

    • gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

      Yeah, the art style’s… no. And if the fx are all turned off in these screenshots, it’s color overload.

      I’ll stick to SOR.

  4. RuySan says:

    Double dragon neo is pretty good. So no need to say modern games of the genre are style over substance

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Neon is a great experience for sure (Me and my brother still randomly quote Skullmageddon at each other for giggles), but it definitely lacks the kind of flexibility to its combat engine as the best in the genre have to show.

      (As an aside, it’s still a huge improvement over the original Double Dragon games, which have not aged well)

      Stuff like Guardian Heroes, Capcom’s D&D games (or Dragon’s Crown, by the same lead dev) and now Fight’N Rage give you a lot of options, and a very flexible combo system. Practice doesn’t just make you better at beating the game – you look cooler doing it.

      • Baines says:

        I still find it hard to top Dungeon Fighter Online. Certainly not a perfect game, it really took advantage of both brawler and MMO mechanics. Which is why I could only scratch my head at just how bad the dedicated brawler spin-off of DFO was…

  5. Spacewalk says:

    Even better than Combatribes?

  6. Agnosticus says:

    The brawler I’ve enjoyed the most is the Shank series! So far nothing is nearly as deep, as responsive and visually appealing . I doubt that this is going to surpass it!

    • fuggles says:

      I didn’t really like shank and I wonder if I would like this. Shank reminded me of castle crashers in that the combos we’re all juggles and that was the meat of the combat. I find the combat in Streets of rage to be more tactical and based on position and mob handle, which I personally enjoyed more.

      Now I’ve watched it, The trailer for this looks all juggly and I’m not very keen on the character design. Not much competition at the minute, as doubt dragon 4 was so bad. Xmas sale maybe – I imagine I will watch the flawless run through of cuphead anyway. Sad as they deserve money, but I don’t have time to plug at memory games any more.

      • fuggles says:

        No, this does have crowd control but a horrendous art style to my eyes. What on earth is with the design of the girl and her breasts?!

        This could almost be a biker mice from Mars game. Weird looking universe, is it explained at all?

        I’ll get it in a sale likely.

  7. Akakabuto says:

    YEAH Finally! I have been checking the devblog like 2 years(link to sebagamesdev.blogspot.fi) regularly just to disappoint me every time (except I did enjoy a full five-minuter with that wheels of elephantia). WUHUU

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