Review by JPeeples
"A top flight game with a dime store plot."
After years of setbacks, the Spikeout series has finally hit a console. The arcade original was going to be released on the Dreamcast, but that system's untimely passing nixed those plans. An Xbox installment of the series was announced soon after, and set for release in 2003. After years of delays, Spikeout Battle Street finally reached the Xbox (and more importantly, my hands) in March of 2005.
With the anticipation built from desiring to play the original arcade games, but never being able to, I took the game home and basked in the greatness that was Spikeout. While not everything in the game lives up to that billing, most aspects do. Sega definitely worked hard to bring this Streets of Rage incarnate to the Xbox, and that paid dividends in the end product.
The core play is essentially like Streets of Rage's, only in 3D. The Dynamite Dekka games (Die Hard Arcade for the Saturn, and Dynamite Cop for the DC) are quite similar to this in that sense. Where they differ is in the execution. Here, it literally is like Streets of Rage, since so much of the game is set in an urban, realistic setting, and the characters have a similar feel to the ones in SoR.
Much like the SoR games, anything in this game could be feasible to some degree, especially since this game's plot revolves around a gang war (although it's a team war for the sake of political correctness). The story mode here is a mix of the current generation trend of cutscene-heavy games, only with a heavier emphasis on the game itself. As the story mode continues, you'll be treated to some cut scenes with B-movie level dialogue. My favorite line thus far would have to be stage two's I need to find my man exchange, which is said in such a way that it becomes unintentionally funny, as is the case for many lines throughout the game.
This mode is actually quite notable for other things, such as its difficulty. You aren't given a single continue throughout this mode, meaning that you'll be squaring off with dozens of foes in an area, and you MIGHT get a health pickup to revive yourself. Combine this amount of foes with the potential to face up to three bosses as a time, and you have yourself one tough mode. Thankfully, an easy mode is made available to you after being beaten twice, but that only goes so far to help you out, as it doesn't thin the number of foes, it just dumbs them down a shade. Under any circumstance, this mode will test your gaming mettle, moreso than any beat 'em up I've encountered.
Luckily, the game has enough depth to keep you interested while it kicks your ass. While the core mechanics of beat the daylights out of waves of foes hasn't undergone much change, you now have far more ways to do it. You can now use button-charging attacks of various degrees that take more time to do, but dole out more damage, and can either kill a lesser foe in one shot, or leave them dizzy and open to attack. You also have a variety of basic strikes, and being able to strafe allows you to mix things up from a few different directions. Throws are handled well, and can be executed from multiple positions (in this case; in front of, to the side of, and behind your foe), with jumping variations of each.
Most of these things are handled well, but for whatever reason, jump kicks (a staple of Streets of Rage games) are nearly impossible to do smoothly. Luckily, the jumping homing attacks (done by hitting just the white button) aren't affected by this. Grabbing and using weapons is also a bigger chore than it needs to be, since you have to hit two buttons (by default) to grab them, and while this can be remedied by mapping the X and Y functions to a single button, it shouldn't need to be done in the first place. I'm amazed that they messed up some elementary things, given how many new things for the genre are done well.
On top of these newfound things, you've got well-done Live play that rounds the whole package out. While you can't do a whole lot with it (only the non-story, Battle Street mode is available online), what you can do within these confines is staggering. In conjunction with the story mode, you can play through one level at a time, which is perfect for when you just want to play for ten minutes or so. Doing this, or going through the whole game, with up to three other people is a blast on Live.
Despite the high amount of thing going on, things never really slow down. The only exceptions to this rule are when an entire group of four players were each using massive boss characters, in which case, the action slowed down a bit when there were over a dozen characters on-screen at once.
I'm amazed how well-done the Live play is, and if that's the trade off for a bunch of bells and whistles, I'll gladly take it. Live is also the easiest, most reliable way to unlock the over 40 secret characters, making this a must-have if you have Live and love beat em ups. There are a surprisingly high amount of people on Live with this when you factor in the rumored 3500 copy print run Battle Street has gotten. Hopefully, Sega issues a reprint so that more people can get on Live. I'll be enjoying the lively online play while it lasts, as it's given me quite a few memories. I can't help but imagine how much better things would be with the ability to create your own character for the Battle Street mode. It would allow you to show off a bit of your personality in the game, and would extend the life of the game a bit as well.
Considering that the graphics are based on a game released over seven years ago, I'm surprised how well they turned out. While they aren't the flashiest visuals around, they're effective. What little flash is here (lighting effects off of clothing, cloth moving) is done well. The character models are good, with a solid look and smooth animation. The homing attack animation is especially well done. Small details, such as videos and CDs flying off shelves when you slam foes into them, and cracks and deterioration to plaster add some life to the environments. I guess I shouldn't be surprised at how many small things are done well, given the Streets of Rage series succeeding in the same way. It's still surprising to see so many of them done in 3D though, and given all of the action that goes on, I'm surprised there are so many visual things done well. With an over seven year gap between the original and this, my hat is off to AM2 for getting it right the first time, to the extent that the core game still looks good years later, even in the hands of other developers.
Compared to past Sega beat em ups, Battle Street's audio falls short. While the music has the same techno sound as the Streets of Rage games, it isn't nearly as memorable. On its own merits, it isn't half bad. I've even hummed some of the tunes during loading screens. The only real issue I take with it is that nothing really separates it from any other game, and without individuality, the music just blends into the game. Luckily, the sound effects are much better here than in past beat em ups, which is rather high praise given how consistently well-done they are done. The voice work is a brilliant mix of good and bad. The top-notch voice work by Christopher R. Sabat (of Lupin the Third fame), and the rest of the cast is harmed by the really poor script. While it isn't all that bad considering the genre, it's still rather lifeless. It's a real shame that in nearly two decades of beat em ups, the plots haven't evolved much. The cast's hard work comes alive with the quips they spew as they're attacking you. Void's loud DIE! is my personal favorite, as he says it wish such conviction, while nailing you with one of many Polish Hammer double axe handles.
Kudos to the cast for doing the best job they could with the material they were given, if by some miracle we see another installment in the series, I'd love to see the cast return, with a better script to work with. The core story is rather intriguing, with a nice amount of backstabbing and immaturity to keep things at least interesting, but the execution is horrid here, which can be prevented down the road.
Given how stale the genre has become over the past decade, I'm surprised that Spikeout Battle Street ends up injecting so much life into it. The furthering of the gameplay matters more than anything else, and in some ways, it's good to see some genre standards (like the plot) stick around. The Live play is done much better than it has any right to, especially when one considers the likely shoestring budget given for this. The few things that aren't done well (like the control and plot issues) are forgivable, since they don't cripple play, and when so many things are done wonderfully, I can't help but feel good about the game. It was obviously a labor of love, and one that was worth the effort, given the praise it has received from those who appreciate their gaming fast and furious.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/18/05, Updated 04/19/05
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