‘Anarchy Reigns’ plays well but loses steam to predecessor

“Anarchy Reigns”

4 out of 5 stars

For Playstation 3, Xbox 360

•Style: Action/beat ‘em up

•Rating: M for Mature

• The sequel to 2009’s “Madworld” keeps the zany and the violence.

• Controls don’t translate as well from Wii to other consoles

• Multiplayer saves the game, provides wacky, bloody entertainnent.

 

In 2009, Platinum Games’ “Madworld” hit the Nintendo Wii. Lauded by critics, cited as an example of hyperviolence on what was supposed to be a family console, “Madworld” was a delightful blend of low-culture humor, high-brow artistry, intuitive controls and creative violence.

The game centered on tough-guy Jack Cayman, whose witty banter, intelligence, and the chainsaw on his left arm arguably made the game. Best of all, the game’s black and white color scheme made the story feel more like a noir comic than just another action game, transcending what would normally be a tired genre of brawlers and beat-’em-ups.

Platinum Games followed up on this critical darling with “Anarchy Reigns,” which came out this week. No longer black-and-white, “Anarchy Reigns” is an incredibly weird, slightly spastic action brawler that takes its cues from “Madworld,” for better or worse.

Set in the same universe, Jack Cayman is back looking for a former government official who escaped from jail. While the story still follows a noirish conspiracy, similar to the first game, it remains true to its roots. There’s still bizarre enemies. There’s still a funky bebop soundtrack full of wickedly clever rhymes. There’s still plenty of blood and gore, some slight sexuality on occasion, and a lot of ways to kill your opponent.

Yet like many sequels, “Anarchy Reigns” doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. “Madworld’s” Wii controls felt versatile and drew the player into the action, and sometimes even into the story. Those same actions can be done at the push of a button or two in “Anarchy Reigns.” It’s not as satisfying, and brings out some of the weaknesses in the game’s battle system — If you don’t hit the enemy first, run or you’re not living through the encounter.

There’s plenty of reasons to like this game, though. “Anarchy Reigns” simplifies items, making them less important and concentrating more on actually fighting your opponents instead of finding things with which to beat them. Bizarre enemies will come calling, and fans of Lovecraftian literature won’t be disappointed by some of the additions.

And the multiplayer … oh, the multiplayer. With 10-minute rounds, about 12 game modes, and up to 16 players in some of the fights, multiplayer is arguably the best thing about “Anarchy Reigns,” and was a major selling point in its tight-budget marketing campaign. You get to choose from classic Platinum Games characters — even Bayonetta is unlockable — and beat the stuffing out of computers and friends alike. Each round also brings events and twists to increase your point totals, with much more chaotic elements than the game’s campaign mode. It’s probably the most fun you’ll have in a multiplayer action game that doesn’t involve guns.

For its $30 price tag, “Anarchy Reigns” should be an easy buy. The problem is, it’s building off a series that didn’t sell well in the U.S. For all its creativity, “Madworld” only sold about 60,000 copies stateside during its first month out, and since then has only sold about 710,000 copies over the past three years worldwide. Hence, the $30 price and somewhat-quiet marketing campaign.

That’s a shame. There’s too much personality in this game, too many elements done right to bury a franchise like this. “Anarchy Reigns” is still delightful, even if it may not sell well.

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