If there's one thing you can expect from a Platinum Games release, it's that it will have a singular hard-core focus. "The makers of "Bayonetta" and "Vanquish" have shown that they aren't like other developers who are happy to copy the success of other games.
They don't zig while others zag. That would imply that they keep an eye on the competition. Platinum Games ventures into the wild lands of Japanese gaming and makes titles that it wants to play.
That brings us to "Anarchy Reigns," which is a pseudo-spiritual-second-cousin sequel to "MadWorld" on the Wii. It's not exactly a follow-up that continues the story of Jack Cayman, but it uses many of the same characters in a game about two men -- Jack,
The campaign is divided between a White Side and Black Side, like on a cassette tape. Each features its own protagonist who sports cybernetically enhanced weapons and fighting style. Once you complete one side, it flips over to the other, showing you the competing side of the adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world.
Jack's Black Side follows the bounty hunter as he meets allies and tries to capture Max alive for a client. The burly man with a chain-saw arm has his own vendetta against the bureau agent. Meanwhile, Leo's White Side shows him trying to arrest his former mentor, who has mysteriously gone rogue.
The structure and gameplay is an interesting mix of beat-'em-up placed in huge, open levels. Players have to crush waves of enemies to score points, and those points unlock missions scattered through the stage.
There's some technique required to get through the game. Players will need to know how to block, dodge and rip off combos. They can pick up items and hijack vehicles. But there isn't anything necessarily new to any of the moves. A leveling system would have been welcome, but there is just enough depth to the fighting with items and power moves that the combat is more than blind button-mashing and hoping for a lucky hit.
As for the quests, they offer enough variety between the free and story-based missions. They even let you choose from several characters at some points, giving you a sense how each one is different. When it comes to story, don't expect a coherent explanation about why you're knocking oversized balls into tubes or why a giant self-healing mutant is after you. Like a lot of Platinum Games, "Anarchy Reigns" is about frenetic gameplay and unbridled creativity and less about sensible narratives.
Lastly, the other reason for playing through the single-player mode is that it unlocks extras such as character models and artwork, but more importantly, it opens up new heroes and abilities that are used in the multiplayer mode.
Players can battle in several game types that include hectic 16-player battles. As a one-on-one fighting game, "Anarchy Reigns" is unremarkable. But it's the other modes that are more attractive. Playing Capture the Flag or a Team Deathmatch with brawling warriors who have their own fighting characteristics and abilities adds depth that the single-player lacks.
It's more fun with the chaos of large teams, but smaller matchups show the flaws in the fighting system. Players aren't able to interrupt team attacks when they're already in motion. There's little opportunity to nail down a combo because opponents can easily break out of it with a special attack. And the camera, which is an annoyance in the single-player campaign, is just as terrible in the multiplayer.
"Anarchy Reigns" isn't Platinum Games' best work. It's a decent action title for those who want something more than another "Dynasty Warriors." There's certainly nothing out there like it, but the problem with making experiences for yourself is that sometimes they end up alienating a broader audience that wants to give your games a try.
* * ½
Platforms: Xbox 360,