There are two kinds of B-grade games. The first have tight budgets and schedules but the developers push their big ideas nevertheless. The result can be a mixed bag but despite the modest production values – or just because of them – these games can be fun. Then there are those titles that are deliberately trash. What they lack, though, is the honesty of real B-grade games, and the results are most often contrived. Guess in which category retro-conscious Raging Justice fits in?
Raging Justice is a side-scrolling street brawler in the style of such classics as Sega’s Street of Rage trilogy and Capcom’s Final Fight series. There are three characters to choose from: hard-hitting ex-cop Rick, tough ex-military Nikki and speedy street kid Ashley. Alone or with a couch co-op partner, they will bring discipline to the streets - in good or bad. Mostly bad. There are nine stages to battle through with a boss fight at the end of each. A separate brawl mode offers one-screen survival against continuous enemy waves with only one life.
Everything Raging Justice does is lifted from the games that inspired it. There’s friendly fire where players’ punches and kicks will hit each other, special moves that eat a chunk out of your own health bar, weapon pick-ups for some temporary extra punishment, food items to replenish health and so on. The developer MakinGames has thrown a couple of new ideas into the mix. Stunned enemies can be arrested for a good cop bonus, and there are challenges, like completing stages under a set amount of time or score and busting warranted enemies. Also, even though the same few designs are recycled between the baddies, they all are individually and often hilariously named.
If the game design is oh so 90’s, so is the presentation. The effectively cut trailers prior the release made Raging Justice feel like fun and awesome 90’s pastiche. The title tune with its musty sound channels and the intro with its budget animation set the right mood. On the streets, deliberately shitty pre-rendered assets, like ugly character models and choppy animation, are like straight out of Rare’s original Killer Instinct beat ‘m ups. It comes as no surprise as MakinGames are mostly ex-Rare members. The chosen aesthetics are sure gawky to look at but as they’re worth of a few chuckles, it’s a nod that serves the original idea of a retro mash-up. Aside from that, the disappointment sets in almost from the get-go. The game turns out to be messy, plodding and monotonous. The joke is on Raging Justice as it can’t compete with the games it so much wants to emulate.
The controls are unwieldy and hitboxes, both for the players and enemies alike, seem random. There’s too much emphasis put on kicking grounded enemies. Solo play is slow and tedious and there’s no hope in hell achieving those time limit challenges. Twice the fun, you’d wish, but the game punishes that thought. The screen is too garbled to make much out of it in a heat of two-player game. Even though the damage dealing portion of the friendly fire can be disabled, it doesn’t help a bit. You’re still biting the concrete all the time due to “friendly” blows, not least because of loose hitboxes. It completely eliminates the chances of pummeling the same enemy and especially in the boss fights it really is an issue. Food items stay on the screen all too briefly and they don’t even replenish that much health anyway. All these problems make the game unnecessary difficult, culminating in the boss fights. The big, bad goons don’t switch phases by the damage you’ve dealt on them but instead they act on pre-determined timers. Couple this with disabled boss hitboxes in parts of the fights, and you can spell c-h-e-a-p.
There are seven continues for a single brawler which seems like much but in co-op they’re shared between the players. Stages are unlocked as you go but continuing from the latest is no use as you start with those lives and continues you had at the beginning of the stage you exited at, either by game over or quitting the game. It’s better to retrace back to the stage one with refreshed resources and hope for a better luck during a new go. But why bother because there’s a superior genre game playable even today through Xbox One backwards compatibility in Sega Vintage Collection: Streets of Rage, namely Streets of Rage II. Blocky graphics aside, it’s just as good as it used to be a quarter century ago. There’s nothing random in it. The level design and the pacing of enemy waves are carefully adjusted and the different player characters are balanced (in Racing Justice, the kid Ashley scores best due to the fast combo kicks). The visuals are big and clear so in co-op it’s easy to stay of each other’s way and manage own side of the screen. Streets of Rage II is hard but not unfair. MakinGames should have done their research better and learn what’s the difference between “challenging” and “cheap”.
Raging Justice is caged in the very same nostalgia it pursues. It relies so much on the 90’s vibes that if you haven’t experienced the games of the era, you might be thinking what the hell is going on. Were the games back then as crap as Raging Justice? The answer is no. To succeed in its ambition as a homage to the long-lost genre, Raging Justice should have been an excellent street brawler. Now its desires are only skin-deep, basking in leftovers of aesthetics the time deserted. The game can be fun in short bursts, but only in short bursts. Any longer and the frustration due to the gameplay issues will kick in again. It’s a shame Raging Justice is not nearly as good - and more importantly, as fun - as it sets out to be.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.