Review by Bill Wood
Reviewed: 08/17/12 | Updated: 08/23/12
Orphan or Riff? You decide.
For fans of the iconic 1979 action flick and the eponymous 2005 game, The Warriors: Street Brawl has a heavy rep to live up to. The movie has gone on the become one of the all-time cult classics, while Rockstar's tie-in is widely considered to be one of the better film-to-game translations out there. A Warriors-themed beat-'em-up should be a match made in heaven, and while it never quite lives up to its potential, Street Brawl is not nearly the disaster you might believe.
Loosely based upon the events of the film (the Rockstar game was more of a prequel), Street Brawl has you bopping your way back to Coney as one of four Warriors either in single-player mode or online/couch co-op. Two additional combatants -- Ajax and Mercy -- are waiting to be unlocked. Mercy is a curious choice as they could have chosen several other Warriors to represent in the game, Snow and Cleon being the obvious candidates. Perhaps it's an appeal to the female demographic, if such a thing exists in the testosterone-fueled Warriors universe. In any case, there are a variety of vicious, bloodthirsty street gangs -- mostly well-represented from the actual movie -- to contend with as you roam the grimy, dimly-lit streets of New York. And if you already know the story, you know everyone is longing for The Warriors' early demise. The odds are not in their favor.
Game modes are numerous, but all are variations of the same basic "beat stuff up and smash things" motif. Story Mode, Arcade Mode, Boss Mode, Versus Mode... you name it. The ability to combine and offline and online co-op play is a definite plus. Leaderboards allow you to check your best scores and compete online. A DLC menu sits sadly neglected, almost certain to become a relic the day after the review embargo was lifted.
From a visual standpoint, Street Brawl is a very middle-of-the-road XBLA game. The character models are decent, the cutscenes are detailed, and the stages -- which again manage to stay faithful to the source material -- are varied and exotic. From a fan perspective, it's hard not to get pumped for a moonlit rumble in the park against The Furies or a Lizzies melee in a gruesome abandoned subway tunnel. The essence of the movie has been captured quite well, although non-fans will probably see this as an average-looking brawler with cartoonish characters.
The audio content ranges from respectable to cringe-inducing. Variations of the classic Warriors theme reverberates throughout many stages, and when it does it's a total thrill. What isn't as thrilling is the speed metal interlude that plays during boss battles. It feels totally out of place for a game that -- aesthetically speaking -- took place in 1979. Even worse is the lack of original voice acting, which wouldn't have been an issue had the developers not seen fit to replace the classic movie lines with all-new voice-overs. It would have been much better to leave the classic "Can you dig it?" and "Warriors! Come out to playeeeaeee!" lines out of the game altogether than to replace them with shallow impersonations.
Now to the meat and potatoes of this review, and honestly, what I feel is the single most misunderstood aspect of Street Brawl; the combat. From a tried-and-true beat-'em-up perspective, Street Brawl is not in the league of surefire new-school classics such as Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. But it's not entirely terrible either. The problem is -- and I hate to fall back on this line -- is that it's too easy to play this game the wrong way. It's a silly comment to make, but the fact is if you play Street Brawl like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, you're asking for a heap of frustration and an early Continue screen. However, if you take time to learn the mechanics you'll uncover a somewhat different experience.
The main difference between Street Brawl and its BMU brethren is the Block function. Blocking is absolutely imperative to gameplay and cannot be ignored, it not only totally negates every enemy attack outside of a few boss attacks, but it also allows players to establish a rhythm with counterattacking. In this aspect, the game plays out more like Virtua Fighter than your standard beat-'em-up. Once the ebb and flow of the system is mastered -- block, counter, rinse, repeat -- the game opens up and becomes much more playable. It's still not perfect (especially when you're being assaulted from all sides in a small corner of the screen, or worse, completely out of view) but it does work.
This leads to another frequently-mentioned issue -- the supposedly high difficulty level. While it's true that the standard difficulty can be challenging at times (we are talking a retro-styled beat-'em-up after all), the infinite continues in Story Mode means this is never really an issue. The only time the game feels truly unfair is during the aforementioned screen crowding, which doesn't happen frequently enough to become a real nuisance. But if the action does get too heavy for you, there is an adjustable difficulty setting. I managed to get through all seven chapters in Easy Mode without even using a continue, and I'm moderately-skilled when it comes to gaming.
So does all of this make Street Brawl the new model for the modern beat-'em-up? Hardly. Issues persist; collision and enemy tracking can be very spotty, attack patterns lack variety, and there is even the occasional game-breaking crash to contend with. Some of this might have been dealt with via patch updates, then again weak reviews and less-than-stellar sales figures don't lend themselves to follow-up work, be it DLC or in-game improvements.
For die-hard Warriors fans, it's pretty easy to recommend Street Brawl as a $10 nostalgia trip that is easily beaten and just as easily forgotten. All others should definitely demo first, review the suggestions above and see if the game suits your style. If not, hey, there are plenty of other beat-'em-ups that are easier to recommend.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: The Warriors: Street Brawl (US, 09/23/09)
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