After the poise and grace of their last beat-'em-up Bayonetta, Platinum Games delivers a very different kind of fighter in Anarchy Reigns - one that's clunkier and cruder and yet somehow every inch as stylish as their previous work. This, then, is ballet of a brawnier kind.
As a third-person arena fighting game, Anarchy Reigns immediately invites comparisons to Power Stone, God Hand, even Streets of Rage. Attempts to understand Anarchy Reigns by using other games as reference points are futile however as it - like all Platinum games - eschews conventions and is content to be its own thing. But it does share one thing in common with the above-mentioned games: it realises that the most important part of kicking ass is making sure you look good while doing it.
And so Anarchy Reigns employs a rhythmic fighting system which makes it a hypnotic game both to observe and to interact with - a feat that's doubly impressive considering its smeary visuals and browntown art direction aren't, in isolation, the kind of stuff that inspire poetry.
Compared to the extensive customisation available in previous Clover/Platinum works such as God Hand or Bayonetta, Anarchy Reigns' combat system is disarmingly simple and static. Each character is equipped with a small cache of moves - a throw, a light attack and a heavier attack that serves as a launcher for juggling.
On top of that, each of the 18 combatants has a unique special attack that has to be recharged after use, either by waiting for your gauge to replenish naturally or by hastening it by performing taunts. For defence, you've got a guard, a roll and a panic button that floors everyone around you at the cost of a segment of your health bar. And that, for all intents and purposes, is all. Although Anarchy Reigns employs an XP system, this only affects your character's ability to equip Call of Duty-esque perks. The moveset your characters are born with are the ones they take to the grave.
The tiny selection of moves at your disposal betray a fighting system with considerable nuance. Rhythm is the key; while button-mashing will get you so far you'll need to adopt a more measured approach to unleash the longer, more brutal combo chains. This you achieve by varying your attacks and timing your inputs in line with natural pauses in the fight's flow.
It can take a while to get into the swing of things, as the threadbare tutorial section leaves much of the finer aspects of combat unexplained. But once it clicks and you fall into a rhythm, it sucks you into the zone like all good beat-'em-ups do. The measure of a good fighter is whether it's fun to wade into gangs of goons just for the sake of fighting, and Anarchy Reigns passes that test with flying colours (shades of crimson, mostly).
That said, the single player mode doesn't half push its luck in this regard. It's a series of side-challenges and boss fights, dotted around a succession of hub areas. Missions only unlock after you've wandered around whaling on enough enemies to meet the requisite points total.
This proves a boringly artificial way to extend the single-player campaign's length, and poor pacing led us to grow tired with it long before it ended. Fortunately, the actual missions themselves are often worth the wait; an imaginative potpourri of survival challenges, time attacks, hovercraft races and - just when you think you've seen it all - a battle to the death against an oversized squid. The boss battles too are creative and are bookended by some truly bizarre dialogue which rarely fails to raise a smile.
The single-player side of things is only a side-attraction, however. A primer. By the time it's done and dusted and you've unlocked the entire cast of characters for use in multiplayer, you'll come to realise why the tutorial at the beginning was so vague; as it turns out, the entire campaign is but a glorified training exercise aimed at readying you for the competitive multiplayer component - which, as it turns out, comprises the real meat of the game.