Fight'N Rage is so retro I was worried I wouldn't be able to play it without buying an arcade cabinet, or in a pinch, a USB operated coin slot. It's not just a love letter to '90s arcade brawlers. It is a '90s arcade brawler. It has visually interesting characters and lovingly rendered sprites, a catchy soundtrack that you can really mash some buttons to, hell, even a toggleable CRT overlay. Less charmingly, it also has a severely dated save system that has no respect for the player's time.
That said, I was lovestruck for the first hour. Retro-style games inherently embody nostalgia, but Fight'N Rage may well be the most authentic tribute since Shovel Knight. It is positively dripping with style. I spent most of my time playing as Gal, the face of the game, but starting characters Ricardo and F. Norris have personality to spare, too. Enemies look sharp, and most of them can be unlocked as playable characters. Lucha libre bulls, sumo wrestling pigs, bouncer dobermans—it's all wonderfully silly, and the animal aesthetic gives Fight'N Rage a cool central theme that helps connect its varied levels, which range from casinos to ninja dungeons to jet skiing ocean sections.
I just wish combat were as dynamic as the world. You've got three buttons: jump, attack and special attack. That's it apart from some small nuances. As in most brawlers, the playing field is 2D but not flat, so you have to scoot forward and back along the lane to line up with and dodge enemies. You can double-tap up or down to quickly jump across the lane, or left or right to sprint. Similarly, while your basic attack is always the same combo, you can throw enemies by hitting up or down at the end of your combo. And while your special attacks are technically tied to your slow-charging SP, you can spend health instead of SP to perform one in a pinch.
Little wrinkles like these help, but fighting still feels flat. It routinely boils down to spamming the same one-button combo and throwing dudes into other dudes, but it's the recurring little annoyances that really sabotage combat. Basic attacks have short reach and lining up with enemies is fiddly, so it's easy to whiff attacks. And when you do connect, enemies often wind up flying off the locked screen, so you have to wait for them to walk back, which kills the pacing. Plus many enemies, particularly bosses, will attack you from off-screen, which is as frustrating as it's always been. And when enemies are on-screen, there are often so many that you can't even see your character.
A level around the middle of the arcade campaign swiftly ended my honeymoon phase with Fight'N Rage. It's the perfect storm of the worst the game has to offer. The entire level is set on a small raft. If enemies fall off, they die. If you fall off, you take lots of damage. Simple, right? Just stay in the middle and knock everyone off. The trouble is, Fight'N Rage is not a precise game. Special moves sent me overboard. Jumping to hit flying enemies sent me overboard. My character randomly jumped overboard after basic attacks on grounded enemies. So after several minutes of careening overboard, I was ready for a change of pace. Instead, I got a boss with a grand total of two moves, both of which are designed to send you overboard. Needless to say, I died.
"Well, this is boring, but at least I'm past the enemy section and can focus on the boss fight," I thought. But the checkpoint was all the way back at the beginning of the raft level. So to even make it to the boring boss fight, I had to beat the tedious and imprecise level every time. Which I did. I eventually made it past that section and started enjoying myself again, until the next ridiculously far-off checkpoint came up, once again putting an army of enemies between me and a boring boss fight, this time spiced up by a veritable buffet of off-screen attacks.
This is the same brand of 'insert 25 cents to continue' bullshit that made old arcade games so profitable, but in a modern brawler like Fight'N Rage it's just archaic and annoying. I don't mind the limited lives, but the scarce, overly punishing checkpoints absolutely killed the game for me. There's satisfaction to be had from mastering an entire level and its boss, but between repetitive combat and boring bosses, I didn't feel motivated to persevere through all the bad checkpointing. I simply don't have time for games that don't respect my time. If you're going to brave Fight'N Rage, I recommend doing it in local co-op with friends or with a stick between your teeth.