I grew up in the ‘80s when arcades ruled the malls and you’d have to wait your turn to kick some ass. Games like Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Bad Dudes pioneered the way for the beat’em-up brawler genre. They featured an unspeakable amount of thugs that could only be silenced by your fists, uppercuts, and the occasional pipe to the face. Over the years the genre grew bigger with big licensed games like X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but as we’ve seen with many types of games, the public grew tired of the same old dance and moved on. Only in recent years have we seen a resurgence in popularity for these games, although they’ve mostly been indie releases. Indeed, Raging Justice is just that, but with current day visuals to appeal to a wider demographic. There’s a great deal of fun to be had here, but some small quibbles keep it from being truly magnificent.
Much like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, you’ll be able to choose from a small smattering of characters. There is Rick Justice, a veteran cop who isn’t afraid to break a few rules (and skulls) to take down criminals. Nikki Rage has a military background and some nice moves to effectively deal with whatever is thrown her way. Then there’s Ashley King, a 15 year-old with lightning fast moves and honestly the best choice in the game thanks to her agility. Each character has slightly different moves and benefits, so you’ll want to give each a try to see which appeals most to your play style.
As is customary with this style of game, Raging Justice supports 2-player co-op. Since all of the buttons are mapped to a single Joy-Con you can easily snap them off for a quick session with a buddy no matter where you are. I’ve always found brawlers to be much more entertaining with a friend by my side, but I have to admit I was surprised to find out that you can hurt each other. This can become irritating rather quickly when you’re in the middle of beating up an enemy and accidentally pummel your friend in the process. Luckily, the developers must have sensed this impending frustration and have included an option to turn off friendly fire in the options. I highly recommend disabling it for maximum enjoyment!
Just as you’d expect, the object of the game is to defeat the hordes of enemies in each stage and kill the boss at the end. Except, it’s not always in your best interest to kill the perps. Remember, you’re out for justice, and that might be arresting them instead! You can cuff them and you’ll earn a piece of food that replenishes your health, or you can go for the brutal takedown and rack up higher points. The game tracks your score and the time it took you to complete each stage and uploads the data to online leaderboards. You can see where you rank and even sort the list so you can see how you compare to your friends.
You can also try to complete various challenges given to you on each stage. For example, the first zone has several objectives, such as: don’t lose a life, arrest five thugs, and complete the stage in less that 3:30. These give incentive to try stages again and offer up more replay value than you’d normally see in games of this type.
For the most part, the controls work well in Raging Justice. You can jump, punch, and kick your way to victory. If you get in close you can also grab an enemy and either throw them or repeatedly knee them in the face. If you find yourself overwhelmed by a mob you can also execute a special move that will deal massive damage, but it also uses a little bit of your health so you can’t just spam it over and over again. If you manage to stun an enemy you will be able to arrest them, but I found this to be hit or miss. Many times I didn’t know how many times to hit an enemy to cause them to go into the stun animation, oftentimes killing them before I could cuff them. This really isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things, unless you’re going after the aforementioned challenges or are in desperate need for some health items. Getting the timing down to jump over motorcycles and other attacks took some time as well. Perhaps I’m just out of practice with brawlers of this type, but I missed my mark more times than I’d rather admit.
There are a decent range of bad guys and gals to take down throughout the game. Some will have weapons like dynamite, baseball bats, and knives, but luckily anything they can pick up so can you. You can then smack them with them or throw them across the screen to deal damage from afar. These can often be super powerful, often killing the enemies with a single hit. Most of the time you’ll have to crowd control the various criminals to avoid being attacked from all sides. Bosses can be a real challenge at times because they often have special moves that will have area of attack features. One in particular was very frustrating thanks to his ability to jump in the air and land with a massive energy wave that would knock me down if I was too close. Another could spin around and was invincible during this phase, making it almost impossible to not get hit. With waves of enemies constantly coming at you and times where the boss can’t be touched, it can become a bit disorienting and it’s not long before frustration can set in. This is made worse with animation loops that have to finish before you can get back up again after being knocked down, and if everything lines up perfectly wrong you won’t even have a chance to recover. Despite these seemingly unfair boss attacks, if you learn the patterns they are beatable, but I never thought they were very fun.
I rather like the HD presentation in Raging Justice. Instead of going for the classic 8 or 16-bit pixelated graphics, the developers have created a modern looking game with current day sensibilities. The backgrounds and characters look more 3D modeled with a fresh coat of paint. The overall aesthetic does look perhaps a little cheap, sort of like early print video game ads for games like Road Rash or something. Still, I sort of like this look and it’s different from the usual indie fare we’ve seen. The soundtrack is just sort of there, with nothing too crazy or of notice. You’re not going to find the sublime beats of Streets of Rage, but there are plenty of different music pieces here, from a big top carnival soundscape to funky bar brawl tunes.
Perhaps most importantly Raging Justice doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s got just about the right number of levels (ten or so) and they aren’t drawn out too long either. The game also offers up a variety of difficulty levels and once you’ve beaten a stage you can warp back to it from a select screen to give it another go. I’m appreciative of these time-saving options because sometimes it’s just fun to hop into a game and not worry about brutal difficulty levels so often associated with this genre (Battletoads, anyone?). Of course, there are ways to make the game more difficult for those who want it. I’m not sure if the gamers of today appreciate title like this one, but I still have a soft spot for them. Raging Justice may come across as a bit generic and a bit too by the numbers, but I had a great time rampaging through the city and think you will to if you give it a chance, despite some of its shortcomings!
Raging Justice was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.