Thank you 3goo for sending us this game to review!
The Rumble Fish 2 is a legendary fighting game in Japan that has finally come West after being stuck in its home country for nearly twenty years. It was developed by Dimps, who included developers involved in the original Street Fighter and Fatal Fury franchises. And the level of polish, character variety, and technically interesting fighting is actually quite evident the first time you play. Unfortunately, despite a solid foundation, several massive missteps taken in the process of converting it to modern PCs and consoles, along with severely misreading the fighting game community, led to a game whose opportunity for success was blown into smithereens.
First, it must be said that the game itself is actually quite enjoyable. The Rumble Fish series is legendary for very good reasons. The pixel art is fantastic, even if the display options could be better (there are none). The animations of the characters combine rotoscoping with pixel art in a unique way to make all animations super smooth, while somehow avoiding common pitfalls of this approach; in doing so, animations look fantastic and very high quality. The characters are interesting, and the play style varies widely between them (even if three characters are missing – more on that later). The moves are also unique enough to avoid common tropes, while still being familiar enough for long-time fighting game fans that they should feel right at home.
The combat has lots of depth, with several gauges on screen, along with various counters, reversals, and other mechanics in play. There is the guard gauge, which simply means you can’t block forever; if you mix things up you are unlikely to run out. The more interesting ones are the Offense and Defense gauges; they power up separately through different actions, but can be spent separately or together, depending on the move you choose to use. If you charge both to max, you can perform incredibly powerful attacks that use up all of your meters.
Some characters have their own special meters or power up modes that are unique to that character. For example, Lud has a temperature gauge, where if he performs certain block moves properly, it raises his temperature. This can lead to some incredibly powerful fire attacks, which spend the gauge. Others have charge moves, or modes that can make a part of your character glow or some other similar thing. One character has an annoying move that appears to be a difficult-to-land dodge mapped to a common input; this has killed me many times when I meant to attack instead!
Being more of a casual fighting game fan, it’s worth noting that while I’ve played many games in the genre over the decades since the original Street Fighter II (my first), I’ve never been particularly good at them. And I felt that painfully well when trying to win in Arcade mode. Even on Beginner difficulty, which is the easiest, that last boss took me dozens of tries. While I can’t speak to high-level play, I found there to be plenty of challenge for those who seek it. I also played a round online, and lost dramatically (as I expected). Unfortunately, when I went back a few weeks later, no one was online, so it appears that the negative reviews have had an impact, and the online community dried up quickly. It doesn’t help that with online play, you can’t rematch; you need to go back into online match and see out a new opponent after each match.
When it comes to game modes, it’s reasonably complete, though certain modes could use filling out. To start with, it includes the ever popular Arcade mode, which is primarily where the story about the F.F.S. is. To summarize, each member of the 6th Fight For Survival (F.F.S.) fights, well, to survive. I’m sure there is more story... but it’s a fighting game, so not too much. This is the mode that has the nasty last boss, where their hit priority is always higher than yours. I hate it when that happens.
Other modes include Survival (keep going until you lose), Time Attack (clear the game as quickly as possible), and Vs. Mode. Vs. Mode is where the online component lives. There is also a Training mode that is handy, but I feel like it could be better. It’s fairly basic, and makes practicing certain things difficult. It also doesn’t tell you things like how to meet certain conditions, like counters or other things. Modern games often have an interactive training mode, with recognition on successful moves or combos; not so here.
Speaking of combos, they play a very important part in this game. Combos are natural; that is to say that your input drives them, not ‘magic’ button presses or a special sequence like in Killer Instinct. Lighter attacks are designed to start combos, and what you move them into next is largely your choice. But the system is very smooth and feels well done and fair, except for that last boss who can often combo you to near death very quickly. Either way, even on that boss, once I started a combo I was able to punish appropriately, so the rules do seem to apply to everyone.
Once you beat the game with a character, the Gallery opens up. You can then see that character’s concept art and ending movie. This seems to be a motivator for completing the game as each character. You can also check your rankings against the online leaderboards for Arcade, Survival, and Time Attack modes. Your Time Attack score doesn’t count unless you default all enemies without dying, so it’s not easy to rank on there. That is likely why so few people have compared to the other modes.
We’ve already established that the core of The Rumble Fish 2 is an outstanding fighting game. I enjoy every minute that I play. But there are several issues, some major and some minor, that has led to the game earning itself a ‘Mostly Negative’ rating on Steam as of this writing. While I don’t like to let other people’s reviews impact me, and I try to avoid reading them whenever possible, it’s impossible to miss the ‘Mostly Negative’ rating on the Steam store, so some investigation was in order.
One issue that I have (not others that I’ve noticed) is that I would like it if we had options to set a pixel scaling mode. It seems to use a bilinear filtering that kind of smears away some of the details. I would prefer pixel perfect and scanline options. Another issue worth noting is that the keyboard is both supported and not supported; it works with a default keybind, but it’s not supposed to, as the Steam page says a controller is required. So it works, but you can’t change the bindings unless you use a controller. Once a controller is plugged in, if you unplug it, the game will not continue until it’s plugged back in. Another minor issue is that The Rumble Fish original title is available on consoles as a pack-in code for those who buy the collector’s edition; this is not available on PC/Steam.
Far more serious issues are some of the porting decisions. The first is the lack of an online lobby. While this doesn’t impact local play, the fact that it just has you join a game, then after the match kicks you back to the main menu is one of the craziest decisions I’ve seen. It’s probably easy to program it that way, but no player wants to see it done like that.
The second major porting decision that has players upset is that they changed the game from 4:3 aspect ration to 16:9 widescreen, and offers no option to switch between them. This may not seem like to big of a deal, but some characters’ behaviors have been unintentionally altered such that the arcade balance, which is supposed to be the gold standard, has been dramatically altered for some characters. For example, Lud has combos that he can execute where he kicks them into the wall, and they bounce back and the combo continues. On the 4:3 Arcade releases, these can be executed almost anywhere, since the edges of the visible screen count as walls for these combos. Not so since changing the play field to 16:9; he can now only perform those combos on the edge of the play area, which means driving your opponent into a corner first. While this might have been an interesting decision had it been well communicated, the developers have said that this is not an issue, despite video evidence available online proving that it is. The developers unfortunately have largely ignored the community’s protests about the (perhaps unintentional) Lud nerf in this case, along with possibly other characters also impacted.
The third and perhaps biggest issue with this release is the DLC practices. Now, it should be said that almost every fighting game developed in the last decade or so has had DLC fighters, and no one’s exactly happy about it. But what they did here was take fighters that were normally unlockable through play in the Arcade release – in this case completing Arcade mode – and locked them behind a paywall. Now, in order to play as these fighters, you need to pay $11.97; $3.99 per character for all three. So, while a port of a 2005 Arcade title for $29.99 isn’t exactly cheap, to get the whole experience, you have to pay over forty dollars. This really upset the player base, and with a niche title like this, you just can’t do that. And unfortunately, this game’s reputation is paying that price.
The appropriateness of this game is similar to other titles in the genre. Violence is obvious, where punching, kicking, and attacking others with weapons until they pass out is the name of the game. Clothes on all characters start to tear as they are beat up; while most remain reasonably modest even with torn clothes, two females show a large amount of cleavage or the bottom of their breasts after taking heavy damage. One of those females wears a nurse-like outfit with her large bosoms not allowing the jacket to close. Some magic-like attacks can be performed, and minor curse words like ‘b*st*rd’ can be seen in between-fight dialogue. Blood can be rarely seen. One character does thank God for his victory.
Outside of the lack of video options, I had no technical issues running The Rumble Fish 2. It does support rollback netcode, which is a big plus for those you do find online to play with. It even runs perfectly on Steam Deck; it will likely run just fine on any system capable of running 64-bit Windows (Linux requirements might be a little higher, since the graphics requires Vulkan support for DirectX translation). While compatibility currently shows ‘Unknown’, I believe it’s likely to be Verified in the future.
The Rumble Fish 2 is, by all accounts, an excellent fighting game. Nothing in my time playing it has shown me it’s anything but. However, questionable balance-disrupting decisions, a barebones port, and a very unwise decision to turn unlockable characters into DLC has led the community to turn its back on the game. While I completely empathize with this decision, I can’t help but think that the core of the game itself is still great. I sincerely hope that the developers take a good look at the feedback and address it, as I believe this game deserves more than it has gotten given the current circumstances. With that said, I still intend to bring this game out when I have friends over who are in the mood for a 2D fighter. The excellent game underneath it all, despite the many flaws of the port, is still in there and should be enjoyed.