We love Final Fight: Streetwise for all the wrong reasons. Rather than adoring the way it so successfully recreates the thrill of the old-school beat 'em ups of our childhood, we love just how daft this is. It's Takeshi's Castle down a smelly backstreet armed with a bit of pipe, and we can't get enough of it, bizarre and stupid though it is.
The combat, we're afraid to say, takes something of a back seat to all the bizarre mini-games, subplots and broken Engrish crammed in. "Wanna shag?", a woman asks in passing, much to our amusement, just as a gold-toothed pimp waves his "salutations!" to us from across the street. It may be slightly odd and broken, but we don't want it fixed. It's funny as hell. The mini-games deftly divert your attention from the dull back-story (something about Kyle Travers' bid to uncover the whereabouts of his kidnapped brother Cody), and you won't mind punching and kicking through streets of violent nonsense just for the perversely placed party games peppered everywhere. (Darts, boardgames, arm wrestling, or just squashing cockroaches for cash).
Like the original you (and a mate in co-op) can pick up the weapons littering the street and use them to brilliant effect. We're particularly taken with the sound effects during battle. Remember those crunchy, thudding Indiana Jones punches? It's a whole game full of them. Whacking someone about with a baseball bat feels wrong on so many levels, but so good on so many others.
The combat, as button-mashy as it is, is solid and true, and you'll revel in the waves of goons coming at you. Grab 'em, throw 'em, slam 'em through glass windows - it's bafflingly good fun. The further you punch your way through the game, the more moves you'll learn, many from old Final Fight characters such as ex-mayor Haggar, who'll happily impart his drop-kick moves to you.
Extra moves and muscle tone can be earned at the local gym for a price, and by robbing people or finding cash you can also buy health or clothes to stalk the streets in. You'll have to be careful about precisely who you rob though, because too much granny-battering will reduce your 'respect' meter and limit the opportunity to do everything the game offers. The more respect you earn - by actually being nice and returning stolen purses or chasing off bad guys, oddly enough - the more people say hello to you on the street ("salutations!"), friendship being its own reward and that.
Keep your respect high and you'll be rewarded with tips, goodies and sub-games. And we'll tell you now, there's good cash to be earned from squashing bugs.
We've a suspicion beat 'em up fans under a certain age will be slightly baffled by Streetwise. You can play it for ages and never be quite sure whether it's a superb tongue- in-cheek tribute to street fighting games of old, or just the work of inspired lunatics. Full to the brim with nonsense street-talk, batty mini-games, ridiculous scenarios and comedy combat, at a time of endless fun-free 'respect'-based murder games it's great to see Streetwise bring a sense of humour and actual gameplay back to the beat 'em up. In the words of one of Kyle's chums during a fight, "Let's show them we're toughies!"
An idiotic, stupidly playable romp from beginning to end, with such baffling diversions you can't help but love it.