Mad Streets is the latest in the modern surge of zany, physics driven party games/beat ’em ups. It’s infused with neat ideas that separate it from a game like Gang Beasts, but it has several growing pains that obfuscate what should be a satisfying bunch of unfettered chaos.
Making Sense of the Mad Streets
Mad Streets‘ extensive roster is one of its most interesting twists on the genre. Most titles of this nature use different characters as a means of self-expression—a tool to aid one’s connection to the proceedings. Decking out your own avatar is part and parcel with the experience. Mad Streets uses its cast more practically, however. While the basics remain the same, each character sports key differentiations that alter your association within the hectic bouts.
Most characters sport a different set of combos, and charged attacks differ from person to person. Everyone even swings their arms differently. Additionally, some characters are bestowed with a backstep ability, which others lack. Similarly, someone like Sting adds kicks to their repertoire—meanwhile, Dumpster only punches. These variables lead to the potential for an interesting meta of sorts that doesn’t typically exist within these physics-based games. Players will find favorites among the stack. It isn’t as mindless as its peers in that sense, but in practice, this meta isn’t enough to make it stick.
To give credit where it’s due, giving everyone a health bar presents a different set of mind-games. You’ll know when you’re on the verge of losing, capable of making the necessary course corrections. Health bars make a world of difference for how fights play out. Beyond this, the game’s inclusions are more of a mixed bag. Mad Streets likes to mix its stable with a decent chunk of variety, to puzzling results.
In addition to the traditional arenas, there’s a separate set of levels that hinges upon a different conceit. These range anywhere from tossing drunks out of a bar to collecting wood to build a wooden raft. It’s a noble effort, but effort only gets one so far without meaningful implementation. These sets of stages run the gamut of throwing in the kitchen sink, hoping something sticks, but they are often mindless 30 to 60 second flashes of nothingness. At one point during one of the cliques’ single player campaigns, you’re tasked with carrying an unconscious mascot to nearby bushes—an act which takes all of six seconds.
The more standard stages fare better, as that’s where the surprisingly dense mechanics are given the room to breathe. They are far from the disaster the party stages are, but they’re at least serviceable. At times, you might even find yourself acquiescing to the mechanics’ ideosyncrasies, learning when to awkwardly fumble around an opponent’s attacks with the loosey-goosey dodge, retorting with a counter or how to exploit certain characters’ attacks. When it clicks, it’s fine—and that’s just it. At its best, Mad Streets is only ever fine.
The Streets Aren’t So Mad
The standard stages are too static to keep extended sessions interesting for too long. Whereas Gang Beasts‘ stages incorporate various states of duress, such as fighting atop speeding trucks, in side-by-side elevators, or even on unstable chunks of ice, Mad Streets‘ fighting stages don’t do much to get the adrenaline pumping. At its most exciting, a shopping market features wet floor spots that make you slip and that’s the extent of it. Its denser mechanics, which afford more user control, would have worked extremely well with more precarious scenarios—but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
With that said, there’s a surprising amount of tension found within the one punch mode. This mode employs ladder matches in which two characters are placed within an octagonal arena, with the camera framed much closer. In theory, one punch is supposed to be an instant knockout. In practice, it doesn’t actually work that way. I’m not sure if it’s a bug or something I’m not fully comprehending, but strikes sometimes don’t produce the intended result—the knockout. Despite this misgiving, it’s Mad Streets‘ most exciting mode in some ways.
It gets straight to the point, providing a refreshing sense of focus for the genre that doesn’t skimp on the associated tension, because one wrong move means instant failure. With an entire group of friends, one punch could be a fun mode for the squad to get together and talk trash, but Mad Streets makes it so hard to realize that scenario.
One of its most damning condemnations is the lack of online multiplayer, a genre standard. It’s especially puzzling releasing a party game without online multiplayer in the midst of an increasingly unpredictable pandemic. The developers have mentioned online will come in the future, but its lack of inclusion at launch is befuddling. How often is an actual human being going to pull a full squad together for extensive Mad Streets sessions? It’s such a glaring omission to this type of experience that it should have been delayed until online was ready to rollout.
As it stands, Mad Streets is an okay physics-driven party game/beat ’em up. Its health bars and mechanics, which gleam more from traditional fighting games, are a step in the right direction. The one punch mode is also entertaining under the right circumstances, but the majority of its inclusions feel undercooked; the promise of online multiplayer at some point in the future points to this. Beyond multiplayer, however, its standard arena stages are about as dry Daria’s sense of humor, and the more “inventive” party stages are a mess of ideas thrown together. There’s a decent game buried underneath layers of obfuscation.