You’d be forgiven for having never heard of ‘The Rumble Fish’. I consider myself a pretty well-informed fighting game fan, but, I have to admit, it passed me by. That could be down to the series being primarily confined to arcades (the first game was ported to the PS2, and there is a homebrew Dreamcast version), but it could also be due to the fact that it didn’t really live up to the lofty heights set by the surfeit of fighting games doing the rounds at the time, or to the level that Street Fighter has been maintaining since SF II’ launched to widespread cultural fervour in 1992. The Rumble Fish released into arcades in 2004, briskly followed by a sequel the following year, and it’s not all that hard to see why it’s been largely forgotten during the intervening decade-and-a-half.
Big Bazoo gets a kick to the throat.
The Rumble Fish 2 is an odd game. It’s the sort of thing that might have drawn your attention in an arcade, and perhaps swallow up some of your hard-earned cash, but on a console in 2022 it stands out as an odd curio from the annals of fighting game history. You need only go back to the release of Street Fighter III, in 1997, to see how far fighting game animation and overall presentation has come – that game, and indeed the Street Fighter Alpha titles, remain among the most impressive examples of how slick and smooth 2D sprites can be. By comparison, and in spite of its relative youth, The Rumble Fish 2 looks and feels quite dated, and slightly crude.
Developer Dimps would go on to make Street Fighter IV alongside Capcom, which makesThe Rumble Fish 2 an intriguing artefact, providing insight into how the studio seemingly got to grips with the intricacies of fighting mechanics, and there are echoes, too, of SF IV’s busy backdrops in the game’s pretty polygonal environments. As for the fighting mechanics, they’re rather lacking in fluidity, making combos seem laboured and unsatisfying. Given how far fighting games had come by 2005, and how deep and mechanically accomplished the likes of Tekken, Street Fighter, and the like had, and have since, become, The Rumble Fish 2 plays like something rather hoary and archaic.
Again, it’s the sort of thing that would have no doubt been right at home in an arcade. Its bizarre roster of characters, though unremarkable, have their own unique appeal, and there are interesting systems to master. Three-segment ‘Offense’ and ‘Defense’ gauges enable you to unleash table-turning advanced Offensive and Defensive Arts against opponents, and filling both enables you to bust out a suitably spectacular Critical Arts finisher. Certain characters also boast their own unique ability tied to a dedicated meter, so it’s worth experimenting with Rumble Fish 2’s rogue’s gallery and discovering which best suits your playstyle.
There are other neat touches, too, like ‘Parts Crush’, which sees bits of your character’s clothing getting torn or scuffed as they sustain damage, or, in some cases, having their face comically puffed up with swollen contusions and scrapes. You can hit a button to deftly dash through attacks, and the Guard gauge, meanwhile, means that turtling up and constantly blocking as a tactic won’t hold you in good stead for long. Although, AI opponents tend to do just that, making the game’s Arcade and Survival Modes a real test of endurance. And patience. Other mechanics bring welcome wrinkles to Rumble Fish 2’s fisticuffs, like the ability to recover and block in the air, or flip the momentum on an opponent with an ‘Impact Break’ move, although this latter one isn’t so great when you’re on the receiving end – it can feel more than a little unbalanced.
As far as content is concerned, The Rumble Fish 2 is a fairly comprehensive affair, its core solo Arcade and Survival modes joined by a Time Attack and Training mode, while VS Mode extends to local 1v1 bouts and online match-ups. Thirteen characters (you can unlock an additional three through various means) make for a decent lineup, with just enough variation to keep you chopping, changing, and trying out different move sets and strategies, while Arcade also provides a lightweight story, with the obligatory cheap and egregiously unfair final boss. In this case, it’s Beatrice, head of Rumble Fish’s ‘FFS’ tournament, and a boss character who makes notorious Street Fighter villains, like M. Bison and Seth, seem like an absolute paragon of fairness and balance by comparison. FFS, indeed.
As for Rumble Fish 2’s roster, casual players are offered a good point of entry with Zen, an agile all-rounder whose moves are easy to learn; while Lud’s speed and ability to absorb attacks using his gauntlet make him a slightly more advanced choice. Aran favours a close-range rush approach, whereas oddball Bazoo and the lithe, acrobatic Garnet’s relatively long reach are good for keeping opponents at bay. Short, stocky John Hammond lookalike Boyd is the game’s offbeat comedy character, able to fire lasers from his fingers (of course); Viren is a mysterious character with sleeves that cover his hands, and, as such, he has chains, Molotovs, and various other tricks up them. Orville is the brash, musclebound wrestler type; Typhon is a highly mobile child able to bounce off the walls; while sisters Hikari and Kaya are versatile, flexible picks.
Mito wields a wooden bokken capable of unleashing close-range thrust strikes and rangier sweeping attacks, and Sheryl’s party trick involves using wires to get around, while setting and detonating traps to throw rivals off-guard. And, unfortunately, none of these characters are all that memorable, despite being quite distinctive. Which is The Rumble Fish 2 in a nutshell, really – it’s an interesting, but remarkably strange fighting game, which, in being liberated from the confines of a noughties arcade and ported to current hardware, is available for any and all fighting fans to discover, if they haven’t already. Of course, this sort of thing is never not good, especially from a game preservation standpoint, but The Rumble Fish 2 is a bit like owning a sandwich press. It’s nice to have, but hardly essential.