Why is it that villains never know when to quit? Ten years ago, Michael, armed with an army of lowlifes and his outrageous accent, attempted to take over Diesel Town, only to be pummeled into oblivion by Spike and his team, in the vaguely obscure arcade brawler Spikeout. Ten years later, Michael is back for revenge, and considering this time he's up against Spike Jr. and the other members of the b-squad, his certain defeat is bound to be twice as humiliating.
The story is actually entertaining, in a cheesy action movie sort of way, advanced mainly through pre-rendered cut-scenes before and sometimes after the action, which help to disguise some rather long loading times. Gameplay is mainly punching, kicking, and slamming roving gangs of enemies into the ground with a wide assortment of moves and combos. Mixed in are charge attacks that can pop up, stun, or just plain crush foes, as well as crowd-clearing special attacks. The lack of a block button seems an odd oversight, though using 'shift move' will make you feel like a boxer waiting for an opening, while keeping your opponent from landing that hard right that will send you reeling.
The difficulty of story mode stings more than going a few rounds with a heavyweight. Dying after reaching the final boss of a stage, only to have to play through it again from the beginning, is a little too common without continues. Fail a stage twice and the game will throw you a bone in offering easy mode, though the name is misleading. You'll still need to have a solid grasp of the fighting mechanics to make it through alive. Casual gamers will be turned off by this relentless brutality, but those seeking a challenge will find it rewarding to clear the story after achieving true mastery of the Spikeout style.
No brawler was ever really meant to be played alone. In Battlestreet, you can wreak havoc with up to three friends, via split screen, system link, or Xbox Live. The ability to select your stage, three levels of difficulty, the possibility of friendly fire, and the option for continues lets you customize sessions to suit your needs, while live play means throwing down with people from all over the world. Each stage is divided into relatively short areas, and new players can drop in as soon as one of these is cleared, which means you won't be kept waiting for long...unless you repeatedly run into the common bug where the game boots you from sessions claiming they no longer exist. What's worse this can happen during the game, and any characters you managed to unlock will be null and void. People's voices breaking up and noticeable lag is also fairly common with four players in on the action, though these are minor annoyances.
Replay value comes in unlocking the staggering fifty eight playable characters available, including Spikeout's many bosses. While some are no more than palette swaps, and a few too limited for serious play, the majority are usable and fairly unique, and it's fun just to experiment and see what they're capable of. Another aspect that keeps the game from becoming too uniform is most stages have branching paths, bringing you to different areas and sometimes entirely different stages, though you can tackle each stage individually once you've unlocked them in story mode.
Spikeout isn't the most complex, or even the most visually appealing game to come out of the house of Sega, but sometimes it's nice to smack around a horde of mindless enemies, especially with friends, even if they live on the other side of the planet.