Gaming has seen a huge shift in expectations since the likes of Streets of Rage and Double Dragon rocked our worlds. Titles like GTA and Halo have brought gaming to a completely new audience and with these new gamers has come a whole new set of expectations. Not that this should be a reason to shun old-school gaming - after all, Ikaruga takes practically the oldest gameplay mechanic in the world and manages to be hailed as a beacon of innovative gaming, so why shouldn't the shmup's younger brother get similar treatment? Well, there's no reason for it not to, but Spikeout isn't going to be the game that does it. Ikaruga took its forefather's achievements, stripped them down and crafted the remains into a fresh faced and wholly polished experience; Spikeout seems to have stuck a poor Double Dragon clone in a 3D environment and hoped no-one would notice. It's not that there's no place for old-school simplicity in the modern gaming world; it's just that when you do it, you have to do it well.
Setting aside minor niggles like the terrible cut-scenes or game logic that sees enemies getting stuck behind walls, the game still has some pretty major flaws to contend with. The beat 'em up genre thrives on players managing the on-screen enemies successfully - dealing with hordes of attackers at once isn't supposed to be easy, but the player is supposed to have some idea of which enemy is about to do what and be able to act accordingly. Good examples give the gamer some element of predictability to be able to respond to while they're dispatching a group of bad guys, but with Spikeout it's more a case of standing in the thick of things and bashing buttons in the hope that you manage to hit everyone before they hit you. The fighting itself has little variation - there's the ability to string together combos but they just don't seem to flow and more often than not, you'll end up getting in a couple of kicks or punches before inadvertently grabbing a crony and slamming him into his buddies.
The biggest of Spikeout's flaws, though, is the hideous difficulty spike that crops up from time to time. Overly difficult boss battles after rather pedestrian levels have been problems in even high scoring games, such as Ninja Gaiden, but rarely have they been as frustrating as here. No block button, irritating swarms of foot soldiers and no mid-level checkpoints create some joypad-bending moments that, given the tedium of main game anyway, are more likely to see you turn the Xbox off than persevere with that elusive 'one more go'. A poor camera that allows enemies to launch surprise attacks from behind (a situation that isn't remedied by the inclusion of a programmer art quality map) only helps to build your frustrations.
If you can look beyond its failings, though, Battle Street does have something to offer. Releasing essentially an eight-year old game may seem like an odd move on Sega's part, but the title's unlikely release seems to have been based around the game's Xbox Live component, which sees four players able to play through the game together via the online service. This is an excellent step in the right direction for arcade gaming as it proves that even fairly graphically intensive (emphasis on the fairly) co-op games can be stably supported by Microsoft's baby and it certainly adds a new and enjoyable dimension to the poor single-player game.
Can a poor game be remedied by an online mode? Unfortunately, this one can't. There are too many design flaws and not enough polish for it to be recommended, even with a generally rewarding and enjoyable Xbox Live game. If you're a hardcore arcade fan, then at Â£30 it might (might) be worth a look, but otherwise it's a tepid and frustrating experience with absolutely no polish.