OpenBor and the afterlife of the brawler genre

I love Streets of Rage. I love the scrolling beat-em-up genre and I’m continuously disappointed that it’s never really made a successful transition from 2D to 3D. There is a case to be made that games like DMC, God of War, Bayonetta and Ninja Gaiden have taken their place. They do share a lot of DNA of the classic brawler; the ‘one person army‘ feel of taking on waves of enemies, fast paced combat and plenty of ways to dispatch the bad guys. But if you’re looking for a hit of the classic side-on gameplay, kid…you’re shit out of luck.

Unless of course you take a glance into the dark depths of the Homebrew scene, more specifically the OpenBOR project. Starting life as a Streets of Rage fan project called Beats of Rage by the awesome people at Senile Team. Beats was a very decent SoR clone using SNK characters (more on that below) and the engine was eventually put out for anyone to use. The scene can seem impenetrable when you first start looking into it.  I design and make websites for a living, so I’m pretty comfortable around computers, but getting Homebrew stuff to run always looked like it took a level of understanding I was nowhere near. Since the closest I’ve ever been to a ‘hacker’ was religiously watching the film Hackers, things like rolling back firmware, installing custom firmware and finding the right version of OpenBOR to use seemed way too much. I gave it ago a few years ago for my Xbox, but I could not get it to work. I decided on a slow work day last week that now was the time to do it and thankfully, it’s not as difficult as it seems.

If you play your games on a PC or Mac, getting the engine to run is stupidly easy. Download one file, drop your games in the .PAK folder and you’re all good to go, hook up a PS3/360 pad for the full buzz. This is probably the best way to play most games as they tend to be fairly heavy on the RAM usage. There’s also version of it for the original Xbox, Wii, Dreamcast, Linux, Vita…if you can think of an operating system, I can guarantee there’s a version for it. I thought I’d try putting it on my old PSP since all it does is gather dust in between giving me an old school fix with the emulators I’ve installed on it.

I used this guide from to get the custom firmware needed on my PSP. MASSIVE WARNING THOUGH: You could potentially brick your console if you do this wrong, so follow the guide carefully, double check everything and you should be fine, just don’t go crying at me if you mess up. Once that’s done all you need is to grab OpenBOR from here, find the PSP engine, pop it onto your PSP in the ‘PSP >Game’ folder and you’re ready to roll. Games can be found in a lot of places, but I found and Chrono Crash to be good resources and there’s plenty of comprehensive torrent collections out there too.  And there is a lot of creative people making a lot of games for the engine, most are remakes/sequels of existing brawlers (Final Fight being the big one) and a lot use assets from other games to create new versions but there’s also some great original material too. I’m gonna run through some of the best ones I’ve found in my short time. By no means a ‘best of’ list, these are just the ones I tried and thought were great, there’s so many out there it’s worth just downloading a load and seeing what takes your fancy. Anyway…onwards!

Evil Dead

My Mod - ScreenShot - 22

This game goes to great lengths to capture the spirit of the films, even down to a brilliant gif based intro ripped from Evil Dead 2. Using art from the comics, sprites from presumably a M.U.G.E.N mod and speech from the films, it looks and sounds the part. Some interesting mechanics to spice things up too; Ash gains a new special move after killing a boss (which are all cameos from other fighting games, including Morrigan from Darkstalkers and Venom from Marvel v Capcom) one of these involves Ash using his Boom Stick, another uses the Necronomicon to produce a column of flame and another sees Ash replacing his chainsaw with his metal hand from Army of Darkness to punch Deadite scum. There’s a few issues, Ash moves very slow, a downside from ripping the sprite from a 1 v 1 fighter, but he does have a sprint to combat this and those bosses do distract from the  Evil Dead-ness…but a minor gripe as really what else could you do, draw and animate new ones?  I enjoyed the hell out of this game and if you’re a fan of the Evil Dead series, you probably will too.

Grab it from here:

Marvel: First ALLIANCE 2

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 15.12.24

This game is insane. 75 levels. 52 playable characters and another 20 or so NPC characters from all over the Marvel Universe, each with special moves and loads of animations, it’s truly enormous (so much so that my poor PSP-1000 couldn’t deal with it, had to play this on mac). It features a storyline that throws nods and drops easter eggs all over the place, it’s a massive fan service. Check out this video for the Asgard level, the section set on The Bifrost Bridge looks amazing, complete with Asgardian warriors backing you up. The combat throws in a few little moments of its own to separate it from the crowd too. You’ve got the normal SoR style moves, spiced up with knock-back attacks and then the game adds in Street Fighter style special moves for each character to make it interesting. Throw in a few shmup style levels and remakes of some classic 16-bit Marvel games and this is an incredible package, I really can’t sing its praises enough. Worth checking out for the Deadpool section alone which manages to be a better Deadpool game than the official one released last year.

Grab it from here:

Worth a mention as I found MFA2 was bit of a bastard to get running, there’s Marvel: War of the Gems; an adaption of the classic Infinity Gauntlet storyline. Very similar, but with larger sprites taken from the Marvel v Capcom games (complete with movesets) and slightly simplified gameplay compared to the above. Includes the great sound effect word ‘Shwank’.


Get it here: (PC and Mac via Wineskin only as it requires a tonne of RAM)


Screen shot 2014-07-27 at 15.13.36
Based on an episode of the Masters of Horror TV show of the same name, Jennifer is a graphic, brutal and slightly controversial brawler (supposedly anyway. I played for about 30 mins without seeing anything that’s not been in an episode American Horror Story…). Check out the trailer and just look at all that blood. There’s a lot in common with the Splatterhouse series here, with demons being torn to pieces by shotguns, chainsaws, pipes and good old black magic. Graphically, it’s probably the strongest of the lot, there’s a few shared sprites with the Evil Dead game but Jennifer throws noise filters on-top to achieve a Japanese Horror feel by way of a banned 80’s video nasty. It looks gorgeous in motion too, with the main character being animated beautifully. Combat is surprisingly deep with an actual combo system and not just the classic ‘mash the attack button’. Jennifer is a real show of what can be done with the OpenBOR platform.

Grab it here:

Crisis Evil 1 & 2



A sidescrolling re-telling of the Resident Evil franchise? Why would you not want this??? Crisis Evil 1 lets you take control of Jill and Chris, both with different play styles. Jill prefers to shoot enemies (though her bullets still make the impact sounds of a punch…) and Chris (a modded Charlie sprite from Street Fighter Alpha) prefers to put those biceps to use and punch everything. It’s all very simple and also very hard; expect to get swamped fast and stun-locked into repeated beatings. Crisis Evil 2 fixes that with some fluid gameplay adjustments (some more crowd control style moves for the new characters of Leon and Claire) and the backgrounds in CE2 better match those of the original games. Overall, both are really well put together and despite some small problems with difficulty spikes, any love you have for the Resident Evil series helps gloss over them quite well. And yes, health pick up are green herbs. It’s the little touches that count.


You can grab both Crisis Evil games here:

  Beats of Rage


Be a bit rude not to include this one, the one that started it all off and it’s still one of the best. As I said earlier, this is a really, really good SoR clone with big sprites (all ripped from various SNK games..LOVE that SNK art style) and gorgeously smooth animation. Features the classic brawler combat system, perfectly recreated with all the moves you’d expect. Some choice cuts from the classic Streets of Rage soundtrack are included here too and despite these callbacks, the game still manages to keep an identity of its own. Plus, one of the characters is called ‘Max Bacon’.

Grab it from here

So that’s my 5. I think I’ll probably come back and update this/do a follow up as i slowly trawl through the hundreds of games available. Hoping to find one based on The Crow or Mad Max…they would both make excellent brawlers.


5 thoughts on “OpenBor and the afterlife of the brawler genre

  1. Vitor Franco (@zvitor) says:

    hi man, im glad you liked MFA2, and thanks for share.
    you said at end you could come back with more later, so i recomend to you:
    – golden axe myth – my favorite because is made with original sprites
    – Knights & Dragons: The Endless Quest – one of best out there, you must play it.
    – Avengers United Battle: so far only a demo, but have enough to enjoy

    • gavjamesweir says:

      Hey dude, thanks for checking out the post!

      I’ve been looking for some more games to try out so I’ll get through this list. I’ve got a lot of live for the Golden Axe series, so I’ll hit that one first.

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