Developer: SEGA Enterprises
Publisher: SEGA Of America
Completed: 26 May 2015
I have loved beat ‘em ups since the first time I laid eyes on Double Dragon in the arcades. Whether they starred martial arts masters, ninja turtles, superheroes, or popular cartoon characters, the genre has always appealed to me for its simplicity, action, and cooperative gameplay. In an age when most video games were competitive – who could get the highest score, or who could beat the other one up – they were the rare exception where you’d crowd around a machine with several potential strangers and work together to achieve a common goal. They were never very complex. In truth, a lot of them were little more than new graphics painted over the same old gameplay mechanics, but they were fun.
When Capcom’s Final Fight was in arcades, I was a big fan. It built upon the strong foundation laid by the classic Double Dragon but with much flashier graphics and amazing sound and music. It was with much distress that I watched as Capcom ported the game to the Super Nintendo, but not my beloved Genesis. SNES fans would be able to gloat about having Street Fighter II and Final Fight – both arcade mega-hits – on their console. Eventually both games would find their way to Sega’s library – Street Fighter II on the Genesis, and Final Fight on the Sega CD – but until then we Genesis kids had to make do with knock-offs.
Thankfully, Streets of Rage is a superior game to Final Fight in nearly every way.
I still remember buying a loose copy of Streets of Rage from Sarge’s Comics, Cards, and Collectibles, a local shop near my house. At the time, my older brother owned a Genesis and had forbidden me from playing it unless he was present. He must have been under the assumption that his kid brother was a fool, because he hid his power cord when he wasn’t home in a rather obvious box in the most obvious of all hiding places, his own closet. Naturally, when he wasn’t around I would break out the adapter and my secret copy of SoR and bash thugs until he would get off work. Then I’d hide the cord again and he was none the wiser.
Final Fight may look better, with larger, more detailed sprites, but Streets of Rage is a better game by a wide margin. It’s certainly no slouch in the looks department. The animation is stiff and the sprites are considerably smaller, but the backgrounds look fantastic and feature some awesome effects like waves crashing against the shore of a beach, blinking lights in a distant city that scrolls by while you fight on a boat that bounces up and down, and dilapidated city streets where garbage blows through the wind. More importantly, Streets of Rage featured three characters, unlike the SNES version of Final Fight. Not only that, but two players could play cooperatively on the Genesis, while Final Fight SNES was strictly a single player affair.
Each brawler in Streets of Rage had their own moves and different attributes such as speed, power, and jumping ability, much like in Final Fight. A key difference is that Final Fight featured special moves for each fighter, while Streets of Rage opted for a generic assist move where a police car rolls in and fires a bazooka shell that wipes out all enemies on screen. How that car appears on the boat stage, or why the flames don’t burn you, is not important. Players only get one assist per level (barring finding special items that replenish your stash), so use it sparingly. Another key difference is the characters in Streets of Rage all have more standard moves at their disposal, thanks to the ability to vault over an enemy you’ve grappled. There’s a defensive move, should the enemy attempt to throw you, that will allow you to land on your feet without taking and damage, and a reverse attack if thugs try to get the drop on you. Should they succeed, the player can kick their feet out and throw the enemy over their shoulder to escape – a move that is also effective in two player games with your partner.
Like all good beat ‘em ups, you can use a variety of weapons you find handily lying around. Pipes, baseball bats, knives which can be used as melee weapons or throw as projectiles, and bottles that you can smash over your enemies’ heads then proceed to stab them with the shattered remnants are all at your disposal. If you take a beating, you can always take a bite out of an apple or a roast that has been lying under an oil drum in the street to regain health.
If there’s any one aspect of Streets of Rage that people remember more than any other, it’s the music. Composed by the great Yuzo Koshiro, the soundtrack is a compilation of techno, house, and funky dance music that absolutely fits the action. Streets of Rage has, in my opinion, the best score of any 16-bit game (including its sequels). Every level’s theme is a masterpiece, from the booming bass of the first stage to the melodic beach level track, and the thrilling boss battle theme. Even the stage clear and character select music is fantastic. It’s one of the few 16-bit soundtracks I can listen to on my iPod, outside of the context of the game it accompanies, and still absolutely love.
The sound effects aren't quite as good, but they're very serviceable. Many of the effects are recycled from earlier Sega games, notably The Revenge of Shinobi, but they still sound good. Voices are crunchy with static, but they still sound cool in their own way. In fact, the redone voices in the Sega CD version, though much clearer, are inferior and lack the intensity of the kung-fu shouts and enemy screams.
I have beaten Streets of Rage more times than I can count with each of its three characters, but I keep coming back to it. Even with nearly 1,200 games in my backlog, I still took a little time out to replay one of my favorite 16-bit gems. It’s a shame Sega has let this series languish, and even more shameful they had the gall to shut down the fan-made Streets of Rage Remake on PC in lieu of an official sequel (thankfully, after it was released, meaning it can still be found online). I suspect this won’t be the last time I play it either. Final Fight may have the look, but Streets of Rage has it all.
Streets of Rage was completed on a real Sega Genesis with no cheats.