Was anyone else a super fan of all those beat’um up styled video games from the ancient 90’s? There were a slew of them, almost all of which were ushered out like fodder after all the success found with Double Dragon (1987) that really put a spotlight on the genre. Really, after 1987, there was no shortage of these guys. Even today beat’em ups are among the most beloved types of games… God of War, Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden to name off just a few. Suffice it to say, it’s a well-loved genre.
The roots of the genre run a tad deeper than just Double Dragon, though. A few years after their debut, Billy and Jimmy Lee would have some fierce competition as champions of punching, kicking and jumping over street thugs. In 1989, Capcom launched their super successful beat’um up franchise as Final Fight, taking the arcade rats by storm. Featuring extremely similar mechanics and storyline to its predecessor—in truth, game designer Yoshiki Okamoto cited the arcade version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge as his basis for Final Fight—Capcom’s new title easily became a fan favorite.
Seeing an opportunity and having just released it’s new 16 bit Super Nintendo (SNES) console, Nintendo decided to bring Final Fight to the homes of children everywhere. Not to be outdone by the competition, SEGA looked to strike back with a fighting title of their own… you veterans of this great console war know exactly what series I’m talking about: Streets of Rage.
Set in an unnamed city, Streets of Rage starred three former cops (Adam, Axel and Blaze) who quit their jobs to fight the corruption plaguing their city, including the police force, caused by an evil crime syndicate. So, basically, these guys made it their goal to beat all the bad guys to death so people can live in harmony once again.
The gameplay was exactly what you’d expect out of the genre, you punch and jump your way through various levels of gang members until reaching the big boss (Mr. X). Enemies drop weapons you can pick up and use against them, and you can smash random city objects to find weapons or health items along the way. Also, presumably looking to clone Final Fight, each playable vigilante had specific styles of fighting; Adam is the slower powerhouse, Axel is the perfectly balanced character and Blaze is weaker but much quicker than the others. Amongst all the punching and kicking, if things got too hairy for you, players could activate a special move which would result in some of your old police friends (presumably those not corrupt) to drive in, fire a rocket and incinerate everyone screen!
SEGA always had a unique sound in games. Even ports that got both SNES and Genesis release, the sound was always a tad better on SEGA’s machine. Streets of Rage was no exception and had an excellent soundtrack that flowed with your on screen interaction flawlessly. It was extremely rhythmic to your martial arts escapade, falling somewhere between techno and the pop house music of the era. It made the fighting almost feel like some sort of dance. Every blue moon I will still catch myself humming some of the tunes.
Unlike most of Nintendo’s SNES offerings, SEGA’s hardware made this game a glorious dose of 16-bit eye candy. Most of your backdrops were a dark dismal city but your characters had great animations and were all very colorful. My favorite level was always the very first one… neon signs were plastered everywhere with a flickering humming glow, the city streets were littered with thugs, and you just went through the scene kicking ass like some awesome protagonist from a late 80’s action flick.
This was a real treat to the genre and goes down as one of my favorites ever—not just as a favorite beat’um up, but favorite game in general as it packed tons of hours into those tough streets. If you never got around to playing this gem, seriously, find yourself a way of going and playing it; you won’t be disappointed in the slightest. Aside from the original Genesis cart release, Streets of Rage can be downloaded via the Wii store, has a 3DS release and can be found on the PS3 and 360 for play in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection. Also, not to leave you PC Master Race of gamers out, you can purchase it standalone via Steam. Treat yourself, go play.