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When I think of beat’em ups, I often think of Streets of Rage. I don’t know which game in the series I played first but I remember thinking whichever one I played was pretty cool. I played it at my dentist’s office believe it or not. They had a game room with a Genesis and I think some other consoles but I always looked forward to playing the Genesis games because I didn’t own the system. I remember playing a lot of Sonic and one of the Streets of Rage games. Developed and published by Sega, Streets of Rage was released for the Genesis in September, 1991, Game Gear in December, 1992, and for the Master System in the PAL region in January, 1993. For this review we played the Genesis version from the SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics collection on Steam.
A once peaceful city has been taken over by a criminal syndicate so now thugs and criminals rule the streets. Adam Hunter, Axel Stone, and Blaze Fielding are three young ex-cops who quit the force to take down the syndicate. That’s the gist of the plot and there are multiple endings. I feel like the plot borrows some elements from the Death Wish series, minus the graphic violence and rape of course. Crime is rampant, no one is safe, and vigilantes have to take the law into their own hands.
Streets of Rage is a side-scrolling beat’em up that supports up to two players and there are multiple difficulty modes. Each playable character has their own fighting style and different stats in power, jump, and speed. You can walk, attack, jump, and activate a special. Mashing the attack button will cause the characters to perform a combination of punches and kicks. You can also grab enemies and throw them around. When activating your special, you receive assistance from a police car that shows up and fires explosives that inflict damage to the enemies in your vicinity. You have a limited amount of specials but can acquire more from Special pickups. You do have lives and if you lose them all, you can consume a credit to continue. Unfortunately, if playing with another person, you can attack each other which can be very annoying if you’re not competing for a high score and it cannot be turned off. Defeating enemies rewards you with points and reaching certain scores rewards you with extra lives.
You can break objects in the environments like telephone booths, crates, and barrels and they will often house items you can pick up. Food like apples and beef will replenish your health. Money and gold will increase your score. You can also find extra lives and specials. You can pick up and use weapons which are dropped by enemies. These include a beer bottle, a knife which can be thrown, baseball bat, lead pipe, and pepper shaker which will stun foes. If you drop a weapon, it will eventually disappear. The pick up item action is tied to the attack button which can be problematic but considering the standard Genesis controller only has three main buttons, we can let it go. Still, the fact remains that if you’re fighting an enemy and end up standing over a weapon, your character will try and pick up the weapon instead of attack, making them vulnerable resulting in frustration.
Streets of Rage can be a challenging game but on Easy and Normal, you can probably beat it in one or two sittings. Playing with a friend can make the experience easier and it all comes down to knowing what the enemies and bosses are capable of. Enemies will come from off-screen and the backgrounds and there’s only five enemy types in the game. As you progress, they’ll appear in different outfit colors but they all retain the same abilities. There’s two different types of hoodlums, a chick with a whip, a fighter, and guy a who juggles torches and axes. For the most part, the common enemies aren’t very difficult to defeat and the challenge is learning how to deal with more than one at a time. Enemies can punch, kick, and throw you around, slide into you, and utilize weapons. It’s the bosses that we struggled against. They can move faster than you, interrupt your combos, and depending on the difficulty, drain a significant amount of your health in one attack. You can’t block or defend yourself so you really need to memorize their attacks and know when and where to move. Most bosses will be thrown into later levels as regular enemies or sub-bosses so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice and study their behavior.
In most levels you move from left to right except for the final level where you move from right to left. Each level takes place in a different location but the objective is always the same. Get to the end and defeat the boss. There’s eight levels total and you’ll kick ass in the streets, inner city, beach front, bridge, ship, factory, elevator, and syndicate headquarters. You need to defeat enemies to progress through a level and more baddies are thrown at you the further you progress. There are some hazards you’ll need to avoid but can use to your advantage. On the bridge, you’ll have to fight on more narrow paths to avoid falling down holes but you can knock or throw enemies down the holes and in the factory level, you’ll engage enemies on conveyor belts which move you towards crushers. For the most part, the hazards are easy enough to avoid. I like the elevator level because you can throw enemies off of it.
Streets of Rage was pretty good looking for its time. The character sprites look good, there’s nice looking backgrounds, some parallax scrolling, and some neat visual effects. For example, you can see cans rolling on the beach and things flying through the air. In the early levels, you’ll see different shops and garbage pails in the backgrounds. The action is accompanied by some jamming tunes and basic sound effects by today’s standards. From the gritty urban atmosphere to the electronic dance influenced soundtrack, the presentation in Streets of Rage oozes with that late eighties to early nineties vibe. On the technical side we did encounter some slowdown which was not unexpected and after defeating a boss, the game wouldn’t let us progress, forcing us to restart.
Streets of Rage is a classic and while we think the sequels are better, this is where it all started and it’s still fun to play with or without a friend. One of the great things about Streets of Rage is it’s easy to pick up and play. It’s also accessible. It can be challenging but it’s not impossible and the multiple difficulty modes ensure even newcomers can get into it and learn from mistakes while still making progress. We think Streets of Rage has aged better than some other beat’em ups from its era including Sega’s own Golden Axe. It’s a fun beat’em up with style, catchy tunes, and plenty of ass kicking.
We would absolutely recommend Streets of Rage to any fans of the beat’em up genre. It’s a great starting point and it’s one of those games that any fan of the genre should play at some point in their life. There are better beat’em ups out there but Streets of Rage is a classic and was great for its time. Definitely check it out.