Streets of Rage
  • Genre:
    • Beat 'Em Up
  • Developers:
    • Sega (GEN/SMS)
    • Biox (GG)
  • Publishers:
    • Sega
    • Brazil Tec Toy (GEN/SMS)
  • Released:
    GEN
    • JP 08/02/1991
    • US 09/18/1991
    • UK October 1991
    • Brazil 1991
    GG
    • JP 11/27/1992
    • UK 10/18/1992
    • US 12/31/1992
    SMS
    • UK 01/01/1993
    • Brazil 1993
Score: 80%

This review was published on 11/22/2017.

Known in Japan as Bare Knuckle: Furious Iron Fist, Streets of Rage is a side-scrolling beat 'em up video game developed and published by Sega for various Sega platforms in the early 1990s. The Sega Genesis version originally came out in Japan on August 2, 1991, North America on September 18, 1991, and Europe in October 1991. A stripped down port was released for the Sega Game Gear in Japan on November 27, 1992, Europe on October 18, 1992, and North America on December 31, 1992. Lastly, another port came out for the Sega Master System exclusively in European markets on January 1, 1993. The Genesis version of Streets of Rage garnered plenty of praise from gaming publications at the time, and it sold rather well. This success motivated Sega to make two sequels in the coming years, but this review is about the first game in the series. The first Streets of Rage is far from the best, but it's still one of the better brawlers out there.

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Technos essentially created the beat 'em up genre with the release of the Double Dragon arcade game in 1987, but it was Capcom that established most of the genre's conventions with its Final Fight arcade game in 1989, which was heavily inspired by Double Dragon. Soon after Final Fight's success in the arcades, Capcom ported the game to countless home platforms, the first and most popular of which was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. However, the SNES port was significantly butchered, disappointing many Nintendo fans that expected something comparable to the arcade release. Sega, Nintendo's main competitor at the time, saw this as an opportunity to gain an edge over its big rival. That's where Streets of Rage comes in. Near the release of the SNES version of Final Fight, Sega released Streets of Rage, a rather obvious rip off. Many of the features that the SNES port of Final Fight lacked were included in Streets of Rage, such as the simultaneous cooperative multiplayer, and three playable characters. It's not perfect, though.

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A crime syndicate has taken over a once peaceful city, and nobody's doing anything about it, because the police force has also fallen under the syndicate's control. It's almost like real life. Gangs now rule the streets with absolute authority, as there are no authority figures left to oppose them. The city has become a center of violence and crime where no one is safe. Amid this turmoil, three of the only good cops left decided to leave the corrupted police force and take matters into their own hands, quite literally. They're the solution to punk pollution, and their names are Adam Hunter, Axel Stone, and Blaze Fielding. Adam is an accomplished boxer, Axel is a skilled martial artist, and Blaze is a judo expert. There's a bit of diversity here, because Adam is black and Blaze is female. At any rate, the trio will challenge the syndicate in an attempt to calm the raging streets. Did you see what I did there? You better have, because I'm not doing it again.

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This game plays almost exactly like Final Fight; you're able to smoothly walk in eight directions on the ground with the d-pad, you jump with the dedicated jump button, and attack with the dedicated attack button. Rapidly punching the attack button several times in a row will trigger the basic beat 'em up combo, which you'll be using quite liberally throughout the whole game. Grabs and throws work nearly identically to Final Fight, in that you simply walk into an enemy to grab them, and then you press the attack button in conjunction with a direction on the d-pad to throw them. Pressing the attack button by itself during a grab will cause you to smash your knee into the enemy a couple of times before tossing them away. There's also a button dedicated to special attacks, but these work a little differently from Final Fight. In this game, the special attack button calls upon the only good cop on the force to drive in with his police car and shower the screen with explosives, greatly damaging all enemies and bosses. It's an excellent move, but it can only be used once per life or stage unless you grab a rather rare power-up.

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Like the arcade version of Final Fight, but unlike the SNES port, there are three playable characters in Streets of Rage. All the characters control mostly the same, but they have slightly different attributes that affect their combat performance. Unlike Final Fight, these attributes are clearly listed on the character selection screen, so no clumsy guesswork is necessary. As for the actual differences, Adam is powerful and good at jumping, but is a little slow. Axel, on the other hand, is fast and strong, but is a poor jumper. Blaze is ace at jumping and speed, but is the weakest of the three. Unlike the SNES port of Final Fight, but like the arcade original, a second player can join in at any time and take control of the character you aren't playing as for some cooperative fun. Friendly fire is possible, however, so that cooperation needs some coordination to go along with it. It's also possible to throw your partner into enemies as a means of attack, which isn't terribly practical, but is satisfying to pull off.

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Another similarity to Final Fight is the occasional presence of weapons. Usually, weapons are found within breakable objects in the scenery, such as phone booths and metal drums. Most weapons are of the melee variety, consisting of stuff like baseball bats, lead pipes, and beer bottles. However, knives are used as melee weapons at close range and as projectiles from a distance. There's also a weird pepper spray weapon that briefly stuns foes, which wasn't in Final Fight. Having a weapon is always better than not having one, because they extend your reach and damage by a good bit. Sadly, they're only temporary luxuries, as you'll drop them when you get hit, and they vanish during most screen transitions. Enemies can wield the very same weapons against you, too. Items are also frequently found within breakable objects, like apples that restore a portion of health, beef that completely heals all wounds, extra lives, and bags of cash that increase score. If you've played Final Fight, then this should all make sense.

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Being beat 'em ups, Final Fight and Streets of Rage are both fairly simple games. However, there's a tiny bit more depth to the fighting in Streets of Rage. For instance, you can do a backwards attack by pressing the jump and attack buttons simultaneously. Additionally, pressing the jump button after grabbing an enemy causes you to vault over them. If you grab an enemy from behind, you'll be able to perform a suplex, which is more powerful than a regular throw. Also, enemies will sometimes double team you by having one foe grab you while the other hits you. You can still fight back when this happens, though, as it's possible to kick whoever's in front of you after you've been grabbed by pressing the jump button. Further, you're able to throw the enemy that's currently grabbing you if you press the attack button shortly after performing a kick. You're also capable of avoiding damage after being thrown by a foe by holding up and the jump button before hitting the ground. That's a lot of depth for a beat 'em up.

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There are eight stages, referred to by the game as "rounds." Similar to Final Fight, most of environments are themed after urban settings, like city streets, beachfronts, bridges, factories, freight elevators, and aboard a ship. The backgrounds are all decently detailed, and while the character sprites are small, they look good. The music is also pretty great, especially that techno-like track in the opening stage. That musical excellence is thanks to Yuzo Koshiro, who composed the soundtrack to The Revenge of Shinobi, another Sega developed game that originally came out in 1989. As for the stages themselves, outside of breakable objects and occasional hazards, they're all straight shots with countless foes to face. That's typical of a beat 'em up, since the emphasis is on the beating, not the environments. The environments are basically just eye candy to accompany the ruthless beating that either you or your enemies are receiving.

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Enemies include the usual gangbangers, agile martial artists, and sexy dominatrixes armed with whips. There are also juggling men that throw whatever weapon they're juggling, such as axes or torches. Unfortunately, that's about the entire list of enemies. Everything else is merely a palette swapped version of these same foes. Like many beat 'em ups, lack of enemy variety is this game's biggest problem. The bosses do sort of make up for that shortcoming, though, because they're a little more distinct. Such unique bosses include a big dude with a boomerang, a Wolverine rip off, a professional wrestler, and a fat guy who breathes fire in your general direction. Every boss is also quite large in stature, making its presence imposing. The bosses are the main highlight of the game, though even they get palette swapped a few times before the game's end.

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When you finally reach the head honcho of the evil crime syndicate, he'll offer you a position as his second-in-command. If you accept his offer, he'll punish you for your naivete by triggering a trapdoor that drops you all the way back to stage six, forcing you to replay a good chunk of the game. However, if you arrive at the big bad's throne with a second player in tow, you'll both be offered the same question individually. If one player accepts the offer and the other declines, then they'll duke it out in a one-on-one battle to the death. The victorious player then takes on the final boss, and if they win, they'll become the new leader of the crime syndicate in a special bad ending. This is an interesting little Easter egg for the truly determined.

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How do the Game Gear and Master System versions of Streets of Rage stack up to the Genesis original? The answer probably won't surprise you. Beyond the massive downgrade in graphics and sound on the account of the inferior 8-bit hardware, the Game Gear version totally omits Adam from the playable roster, there are only five stages as opposed to eight, and the knee smash grapple move is gone. Simultaneous play between two players is still possible, but two Game Gears must be linked via a cable for that to work. The Master System version is a little bit better than the Game Gear one, but it still pales in comparison to the Genesis original. It's got Adam, the knee smash, and there's even a new boss in the sixth stage that wasn't in the original game. However, the Master System version lacks multiplayer support and has dodgy hit boxes. You best stick with the original Genesis game.

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Sega is certainly no stranger to the beat 'em up genre, having previously created Golden Axe, which began as an arcade game in May 1989 and was ported to the Genesis a few months later. Streets of Rage plays far better than the original Golden Axe did, though. This game was directed by Noriyoshi Ohba, who also helmed the development of The Revenge of Shinobi. Considering how good that game is, it's no surprise that Streets of Rage turned out as good as it did. Still, while the core mechanics have more depth than the average brawler, the game has poor enemy variety, and all the playable characters play too similarly. Future installments in the series fixed these faults, but the first Streets of Rage was certainly not a bad start.

Word Count: 1,975

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