Streets of Rage
Developer: Sega (YM7)
Based on: Freedom for humanity from evil people with mysterious names through the healing power of fisticuffs.
by blitzchamp | Published December 15, 2008
A city has been overcome with terror by a vicious syndicate led by a Mr. X. All forms of government have been dismantled under corruption. Three ex-police officers, who clearly haven't forgotten their earlier days, are now the city's last hope. They will risk anything to save the city...even their lives...on the Streets of Rage.
Streets of Rage is one of those titles that grows old but will never really die. Fans will forever see it released and rereleased by Sega in one format or another, whether as a virtual download or as part of a classic collection. And with good reason; Streets redefined its genre, the side-scrolling beat'em up. Final Fight? offered fancy moves and many of the same mechanics that Streets adopted, but the feel of Sega's effort is what truly differentiated it from its innumerable peers.
The plot is simple enough -- save a city in distress from thugs -- and yet it evokes a darker atmosphere than most games of this era. The visuals make the city come to life; the beaches are vibrant, the landscapes luscious, in a way that few Genesis games had achieved at that time. Yuzo Koshiro's soundtrack would earn a loyal a fan base for the man who loved game music as a kid -- his first step toward becoming a legend. Koshiro's time spent researching beats and themes in Japan's underground night clubs paid off in the form of a driving, memorable soundtrack that blew away anything else on the Genesis. Together, these elements allowed Sega to create the sensation of being in the thick of the action in a busy metropolis.
The selection of characters, each with their own strengths and specialities, was well balanced. The brawlers included Axel (the powerhouse), Blaze (a girl and therefore an adept kicker, as the rules of these games go), or Adam (a balance between the two). In two-player mode, characters can team up to inflict an ultimate smackdown on their enemies. When caught in the thick of an enemy pack, having a partner to throw you into action may be the only thing that can save your bacon. The designers even built in the ability to hit your own partner, in case your friend isn't doing his or her share of the work.
Each of the game's eight stages is a completely new environment, keeping things fresh and helping to avoid the repetitive feeling that most brawlers suffer from after their first few minutes. Stage layouts are never repeated. From the abandoned neighborhood in round two to the factory in round six, the variety of levels also emphasizes just how much of the city the evil syndicate has conquered. The final level serves as a sort of final exam for the whole game, testing to see if you've learned the enemies and their patterns well enough to take them on one last time before your final encounter.
Crucially, the difficulty level is set just right. Streets gives you plenty of opportunities to rack up lives on easier difficulties by leaving 1UPs laying around and rewarding you for earning points -- and you'll net more point-based lives on harder difficulties, where you'll likely die frequently.
Streets of Rage changed the brawler genre forever, pushing it from boring, violent repetition to something that was actually quite fun. The power trio of excellent visuals, incredible audio, and exceptional level design helped Streets make a name for itself -- enough to give birth to a series over several sequels. And perhaps more importantly, many gamers find themselves loading up the game long after completing it just for the rush of a round or two of beating the pulp out of crooked thugs.
The alternate ending has always been one of my favorite things about Streets of Rage. The ability to attain a bad ending when playing with a friend, and become the syndicate leader yourself, has always been a cool extra. They give you the power to choose not to save the city, instead of just slapping you with a game over screen.