Streets of Rage is a classic. Very few would dispute this and even fewer would be able to present appropriate grounds for doing so. Any 16-bit gamer worth their salt has struggled through Streets of Rage multiple times alone and with a friend, learning the enemy patterns and making best use of their incredibly limited special abilities. SEGA’s Mega-Drive console played host to many innovations, but in Streets of Rage it found itself propelling an entire genre forward in one fell swoop.
Streets of Rage is the worst Streets of Rage videogame to have ever seen release. Quite a contrast from the opening statement, but equally true. Streets of Rage was offered at a time when the scrolling beat-‘em-up genre had become flooded with ‘me-too’ titles vying to dethrone Final Fight without much success, and while Golden Axe is often seen as the title that defined the genre on Mega-Drive it was arguably Streets of Rage that presented more progressive design throughout it’s eight level duration. But only a year later Streets of Rage 2 launched, improving on this redefined template exponentially.
The advances Streets of Rage made for the genre are far too numerous to list here, an action that would be both pointless and defiant of the innovative combat action at hand. While the combo system was arguably less slick than the arcade editions of Final Fight it was clearly superior to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) port and light years ahead of that featured in Golden Axe, claiming the leading position for the genre on home consoles at the time of it’s release. The variation, too, was more impressive than any of its competitors, with grapples, throws and backward strikes easy to drop into any string you’ve established. Furthermore, enemy characters (as well as an ally on a second control pad) are able to grab you, offering yet another small potential attack manoeuvres.
Topping off the combat system are the special attacks. Limited by a tally next to your health meter, as opposed to incurring damage for use as later became tradition for the genre (thanks again to Final Fight) when executed the special attacks froze the action and initiated an animated sequence where a heavily armed cop would drive into the scene at the start of the level and fire upon the enemies in your area. Each of the three playable characters offers a different special attack animation, though they all do the same amount of damage.
Throughout the eight levels players will encounter multiple boss fights, and these are tense moments of challenge. Streets of Rage 2 was undeniably made considerably easier to allow for all who played it to taste the sweetness of success (with Streets of Rage 3 crossing the line and becoming irritatingly unchallenging) but Streets of Rage remains a brutal challenge, ripping inexperienced players of their limited supply of lives before even the second level has been completed. Guns, numbers, size and speed are all used to keep the player from progressing, rather than simply to provide a wall to impede players.
Despite being less than two years Altered Beast’s junior Streets of Rage is a superior experience in every way. Adding depth of movement, slick combo systems and a much wider variety of enemies are simply the surface improvements: Streets of Rage was the first nail in Altered Beast’s coffin and, despite being surpassed only a year later, still remains enjoyable to this day. There’s no denying that Streets of Rage 2 is a far superior videogame in every way, but the original remains a classic scrolling beat-‘em-up experience more than twenty years after release.
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