But why did the police offer rocket launchers as support?
Fish some roast chicken out of your nearest bin and settle in for a fond look back on Streets Of Rage.
There’s something to be said for the scrolling beat-’em-up genre, just for how it introduced a generation of players, and then desensitised them, to the notion of finding roasted meats in bins and eating them without question. Streets Of Rage wasn’t the first to do it, but its mix of bin-apples and bin-pork stuck with everyone who played it (and argued over who got it).
Away from arguments about cooked meats in the rubbish, Streets Of Rage’s genesis came as a result of another kind of conflict: the classic console wars of the early ’90s. The other major Japanese platform manufacturer – you may have heard of it, it’s a little company called Nintendo – had seen a port of arcade classic Final Fight hit the SNES in 1990. While an imperfect recreation of the original, it was good enough to do very well indeed for the company. Sega needed an answer, but instead of taking the arcade port route, it opted to craft something bespoke for the Mega Drive. Thus, Bare Knuckle (as Streets Of Rage was known in Japan) was born.
The Mega Drive had been around for a few years by 1991, and seen a few notable beat-’em-ups in that time. While they became legends in their own right (well Golden Axe and Alien Storm did, at least) there wasn’t anything absolutely vital for the 16-bit monster. Streets Of Rage changed all that overnight: effortlessly cool, surprisingly edgy for the period, and with three characters to select from as well as two-player co-op – stick that up your ‘oh we didn’t have room for Guy, or a two-player mode’, Final Fight – it was the quintessential scrolling brawler. Who says (console) war is good for nothing? People who haven’t read up on the history of Streets Of Rage, that’s who.
What a game. Co-operatively, Streets Of Rage is still incredible fun, though trying to get through a level without ‘accidentally’ suplexing your partner is nigh-on impossible. It’s fast-paced and hard-hitting, riddled with little extra touches that make it stand above the competition, such as double-team moves, over-the-top special attacks (police plus rocket launchers equals crime prevention, apparently), and pepper pots as weapons, to name but a few. The end offered a genuine choice, and saw consequences for said choice – we’re not talking Quantic Dream depth here, but it was more than any other beat-’em-up was doing, in so many ways.
Of course, no mention of Streets Of Rage can pass without bringing up Yuzo Koshiro’s incredible soundtrack. The punchy techno beats wrung ludicrous life from the Mega Drive’s usually underwhelming sound chip, bringing such a thick, memorable atmosphere to the game that it’s impossible to imagine it having the same impact without his compositions. That sounds like hyperbole, but if you’ve heard that first level theme tune, you know exactly what we’re talking about.
Streets Of Rage absolutely wiped the floor with Capcom’s Final Fight, and left Nintendo scrabbling for something, anything, else to fill the gap. It was around this point the real divergence in the perception of consoles commenced, with the Mega Drive becoming the ‘cool’ console, and the SNES focusing on titles for younger players. At least, that’s how it went in our heads back in the early ’90s…
Streets Of Rage also changed the whole beat-’em-up genre. It may have been bettered by its 1992 sequel, to this day one of the all-round best beat-’em-ups ever made, but that’s not a
“THE PUNCHY TECHNO BEATS WRUNG LUDICROUS LIFE FROM THE MEGA DRIVE’S SOUND CHIP”
point to dwell on: it got the ball rolling for extremely good, arcade-style brawlers made specifically for the home, rather than just arcade ports that could never do the originals justice.
Thanks to Streets Of Rage’s success we saw a golden era of beat-’em-ups that we could enjoy on our own sofas, without needing a pocket full of 10p coins. Would Sega have made Golden Axe II and III Mega Drive-only titles were it not for AM7’s violent classic? Probably not. And thanks to Koshiro’s soundtrack, we had the burning desire to purchase a game soundtrack for, probably, the first time ever. It was win, win, win all round.
A sequel was planned for the Saturn, then Dreamcast, but eventually disappeared – and for a long time, the franchise simply lay fallow, mourned by retro enthusiasts the world over. But then, a miracle! Last month, Sega announced Streets Of Rage 4, to much rejoicing. But can it live up to the storied legacy? Is there still room for a beat-’em-up in 2018’s world? And will it finally explain just why the police support our heroes call in fires high-explosive rounds at common street thugs? Only time will tell.
Adam, strongest of the Ragers (as they’re not known), battering multiple goons on a lift. Yesterday.
Once upon a time this looked like overly forceful policing.
Two-player Rage is one of life’s purest pursuits; great fun from start to end.