Streets of Rage Retrospective

Streets of Rage turns 30 this weekend, so I thought it would be fun to take a look back on one of the Sega Genesis’ most iconic video games ever.

In the late summer of 1991, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America; It had been available in Japan the previous year, under the name Super Famicom. One of its launch titles would be a port of Capcom’s Final Fight, a game that redefined arcade brawlers.

Sega’s Genesis (Mega Drive in Japan) had been available for a couple of years already, and was the leader in the 16-bit gaming world. But Nintendo entering their marketspace was a huge deal. They’d already convinced millions of American gamers that “Genesis does what NintenDON’T,” and to make the switch from the only gaming console that mattered in the back half of the 1980s up to their twice-as-powerful machine. But now the “big N” was coming. And something had to be done.

They knew that Final Fight was going to be a big hit for Nintendo — Something we today would call a “killer app.” So Sega had to have something to counter this.

It’s two guys…looking at each other. Final…Fight?

So they got to work.

Meanwhile, Final Fight ended up being pretty disappointing. The arcade version had three playable characters — Cody, Haggar, and Guy. It had 6 stages, and the tough-as-nails female opponent Poison as one of the random enemies. Nintendo of America didn’t like the idea of beating up women, so they forced Capcom to change Poison to a man, removing one of the most iconic characters from the game.

Additionally, Capcom’s understanding of the Super NES’s hardware early on forced them to leave out some of the other elements of the game — The construction level of the game was completely removed, bringing the total number of stages from 6 to 5, and there was random sprite flickering and slow down. An entire player character, Guy, was removed, so players could only choose between Cody and Haggar. Oh, and so was the two-player option.

That’s right — One of Final Fight’s big draws was that it was a two-player beat-’em-up where you and a friend could work together to take down the Mad Gear gang. But for whatever technical reasons, Capcom wasn’t able to implement a 2-Player mode into the game.

TWO PLAYER SIMULTANEOUS ACTION!

In retaliation, Sega had Streets of Rage on store shelves within a month of the SNES’s release. It had eight stages, three playable characters, female enemies, and, yeah, a two-player mode. Now, the characters’ on-screen sprites admittedly weren’t quite as large or as detailed as Final Fight’s sprites. And there could still be the occasional bit of slowdown and sprite flickering here and there. But the gameplay was so smooth. Being able to play with a friend to take on Mr. X and his Syndicate was a blast.

Now, SOR was created to be Sega’s answer to Final Fight. But even without the direct comparisons, Streets of Rage has some great things going for it.

Print ad for SOR. I remember seeing this on the inside cover of Spider-Man comics.

First off, each of the three characters has so many unique attacks. It’s possible to just run through the game and rapidly mash the Attack button, but it’s so much more fun when you hit a couple jabs, walk closer to grab the enemy by the head, give them a couple quick knees to the gut, flip over their head, and suplex them for the K.O.

The trio of playable characters each have their own feel and personalities. All three are ex-police who left the force when it got too corrupt. Central hero Axel Stone is a direct analogue for Final Fight‘s Cody, as both are lighter-haired Caucasian men in white shirts and jeans. Adam Hunter is a black man in a yellow vest and black pants with some incredible reach. Finally, Blaze Fielding is a woman of indiscernible origin (she’s probably intended to be Caucasian, but I’ve seen fan art that portrays her as Hispanic or Asian, and every choice still looks correct to me), who uses her agility to help her combat the forces of evil.

Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack cannot be ignored. Taking heavy influence from early 1990s House music, particularly groups like Black Box, Technotronic, and Soul 2 Soul, Koshiro composed one of the most iconic video game soundtracks of all time. Not only does each track totally fit the surrounding area, they’re just cool tunes in their own right. As a random piece of trivia, Yuzo Koshiro also composed the score for ActRaiser, a launch game for the Super Nintendo.

SOR may have been the first game I ever played with multiple endings. At the end of the game, right before you fight the final boss, Mr. X, he asks if you want to join his Syndicate. If you say yes, he opens a trap door and drops you down to level 6. When you make it to him again, if you agree to join him a second time and then defeat him in battle, you take over the Syndicate as the new crime boss.

Similarly, if two players make it to Mr. X, and one of you agrees to join him and the other declines, you have to fight your partner! The winner then takes on Mr. X, and the ending you get depends upon your answer from before the fight.

Streets of Rage was designed to be a rival to Final Fight, but ended up surpassing it in many ways. While perhaps not as iconic as Capcom’s brawler, I’m not going to fight anyone who says they prefer one game over the other.