Monday, February 7, 2011

Streets Of Rage: The Last Great Old School Beat Em Up

Sega has had a long history of being an industry innovator among video game developers, but in the early days of the Genesis, they faced a quandary. You see, After the crash, video game consoles had to have a little something for everybody, but that something couldn't be crap. The master system was a moderate success in America and the Genesis quickly outshone its predecessor with a strong lineup of titles, but it seemed that something was missing. That something was Sega's "Double Dragon", "Vigilante", "Kung Fu Master" style scrolling beat em up that had become popular in the late 80s. Sega had Golden Axe, but they needed something more modern and a lot grittier. So, in 1991, Sega released a 16-Bit kick in the face called Streets Of Rage, and man was it good.

Streets of Rage follows the exploits of three former cops on a mission to take down Mr. X and his crime syndicate using punches, kicks, and anything they can get their hands on. The three playable characters are: Adam, the token Black guy who's kinda slow but punches extra hard, Axel, the typical middle of the road character, and Blaze, who is fast, kinda weak, but has strong throws. As far as the first game in the series goes, it's a run of the mill beat em up in the vein of Final Fight, Double Dragon and the like, but the difference lies in the atmosphere the game creates. Streets of Rage contains what is widely cited as one of the greatest soundtracks of the 16-Bit era, and the soundtrack got better with each passing sequel, as did the gameplay. The first Streets of Rage game did feature an interesting twist at the end of the game. When two players confront Mr. X, he offers them a position in his organization, if either player accepts, then they fight to the death, and if the one who accepts turns Mr. X down and defeats him, then he becomes the leader of the syndicate and that player gets the bad ending.

We didn't have to wait long to find out what happened to the three heroes, because a year later Sega released a much improved in every way sequel in the form of Streets of Rage 2. Adam is kidnapped by Mr. X's syndicate, and it's up to Axel, Blaze, Adam's kid brother Skate, and a pro wrestler, Max. The singular silent enforcer attack from the first game has been replaced by each character having their own special attacks, and the incredible soundtrack is back with a vengeance. Basically, Sega took everything that was right about the first game and expanded on it while getting rid of anything that was bad. Streets of Rage 2 was so popular that at one point, it was the pack in game for the Genesis "Fighting System".

Two years later, we got a bit of a surprise from the good folks at Sega with the release of Streets of Rage 3. This one continues the tradition of improvements Sega made made with the last installment of the series, has quite a large roster of playable characters, and it still features that incredible soundtrack. The levels are bigger, and one of those new characters is a KANGAROO! This is a few years before Tekken, so a Kangaroo that kicks ass is worth the price of admission. The American version of Streets of Rage is lacking one character that the Japanese version wasn't afraid to include, that being Ash, a guy dressed like he was out of Rocky Horror Picture Show, gay as springtime, and stronger than a pissed off bull. This character was sadly left out of the American version of Streets of Rage 3 while the motorcycle sequences were taken out of both versions. Still a great game that has proven to be quite the collectors item, since a complete copy can usually run about $50.00 on ebay.

For some strange reason, we never got another Streets of Rage game, officially that is. The homebrew community has cooked up a variety of games using the Streets of Rage engine and characters, a lot of times to great effect, to develop their own games. In some cases, the homebrew games are just as well done as the official games were. Sadly, nothing has surfaced regarding a new game in the series since the Dreamcast days, but with long dormant franchises being resurrected all the time, who's to say if we've taken our last stroll through the Streets of Rage.

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