Game Review: Streets of Rage
The city is in turmoil. A crime syndicate has taken over and is spreading mayhem and chaos everywhere. It's leader, the mysterious Mr. X, has bribed governemnt officials and even the police force to stay out of his way. The city seems to be doomed. But three cops won't have it. Disgusted with the cowardice and corruption of their colleagues and superiors, they quit the force to take matters into their own hands. They will stop at nothing until they have stopped Mr. X and cleansed the city of all the syndicate's influence.
Streets of Rage is essentially Sega's answer to Final Fight and Double Dragon, but it definitely stands on its own. You take control of Adam Hunter, Axel Stone or Blaze Fielding and fight your way through 8 Stages worth of bad guys until you finally get a chance to take down the head honcho himself, Mr. X. Each character has his strengths and weaknesses, but it's nothing too spectacular; Adam can jump high and has the longest reach, Axel is fast and strong but his attacks come up pretty short and Blaze is quick and nimble, but also the weakest of the three. In order to clear a way through the stages, you can make use of punches, kicks and throws but you can also find several weapons including knifes, broken bottles, baseball bats and lead pipes (which only have a limited durability though). Other items include apples and chicken dinners that replenish your health, gold bars and bags of money which award you points and the occasional extra live. If you're overhelmed by enemies, you can also call in for backup once a stage which is basically a smartbomb (i.e. it clears all the enemies on the screen).
While there aren't any special attacks like in the sequels, the gameplay is still fun and also pretty flexible. Punching and kicking enemies feels satisfying and you'll have fun mixing up your different attacks and moves. Of course the game is at its best when played cooperatively with a buddy; then you can even throw each other into groups of enemies! It's old-school Beat-em-Up style at it's finest.
The stages are diverse and have some nice effects. By the end of the game you will have fought your way through the inner city, a beach, a boat and a hotel among other things. Especially memorable is Stage 7, where you're on an outside elevator riding up a scyscraper. Of course this gives you the opportunity to throw enemies over the railing towards the asphalt many meters below. Speaking of enemies, they're also pretty varied. They range from small, knife carrying punks with mohawks to huge, muscle-bound wrestler-types who will rush and tackle you. At the end of each stage you fight a boss, who has his own special move or weapon.
While the graphics aren't as nice as in the sequels, they still look pretty good. The characters and backgrounds have a decent amount of detail, and there some nice effects in some stages, such as the rolling waves on the beach and the up-and-down camera motion on the boat.
The music on the other hand is a totally different matter. The soundtrack was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, one of the most respected and famous video game music composers of all time and it really is amazing what he was able to get out of the Genesis' limited sound processor. The melodies are catchy and the beats will get you pumped to plow through some bad guys. I think it's fair to say that the music in Streets of Rage is one of the best 16bit soundtracks ever. (By the way: Mr. Koshiro also composed the soundtrack to Act Raiser. Do I really need to say anything more?)
Streets of Rage is still an enjoyable experience and definitely not just a cheap knock-off of Final Fight. The graphics are nice, the gameplay is solid and fun and the soundtrack is among the best you'll ever hear. While the sequel is slightly superior, I'd still recommend you check out this first installment in what became to be a great series.
The game is available on Virtual Console and on Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, which also contains part two and three.
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