I thought I wasn’t into beat ‘em ups. I remember looking down on the genre, perhaps because of the negative reception I saw most of the beat ‘em ups receiving in the mid 2000s. But after my friend casually brought up Streets of Rage, I thought we should play through it. I had at least one copy somewhere and I knew it wouldn’t take too long to complete, and I had never even played any of the Streets of Rage games, a series well regarded by many. After playing through Streets of Rage, I realized my dislike of the genre was feigned.
Streets of Rage was developed and published by Sega and released onto the Sega Genesis in 1991. The game’s three protagonists Adam Hunter, Axel Stone, and Blaze Fielding are young cops in a corrupted police force. The city they live in has fallen into the hands of a criminal syndicate, led by Mr. X. He has bankrolled everyone, including the police force, and the city is now in chaos with no law enforcement. They decide to take matters into their own hands (or rather, fists) and set out to take down this criminal syndicate.
With three protagonists, my friend and I each chose one that suited our tastes as they all have slightly different statistics regarding power, speed, and jumping. My friend and I had an easy time with the game. The stages at first were succinct, and longer towards the end, all the while continuously adding more and tougher enemies as we progressed. I enjoyed the length of the stages for the same reason I enjoy books with short chapters. I felt as though I was making continual progress and being rewarded, while the levels themselves never outstayed their welcome.
For the most part, my friend and I stuck to simple combos and the occasional throw. With little experimentation, the game seems simple, but once I flipped through the manual I realized how much depth there was to the fighting. I was shocked to see all the different ways I could handle enemies when I grabbed them, I never attempted pressing the jump button before, I just thought of taking them out, but there turned out to be a lot more I could do, and I tried more on my following playthroughs.
My friend and I traversed through eight stages before finally having our showdown with Mr. X himself. When we confronted him, he gave us the option of joining him and becoming his right hand man. I wanted to take him down and declined, but my friend must have a rogue streak in him as he accepted Mr. X’s offer, or perhaps he accidentally pressed the wrong button. Since there could only be one right hand man, Mr. X made us face off, with my friend eventually taking me out. Mr. X had more in store for my friend however. He didn’t accept him just yet; he instead sent him back to the sixth stage and forced him to fight his way back, and this time alone. After burning all his continues on our duel, he didn’t feel like working his way back to Mr. X.
On a later playthrough, by myself this time, I reached Mr. X fairly easily, although just before I got to him I lost a great deal of lives. The final stage has a showdown with the first four bosses of the game, and while I had a handle on most by this point, the fourth boss was a chore. The fourth boss was a pair of females who focused on jumping and grabs. I found the timing difficult to pin down for attacking and evading, and with two of them, I couldn’t really grab and do damage to one, knowing that I was vulnerable to the second one. I finally conquered them and had my showdown with Mr. X. He was quite cheap too. He moved much faster than anyone I had encountered before, myself included, and I believe I could only damage him with a lead pipe that was lying on the ground. The lead pipe has a great range and is powerful, but swinging it takes time. And throughout the battle, Mr. X summons some of the powerful enemies so I had plenty to do throughout the fight.
I came away enjoying Streets of Rage more than I thought I would. I had a blast playing through it with a friend, and even on single player playthroughs I enjoyed the journey. The game wasn’t too difficult, although I refrained from playing on higher difficulties, and I’d say it takes about an hour and a half to complete. The gameplay was deeper than I originally anticipated, the environments were varied as were the enemies, although some enemies were palette swaps of earlier ones, and the soundtrack was surprisingly phenomenal. I played through Streets of Rage a few times and highly recommend it.