Ah, the beat ’em up. What can I say about it that countless of other retro game critics haven’t said already? It’s a genre that has not only pushed our button-mashing skills to our very limits, it’s also served as a major pioneer in the gaming industry, giving us several beloved classics such as TMNT: Turtles in Time, Double Dragon, Final Fight, and the topic of today’s review, the 1991 Sega Genesis title, Streets of Rage.
The game’s story revolves around three former police officers, who resolve to fight back and save their city from a hostile takeover at the hands of a ruthless crime syndicate run by the nefarious and shady Mr. X. Can this game live up to the massive praise it has received after all these years, or is the “Rage” in the title referring to what I’ll be feeling afterwards? Let’s find out, shall we?
THE LOOKS – As 1991 was the year that the Genesis finally figured out the type of console that it truly wanted to be, it was also the year that many of the games that were being released for it really began to go all out in the visual department. This is most certainly one of those games. In stark contrast to the last game we took a look at, the graphics are a lot less cartoonish, opting for a much more realistic (well, as realistic as a Genesis game can get anyways) visual presentation in terms of locations and character sprites. The looks of the backgrounds themselves are great, showing off all kinds of detail and variety, as well as a use of colors that have a heavy reliance on colors such as black, blue, and grey, but end up working in the game’s favor. The character sprites and animations on the other hand, are really not anything to write home about. While they aren’t necessarily bad per say, they do come off as looking a tad bit unprofessional, especially when they’re compared to the ones from the later entries in the series.
THE SOUND – If there’s one thing that nearly all beat ’em ups have in common, it would most certainly have to be great music, this game in particular being among them. As a whole, the music has a generally “tough” feel to it, going along with the game’s gritty tone, which is definitely a good thing. The music itself is simply stupendous, with each track going along perfectly with each stage and just generally being catchy as all heck. There are also an array of digitized voice clips and sound effects to be heard, and while some might find them a bit grating on the ears, others probably won’t mind them.
Oh, Sega. You always know how to get crap past the radar.
THE GAMEPLAY – As with most beat ’em ups, you have a certain number of characters at your disposal, which in this game’s case is three. There’s Axel, the blonde blue headband-wearing martial artist, Adam, a skilled African-American boxer, and finally, there’s Blaze, the-
No, not the cat! The OTHER one! You know, the character on the box art with the red headband and jacket who has a vague resemblance to Elektra from Daredevil?
Thank you. Anyways, Blaze, like Axel, is no stranger to Japanese combat, as she is an expert in Judo. Once again, like most beat ’em ups, each character has their own certain advantage and disadvantage. Axel’s jumping skills aren’t quite up to par, but he makes up for that with his strength. Adam’s jumping skills are better than Axel’s, and he is equally as strong as him, but his speed’s a bit slow. And last but not least, Blaze isn’t quite as strong as Adam or Axel, but she’s great at jumping and is also faster than the both of them. The game itself plays out like your standard beat ’em up; you go either left or right throughout a stage, knocking the snot out of almost everybody you encounter, until you run into a boss, rinse and repeat. However, what really matters isn’t the concept, but how it’s executed. And how is this game executed? Well…it’s really kind of a “meh”, to be honest. Starting off with the controls, they’re not really all that great. They feel stiff and wonky (Especially the jumping. Seriously, I will never understand that “crouch before you jump” nonsense), and they are definetely not helped by the combat. The combat as a whole isn’t really all that bad; in fact, it can be quite enjoyable at times, especially when you pick up items like a pipe and a baseball bat lying throughout the levels. But my main beef with it ties into the fact that this game is SO. SLOW. PACED. Seriously, I don’t buy the fact that Adam’s supposed to be the slowest character out of the three, because if you ask me, they’re all about as slow as molasses! And when you take into account just how much faster and stronger some enemies can be than you, AND the fact that the game throws dozens upon dozens at them at the characters, it’s not only frustrating, it can even be a bit boring at times! However, you CAN summon a police car which will then fire a freaking rocket launcher at your location, thus clearing out the screen. Although it can only be used once per level, it is pretty useful at times. So…good on ya SOR, I guess.
THE BOTTOM LINE – Streets of Rage is by no means an awful game, but it’s still not a very good one either. The controls are bad, the combat can be entertaining but can get extremely tedious at times, and the slow pacing really makes it feel like it’s just dragging on. Of course, I won’t try and hide the fact that this game does have a giant cult following among beat ’em up fans everywhere, and I can see why so many people like it. If you’re a hardcore fan of beat ’em ups, have a blast. Otherwise, I’d recommend the FAAAAR superior sequels.
THE RETR0PIA RATING – 6/10