With Final Fight setting the arcade on fire naturally most were anxious for a home port. Unfortunately for Sega owners the SNES would receive the exclusive for a number of years. Not one to let their fans down Sega would create their own clone, Streets of Rage. Streets of Rage is clearly patterned after Capcom’s classic and even betters it in a few areas. At the same time this initial installment in the series is a bit rough around the edges. It is still a decent game but doesn’t hold up well overall.
The once peaceful city has fallen to corruption. The Syndicate has taken over all facets of the city; even the police department is under their thumb. Axel Stone, Adam Hunter, and Blaze Fielding have quit the force in order to do something about it.
All three characters fit neatly into the standard archetypes. Adam is physically strongest but slow and has good jumping speed. Axel is the well rounder while Blaze is quick but weak. Axel is clearly patterned after Cody but would become more distinct in the sequels. Despite these slight differences you won’t really notice it during gameplay. One point in Streets of Rage’s favor is its 2-player coop which was missing from SNES Final Fight.
Where Streets of Rage excels is in its combat. Each character possesses a wide assortment of moves that help the game becoming stale. The move list is actually so large that it was the focus of the game’s advertisements. It’s very heavy on the grapple based moves and goes beyond simple throws and knee bashes. You can vault over an enemy and perform a suplex or slam depending on the character. It is possible to reverse an enemy grapple or to even recover from being thrown. Most brawlers lack this amount of variety so its welcome here. The game does away with the traditional super move that uses health for a one time assist from a fellow officer who will torch the area with his rocket launcher.
As great as the fighting system is where the game stumbles is in its pacing. The game suffers from a dearth of enemies so you will see the same two or three in every level. New thugs are introduced later but the variety is still pretty lacking. What hurts even more is their AI. A standard tactic in every brawler is to sandwich you between two guys but it goes even further here. Most enemies will hit you once and actively run away off screen. Some enemies are less aggressive and will simply keep away at all times. It is incredibly annoying and makes the levels drag on. At eight levels with a mere five or six different enemies it gets old fast no matter how well thought out the combat system.
The game can be incredibly difficult at times despite the enemies’ lack of enthusiasm. If you get boxed in it is very easy to lose a life. But the cheap factor is dialed up to 11 when it comes to the bosses. Beat em up bosses are typically overpowered bad asses but here it is ridiculous. A single hit will drain half of your life bar. Their attacks have priority over yours and most fights devolve into spamming your special move after each death. Some of the later levels are extremely long with countless enemy waves which also kills the pacing. A little bit of balancing would have really smoothed the game’s rough edges.
Streets of Rage paints a very different picture compared to Final Fight. The sprites are on the small side for the genre and the animation is not that great. The city as it is depicted is a gritty environment, full of trash and decay that symbolizes its corruption. It’s also a bit odd that it takes place entirely at night although that doesn’t make it any less striking. The same dark backdrops do tend to become monotonous however.
Where the game truly impresses is its music. Once again Yuzo Koshiro has turned in another excellent score, this time using dance music. It seems like an odd choice given the game’s subject matter however it fits the game perfectly. In some cases the music is here is even better than its sequels. The sound effects and few voice clips on the other hand are weak.
Streets of Rage is a good first attempt at a brawler and while it isn’t as good as the game it copies is still a worthwhile endeavor. It provided an excellent base from which its superior sequels would build from. As much as I like it this is a hard one to recommend due to its pacing. Considering the numerous compilations it has been re-released in there is no reason not to play it cheaply however. I say go for it.