Final Fight Streetwise is a tragedy of a game. When it was released, it was mocked relentless by critics and ignored by gamers, who felt the game’s gritty visuals were a sell-out to attract the Grand Theft Auto audience. It was a massive flop at retail, and the development studio, the same American team behind Final Fight Revengeand the Maximo games, was shut down. The thing is, according to one of the developers, the original plan was to make a cel-shaded 3D beat-em-up using character designs from Capcom mainstay artist Akiman, but the suits in Japan wanted them to make the game more “American”.
Knowing this story, Final Fight Streetwise feels like a struggle between boneheaded corporate mandates and a development team who earnestly had a lot of love for the original Final Fight. The story mode lets you walk around town, running mini-quests for people (such as chasing down muggers), train at the gym to earn new moves, earn money in pitfights, and follow the plotline. It feels strange to be playing a Final Fight game where you spend more time running around and talking than beating people up. However, the fighting engine is remarkably solid, compared to crappier games like the shameful Capcom-published Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance. Despite the lack of a jump button, it feels just like the old games, with a bit of added depth and variety. (Hey, you can actually block! And counter!) Of course, the story mode is single player only, which is a bit of a bummer.
The story starts with Kyle Travers training underneath his brother Cody. However, Cody gets kidnapped due to his association with some strange zombifying drug that’s hitting the streets. After enlisting the help of Haggar (who’s quit his job as mayor and started up his own gym) and Guy (who’s now an honorable gang leader in the city’s Japantown district), you have to untangle the mystery and save your brother.
While the tone is relatively serious, there’s a bunch of random goofiness the designers tossed in which livens things up. By running quests and beating up bad guys, you’ll gain Respect points, and the locals will run up to you and cheer you on with the most bizarre sayings (“What color do you think I should paint my room, Kyle?” or “Where’d you get that shaving cream, Kyle?”) All of the bad guys have silly gangsta parody names (one dude is named “World O. Hurt”). There are a handful of strange mini-games, including a roach stomping quest, a button-masher where you repeatedly slam a door on one of the bad guys’ head (this happens twice throughout the game, the second time in a garage door), and the classic car-bashing fest. With all the adventure elements and mini games, it almost feels like a missing link between Shenmue and Yakuza. You even get to fight classic characters like Andore and Cammy in the fighting arena. On the outside, yes, it looks like another “thug” style ripoff game, but there’s a bit of spirit lying underneath.
There’s an Arcade mode too, which is more the style of the original games – no fetch quests, just straightforward, linear, two-player brawling. While some of the extra moves found in the Story mode are gone, the fixed camera lets you concentrate of smashing skulls instead of finding the right camera angle. Unfortunately, you’re required to play through the Story mode to access more levels, plus there aren’t any continues, making this mode rather difficult.
Yes, the graphics are pretty bad, showing you more shades of brown and grey than you would have believed exist. The music is mostly licensed crap (though some of it is pretty fitting, and there’s a remix of the original Final Fight theme in there.) The game does get brutally difficult later on, and the fighting system still doesn’t quite have enough depth to be too interesting through its entire length. Plus, Capcom’s God Hand – released several months later in 2006 – takes on a similar (but much goofier) tone, and has a better fighting system that feels like old-school beat-em-ups properly updated. Yes, the story is stupid, but that’s all part of the fun! Don’t let all of the hate misguide you – Streetwise isn’t nearly as bad as some would lead you to believe.