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by ZZZ - April 4th, 2008

Back in 1989, no arcade game in America was hotter than Final Fight. As successful as Double Dragon already was, Final Fight brought the genre's popularity to a whole other level. While everybody was waiting for the initially SNES exclusive port of the game, Sega went ahead and released Streets of Rage for Genesis to cash in on Final Fight's popularity.

What Sega needed more than anything in 1990 was a game that would get their fledgling 16-bit platform to get noticed, and Streets of Rage proved to be that game. Most people had never seen a game like this for a console before - it was bigger, louder, and more high-tech, than anything available for any 8-bit system, and SNES hadn't been released outside of Japan yet. It really didn't matter that it didn't offer anything that Final Fight and TMNT hadn't already done before, because back then the beat-em-up genre was still fresh enough that it didn't need to. For a lot of people, Streets of Rage of was their first experience with the Genesis, so it could be argued to have set the stage for the console to really take off when Sonic the Hedgehog was released the following year.

Honestly, though, as amusing as it was at the time to run through the streets smacking people in the face, the original game doesn't exactly stand up all that well. However, its sequels are fantastic, and it's definitely the best beat-em-up series for Genesis. To this day, it still retains an intense, and well deserved cult following among Genesis owners and beat-em-up fans.

The most consistent element throughout the entire series is its music, most of which is composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who shared the duties with Motohiro Kawashima in the second and third games. It's all based on late 1980's/early 1990's European techno/dance music. The series' music is so popular that its composer was regularly invited to DJ it in clubs throughout the 1990's and as recently as 2007. It's pretty amazing that Yuzo Koshiro was able to milk something like this out of the hardware, given that audio tracks for Genesis games tend to resemble low-res clips of somebody stepping on a beer can. Opinions about which title has the best compositions tend to vary. Both of the first two entries have more melodic, dance beat oriented music, with the tracks in second installment generally being the most popular overall. The music for the third game is generally not as well liked, due to it being deliberately abrasive and a great deal noisier than anything heard in the rest of the series. However, others find it to have the best music out of the three for that very reason. It's all brilliant regardless, and easily some of the best soundtracks for the Genesis.

As a series, Streets of Rage (Bare Knuckle in Japan) consists of three installments, and ports of the first two games for Sega Master System and Game Gear. It has something of a revolving door cast over the course of the series, with only two characters (Axel and Blaze) being constants.

Characters

Streets of Rage (Genesis)

Streets of Rage (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 3 (Genesis)


Streets of Rage / Bare Knuckle: Ikari no Tekken (ベア・ナックル 怒りの鉄拳) - Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System, Game Gear, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii Virtual Console, iOS, 3DS eShop (1991)

American Genesis Cover

Japanese Mega Drive Cover

Soundtrack Cover

Streets of Rage takes place in an ambiguous American city that's been overtaken by a wave of organized crime lead by a man named Mr. X. With the police force in his pocket, the only thing left to stand up to his criminal enterprise is three vigilante ex-cops who look like they've been yanked straight out of a 1980's Hollywood direct-to-video martial arts action movie. As its absolutely ridiculous American name implies, much of it takes place across a series of very hostile roads. As its Japanese name indicates, you engage in a series of fist fights along your way. Like almost all other early Final Fight clones, your movesets are very basic. You can throw, attack, or whack somebody who's standing behind you. Once per life you can call in what might be the most iconic bomb in all of video game-dom - a cop who steps out of a squad car and fires a rocket launcher, blowing up any thugs on screen. This is pretty obviously a holdover from the magic attacks in Golden Axe, Sega's other prominent beat-em-up series. As per genre standards, once in a while you'll find weapons lying on the ground, like bats, breakable beer bottles, or the cliqued lead pipes.

When this hit the Genesis in 1991, it was huge. Yet, now it's just too repetitive for it to be easy to go back to today. The characters are far too similar and their movesets are small, and there's just not enough variation to the combat. While it isn't slow moving per se, the action isn't speedy, either, and the game just ends up feeling too slow for its own damn good. It doesn't help that it appears to be running at half the frame rate of a normal Genesis game. Enemies aren't nearly aggressive enough - forcing you to chase after them, and backing up right out of the screen when you do. This is only compounded by lackluster attack patterns that never force you to do anything other than just keep wailing away. You don't really do much other than face a generic fodder thug, knock him down, wait for him to get up, knock him down again, watch him flicker out and disappear, and then repeat, for the entire game. That might be a bit of an over-simplification, but it's games like this that are responsible for the beat-em-up genre being dismissed by most people today as being too simplistic.

Streets of Rage

Given its monotony, it's easy to forget why it do so well back in the day. The game basically owed its success to two things. First, and most significantly, is that it was the closest that you could get to a home conversion of Final Fight at the time. In 1990, when you had to go to the arcades to play other similar titles, it was pretty much the most badass thing ever to be able to play this kind of game in your own living room. The second reason is that it had everything that the SNES port of Final Fight didn't. Final Fight for SNES lacked multi-player, and only had two characters. In comparison, Streets of Rage has a two player mode and three playable characters. It also stands up very well on a technical level, and has great music, which is a major part of its lasting appeal.

There's also an awesome option at the end of the game where Mr. X will actually give you an offer to join him in taking over the city. If you deny him, you have to fight. If you accept, then you get tossed down a trap door and back to an earlier stage. However, if you're playing in two player mode, each player can answer independently. If one says yes and the other says no, they have to duel each other. Afterwards, they can choose to fight Mr. X and then take over the Syndicate for themselves. Here you'll get a different ending as your character sits on a throne and laughs.

Sega later released a port each for Sega Master System and Game Gear. Sega usually took the Sega Master System version and cut down the resolution - however, since the Game Gear version came first, the Master System version actually runs on a different engine, and has a different feel. However, both suffer from crappy controls, odd hit detection, and a poorly balanced difficulty level. The Game Gear version, strangely, omits the ability to knee people after grabbing them. It also has Adam completely removed from the game. It also cuts out two levels, for a total of six. On the other hand, the SMS version has all of the moves, levels and characters, but lacks a two player mode. As would be expected, both versions look like crap, and lack the audio capabilities to do the music justice. It also showed up on the Sega Classics disc bundled with the Sega CD. However, it's almost exactly the same as the Genesis version, just with different voice effects. All three Bare Knuckle games are also unlockable in the Japanese version of Sonic Gems Collection, released for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. They were removed from the American and European collections because they would have bumpbed the ESRB rating up to "Teen". Despite being left off the North American and European releases of both Sonic Gems Collection and Sega Genesis Collection, all three Streets of Rage games can be found on Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PS3 and Xbox 360, with nearly perfect emulation.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sega

Publisher:

Sega

Genre:

Beat-'em-Up

Themes:

Contemporary: Urban
Player Character: Cop
So '80s/'90s it Hurts


Streets of Rage (Genesis)

Streets of Rage (Genesis)

Streets of Rage (Genesis)

Streets of Rage (Genesis)


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Additional Screenshots

Comparison Screenshots


Streets of Rage 2 / Bare Knuckle II: Shitō he no Chinkonka (ベア・ナックルII 死闘への鎮魂歌) - Genesis, Sega Master System, Game Gear, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii Virtual Console, iOS (1992)

American Genesis Cover

Japanese Mega Drive Cover

Soundtrack Cover

Now this is more like it! Released two years after the original, Streets of Rage 2 came at a time when the Genesis' library of beat-em-ups was beginning to look severely lacking when compared to the competition. For this sequel, Sega rebuilt the engine, redrew every graphic, expanded the movesets, and made a few roster changes to increase the playable cast from three to four. The plot, however, remains basically the same as the original's. Mr. X is back again. Only this time he's not only taken over the city, he's also kidnapped Adam. So Axel and Blaze begin moving right and pummeling thugs with lead pipes on their way to save the day. Joining them are Adam's kid brother Skate, and Axel's friend Max.

Even if you couldn't get past the monotony of the original Streets of Rage, you'll find a lot to like about part 2. For starters, the action moves along at a much quicker pace, which alone leads to a vastly superior title. As opposed to the overly similar cast of the original, each character has a vastly different feel to them, and the movesets are more character specific. There are many more attacks for each character, which makes fighting seem far less repetitive. Especially important is the introduction of specials (double tap Forward & attack), which makes it much easier to take on multiple foes at once. Instead of the fire bomb from the original, each character has two of their own Final Fight-style crowd control moves that are performed at the cost of a little of your health. You can even hurl your weapons at people, and each character has their own speed, range, and strength for weapon attacks. Enemies aren't as hesitant to fight this time, which also greatly improves the pacing of the game. The game also introduces "Duel" mode - a 1-on-1 fighter mode similar to the Vs. mode in Jaleco's Rushing Beat series. Honestly, it's not nearly as cool as you'd hope - in fact, it's really just straight up boring - but it's interesting enough to be worth trying out.

The improvements made to the graphics are nothing short of amazing. The view is more zoomed in, compared to Streets of Rage, making all of the characters take up nearly twice as much space as before. The level of detail is fantastic and manages to overcome the graphical limitations of the small color palette of the Genesis. The actual sprite art is much, much better designed, and the whole game looks far better than its gaudy-as-all-hell prequel. Its stage designs are excellent, with large objects in the foreground, and several often strongly varied sections in each level. The carnival stage is an especially good example of this, which includes a trip through an arcade, a haunted house (complete with fog and strange dragon heads that float in the background) and a pirate ship. One level even takes place on a baseball field. With all of its massive upgrades to both gameplay and graphics, the final product isn't just a great beat-em-up, it's also among the most improved sequels ever made.

Streets of Rage 2

The Japanese version (Bare Knuckle II) plays exactly alike, but there are a couple instances of censorship. Mr. X is shown smoking a cigar in the Japanese release, whereas there's no such detail in the American version. Also, when Blaze does a flying kick in both the Japanese and European versions you can see up her skirt, but, again, not in the American release. There's also a couple name changes. Skate's first name is Sammy in Japan, but Eddie elsewhere, and Duel mode is called "Battling" in Japan.

Like they did with the original, Sega saw Street of Rage 2 fit to port to both Sega Master System and Game Gear. Both ports are better than the 8-bit conversions of the original, but the difficulty is still poorly balanced, the controls are still crap, and Max is absent from each release. In the SMS version the boss of the arena stage has been replaced, and there's a totally original train stage, and a few original stages not in the other versions. The color palette has also been changed in a few areas, and there's no two player mode. In the GG release there's an original boss that looks like the thing from Predator, an annoying robot enemy, that explodes when attacked, and a couple of original levels. For whatever reason, it's also missing one of the jumping attacks. To compensate for the lack of screen space, the names of enemies are not displayed on screen.

This was also ported to the Dreamcast as part of the Sega Smash Pack, but like most of the games on the disc, it has totally deplorable sound emulation. The Xbox 360 version, distributed through the Xbox Live Arcade, has the usual blurry graphical filters applied, but allows for online co-op player. Like the others, it also shows up as an unlockable in the Japanese versions of Sonic Gems Collection for the GameCube and PlayStation 2.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sega

Publisher:

Sega

Genre:

Beat-'em-Up

Themes:

Contemporary: Urban
Player Character: Cop
So '80s/'90s it Hurts


Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)


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Additional Screenshots

Comparison Screenshots

Blaze's Jump Kick

Game Gear Exclusive Levels

Sega Master System Exclusive Levels


Streets of Rage 3 / Bare Knuckle III (ベア・ナックル III) - Genesis, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii Virtual Console, iOS (1994)

American Genesis Cover

Japanese Mega Drive Cover

European Mega Drive Cover

Streets of Rage 3 sees Mr. X back again, this time heading RoboCy Corporation as a front for his criminal operations. He's employing a roboticist named Dr. Dahm to develop robots to replace the city's elected officials, as part of his grand scheme to take over the city yet again. He's also kidnapped the chief of police, because... well, that's just what beat-em-up villains do. After our heroes are alerted to this plan by a man named Dr. Zan, they set out to kick ass. Adam is still M.I.A., but Axel, Blaze, and Skate are back. They're also joined by Dr. Zan himself.

For the most part, Streets of Rage 3 is very similar to its predecessor, down to its game engine and graphical style. Except this one has more moves, more characters, more weapons, more techniques - more of EVERYTHING. There are even multiple endings depending on how well you do in certain areas of the game. There are also two hidden characters - a boxing kangaroo (!!!) name Roo, and a martial artist named Shiva, who was one of the final bosses in Streets of Rage 2. If you have the six button controller, you can perform the finisher to your auto-combo by pushing Y, or do your backward attack by just pushing Z. There's also an evasion technique that lets you dash in either direction vertically. Each character has gained the ability to run everywhere, which speeds things up greatly. Something else that's really cool is that there are character specific weapon attacks. For example, performing Axel's special while he has a bat will make him reach back and swing the bat in a huge arc. Compare this to Skate, who retains his special when he has the bat, but gains a completely different health-draining-crowd-control-move.

The way that your crowd control moves work has been refined a bit, as well. Next to your health meter is another vertical meter that automatically fills and refills itself. When it's completely maxed out you can perform your crowd control move without sacrificing any health. There's another system not present in the prequels that lets you sort of "level up" by gaining a ton of points, which will grant move upgrades (or "Blitz" attacks, as they're called). However, you lose these move upgrades or any progress you've made toward gaining them whenever you lose a life, which makes it difficult to get them at all. However, you can perform these moves if you have a six button controller - just hit X and a directional combination (they're different for each character and each move) and you'll pull one off.

Streets of Rage 3

However, not all of the changes are for the better. First of all, the difficulty level in the American and European releases is much higher than in the second installment, and poorly balanced overall. The bosses have health meters that are way too long, and enemies take off a crapload of health with their attacks. There are also two sections that are kind of frustrating - a mine where carts (or whatever) whiz by on the rails and mow you down, and a section where you have to avoid getting plowed by a bulldozer by destroying walls that are in your way. There are also a few changes to the presentation. The character sprites in particular are much grainier, and it just doesn't look as good as Streets of Rage 2. The music is also much more abrasive, which leads to most people considering it to be the worst in the series. Yuzo Koshiro programmed an automatic music generation program to create much of the music, which explains why it's different from the first two. However, it's still unique and definitely worthwhile once you accept it on its own terms. Overall, even with all of its improvements, the difficulty level is just too high, and too poorly balanced, for Streets of Rage 3 to match up to its predecessor.

However, the Japanese version - Bare Knuckle III - is another beast entirely. First of all, the difficulty is way lower - about the same as Streets of Rage 2 - and much better balanced, with enemies doing less damage, and bosses taking less time to beat. The level of damage that enemies do is identical for all difficulty settings, whereas it's relative to the difficulty level in the American release. Combined with all of its extra moves and techniques, these things probably make Bare Knuckle III the best game in the series. However, not everything about it is easier. Your crowd control moves cost you WAY more health if they are performed when the meter isn't maxed out, and your evasion moves also don't move you as far out of the way.

Several changes were made to the presentation when it was translated into English. A few of the audio tracks are different, like Axel saying "Grand Upper" in the Japanese version when he does his special, but "Bare Knuckle" in the American release. Axel, Blaze, and Skate all had their color palettes changed, as did a couple enemies. The Japanese version also has a seventh playable character named Ash that's accessible via a cheat, and that appears in-game as a boss. Ash is also a pretty blatant caricature of gay males, so Sega of America removed him from the English release entirely. However, you can still access him using a Game Genie code. The Japanese release also shows an image of Axel during the intro where he punches the screen and breaks the glass, but this is missing completely from the English release.

The original plot from the Japanese release is completely different than what made it to the English version of the game. It begins with a place called Oak Wood City being destroyed in a nuclear explosion (!!!) by a "Rakushin" bomb. It then follows the heroes as they search for other bombs that they have been informed of, fend off Mr. X's thugs, and look for the recently kidnapped military officer General Petrof. Dr. Zan later reveals that Mr. X intends to start a war with all of the bombs that he has stolen, and that General Petrof was kidnapped because he posed a threat to this plan. Then we find out that Dr. Zan and is a former acquaintance of General Petrof from the military, and that his real name is Dr. Gilbert, the discoverer of Rakushin.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sega

Publisher:

Sega

Genre:

Beat-'em-Up

Themes:

Contemporary: Urban
Player Character: Cop
So '80s/'90s it Hurts


Streets of Rage 3 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 3 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 3 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 3 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 3 (Genesis)


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Additional Screenshots

Comparison Screenshots

Bare Knuckle III Screenshots


Legacy & Streets of Rage 4

Possibly due to the nigh disappearance of the beat-em-ups genre after the 16-bit era, Sega never got around to releasing a fourth installment to Streets of Rage. However, there have actually been several aborted plans to do just that. The first was in 1996, when Sega attempted to purchase the half completed game Fighting Force from Core Designs. When this deal fell through, Sega apparently gave up on plans for a Saturn sequel. It's also been rumored that their 3D beat-em-up Die Hard Arcade / Dynamite Deka was originally intended to be Streets of Rage 4, before Sega changed their minds. Then in 1999, Sega actually began development on a Dreamcast version of Streets of Rage 4 in collaboration with Ancient. A demo version of the game was produced, but the idea was nixed by Sega of America, because they weren't down with releasing a game in a genre that was perceived to be obsolete.

In a very interesting statement made in 2001 about the possibility of a fourth Streets of Rage title, Yuzo Koshiro said that "now Sega teams are independent we'll replan it and bring it to Hitmaker first. If they're interested in making it for Xbox and make a contract with us, I want to restart the plan". He later says "I'm thinking about a first-person mode. And needless to say, in 3D. And the game will connect online for multi-play" and "My sister [Ayano Koshiro, Ancient art designer] designed five new characters for Streets of Rage 4 already". These plans apparently went nowhere, but it's damn interesting stuff, regardless.

In more recent years, Streets of Rage has also served as the basis for a freeware game called Beats of Rage, which takes the characters from SNK's King of Fighters and puts them into a beat-em-up modeled after Streets of Rage 2. The engine for this game has served as the basis for a whole ton of fan mods.

There's also a freeware game developed by BomberGames called Streets of Rage Remake, which basically combines everything from the entire series into a single game. If you want to play as Adam (complete with a brand new sprite) in Streets of Rage 2, or take Max into Streets of Rage 3, now you can! It plays amazingly similar to the Genesis titles, but has all craploads of extra content. You can take a CPU controlled teammate along with you, and even modify their A.I. however you like. It even has volleyball and capture-the-flag mini-games, and a survival mode that basically works like a boss rush. It's also got a few original stages, newly arranged music and multiple paths through levels. Needless to say, it's one of the best fan made retro tributes out there, and well worth looking into.

Streets of Rage 4 Beta

Streets of Rage Remake



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