Ok, let’s begin!
From one side-scrolling beat’em up to another we find ourselves looking at Streets of Rage (SOR) which was developed and published by Sega in 1991. SOR was also ported to the Master System, Game Gear and Sega CD, although I don’t think they added all that much to the Sega CD version except for the crisper sound quality and slight sprite touch-ups. However, the Master System port actually has a boss you’ll not see in the original or any of the other ports called Ringmaster, an old man with a cane, top hat and rocket launcher strapped to his back. The Director of Streets of Rage was Noriyoshi Oba who also co-designed the game with Hiroaki Chino as part of Sega Consumer Research and Development Dept. #2 (Sega CS2) and as the name suggests it was only one of ultimately four internal development departments by 1996. In SOR they’re oddly credited as initially I thought it was one credit and a quote, which is a quote just not from Tinon.
THERE IS “NO” ACCOUNTING FOR TASTES.
“THERE IS “NO” ACCOUNTING FOR TASTES.” is Noriyoshi Oba’s credit and TINON is Hiroaki Chino. I’m also aware I may be spelling Noriyoshi’s last name wrong as he is credited under Ohba and Ooba in other games but the Oba variant has come from a more trustworthy source so I’m going with it. Both Noriyoshi and Hiroaki have credits on some of Sega’s greatest works and SOR is an example of some of their earliest work.
The plot of SOR is a sort of vigilante B movie. put simply a criminal organisation known as the Syndicate has infiltrated and corrupted all official positions of authority in the city even the police force as a result crime is on a rampage in the city and unable to get things done through official channels our three ex-police officers, Adam Hunter, Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding decided to become vigilantes and take to the streets to dish out justice and take down the head of the Syndicate the mysterious Mr X. Will they remain on the righteous side of justice or will the streets of rage corrupt even them.
SOR has clear defined sprites and far more detailed backgrounds than any side-scrolling beat’em at the time on the system. The stages are clearly defined and less generic in my opinion when comparing them with Golden Axe and Altered Beast. This isn’t to say that those two are ugly or horrible games it’s more a case that SOR has better use of colour and more varied colours going on in most of its stages and the sprites although not strictly speaking the greatest that can be made on the system as later versions in the SOR series will demonstrate they are clear and well defined, although there is a great deal of pallet swapping when it comes to the enemies.
SOR has some wonderfully scored music by Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima both of who have worked on multiple video game titles over the years and have made many contributions to the techno, chiptune and trance music scenes. Yuzo himself is one of the founders of Ancient Corp who have worked and developed multiple video game titles over the years such as Sonic the Hedgehog for Master System and Game Gear, the SOR series of games and Shenmue to name but a few. These electronic dance tunes were also made supposedly using the FM synthesis sound chip from the PC-8801 and apparently, Yuzo liked working with this so much that even when there were advances in sound technology he’d still go out of his way to find the older hardware. SOR music is to many counted as classic 90’s video game music and if you're a connoisseur of those chiptunes then you’ll love the music in SOR.
SOR gameplay is also relatively sophisticated for the time as well allowing different moves and combos to be pulled off and the integration of a second player allows for some tag-teaming shenanigans like throwing your friend across the screen to do a flying long kick or juggling henchmen left and right across the screen. The integration of weapons as well such as pipes, breakaway bottles and knives gives a more street brawl thuggishness and it is so satisfying to pick up a knife and fling it across the screen into henchmen.
One of the Cons you could argue is what would actually happen if you were to do this in real life particularly in later areas of the game you will find yourself being ganged up on by the computer and it can tank your health unless you take steps to stop it from happening. In some scenarios, you’ll have to go to great pains to control the battlefield on screen if you don’t want to go wasting your specials on the hordes of nameless goons currently tenderising your character from both sides. It’s a Con because I find it gets a bit annoying that this is the one strategy a lot of the goons start employing later on with some of the enemies purposely avoiding you so they can line up a soccer punch to the back of your head.
SOR is repetitive in a number of ways. Now palate swapped goons I can get there's only so much space on a cartridge and these are the generic thugs that you are supposed to wade through just plate swap their colours increase their hit points maybe tweak their programme to make them a bit different. However, I do draw the line when it comes to bosses and one boss in particular called Souther who technically shows up four times in a single-player playthrough of the game and is only pallet swapped once at the end when you go through the final gauntlet of boss fights. There is also the fact that there are only two special call-ins for three playable characters which is kind of annoying as Golden Axe at least had three different magics for their three main characters. I can only assume that this was a space limitation but really I’d have loved to have seen a Megadrive version of the Ringmaster and because of this I have to point it out.
Nerd O Metre Rating
High 4 out of 5
SOR is in my mind a classic of ’90s beat’em ups and although it has some faults it does do a lot better than many home computer and console contemporaries at the time. You could argue Final Fight was better but it was in the arcades not on a home system. This is also a game that started a series that is still popular even to this day with the release of Streets of Rage 4. It’s a game that would spark for many an even better sequel Streets of Rage 2 and although SOR is its forbearer it is still a fun game to play especially with a friend. I’d recommend getting a copy and unless you're a purist then you’ll find SOR easily on many newer formats as Sega has re-released it many times over the years.