All Together Then: Streets of Rage

Catch up with Sega's seminal punch-'em-up series

The long-awaited Streets of Rage 4 finally has its release date - and it's soon. April 30th, to be exact. Why, that's just under a fortnight before you'll be practising pugilism with the newly-bearded Axel, presumably un-bearded Blaze, and a whole host of new characters. I've been a little less than excited about Streets of Rage 4 in the past, but I have to admit I'm starting to get excited. Heck, I was a Sega kid, I get excited when they re-issue Sonic Spinball.

Anyway, now seems like a grand old time to have a squint at the original three games in the Streets of Rage series, as part of the beloved All Together Then project. Let's take a lovely walk down the thug-infested streets of Wood Oak City and stave in some faces! In a fun way, mind.

All Together Then!

Streets of Rage (Mega Drive, 1991)

The first game in the series was widely played here in my beloved England, being a mainstay of the ubiquitous Mega Games 2 compilation cartridge. Yes, basically everyone I know had this game, and yet I summarily reject it in favour of its sequel, which I'll get to. That's not to say the original Streets of Rage is bad; it's clearly a good time. The characters playable here are Axel, Blaze and Adam, who utilise a simple but surprisingly diverse combat system to lay the smack down on myriad delinquents' candy asses. You've got your traditional punches and kicks, yes, but you can also grab and throw enemies, use weapons and - if things get desperate - have a policeman fire a rocket launcher, clearing the screen of all the bad bastards. It's fitfully enjoyable and looks good for its time - not to mention the excellent Yuzo Kushiro soundtrack - but unfortunately it's just completely outclassed by its bigger brother and revisiting it isn't an enticing prospect. Sorry, Streets of Rage. You were necessary to get to Streets of Rage 2.

Streets of Rage 2 (Mega Drive, 1992)

Yaaaas! The best game in the series and one of the best games of the 16-bit era, Streets of Rage 2 is Streets of Rage turned up to 11. Everything is bigger and better, from the levels to the sprites to the soundtrack. Koshiro's pumping beats accompany thumping beatings while new characters Skates and Max join the cast, Adam unfortunately being reduced to a kidnap victim. The whole game is basically perfect, with every stage memorable and lasting exactly the right amount of time without ever becoming repetitive or boring. Streets 2 also ups the craziness quotient, with jetpack-toting madmen rocketing after you, a boss battle with a giant eldritch serpent, and - best of - some absolutely rad hopping robots that are just plain fun to look at and fight. To my mind it's easily the highpoint of the series, a joyous romp that just oozes confidence, charm and downright coolness. If there's anything at all I can say in criticism of Streets of Rage 2, I guess the "Signal" enemies are pretty derivative of Capcom's 1989 Final Fight. But who cares? Streets of Rage 2 is way better than Final Fight.

Streets of Rage 3 (Mega Drive, 1994)

Oo-er, what happened here? Streets of Rage 3 certainly looks the part, but everything else is just a little bit wrong, and crap. Some people swear by its experimental techno Warp Records-sounding music, but where are the bangers from Streets 2? Also, why are the levels so long and dull? Why do all the enemies take so many hits? Okay, there are new features - multiple endings, more cutscenes and the like - but fundamentally the game just doesn't feel as breezy, crunchy or exciting as its predecessor. The new characters here are Dr. Zan and secret characters Shiva and Roo - a kangaroo, and outside of the novelty value neither of them seem particularly interesting to me! While it would be extremely silly to call Streets of Rage 3 an outright bad game, I just... never want to play it.

HOWEVER, the Japanese version, Bare Knuckle 3, is a lot better. Bosses have, like, multiple life bars fewer than they do in the localised version! What on earth were they thinking? I suppose "let's not let kids beat this game on a rental", like many later 16-bit games. It still sucks, but it hurts that the Western version could have sucked so much less. Oh, Bare Knuckle 3 also has a massively stereotypical Hard Gay style character named Ash, who was sensibly removed. Despite this, you can still play this version in the recent Sega Mega Drive Classics, thanks to its inclusion of both regions.