Every now and then I like to put down the PS4 controller and revel in some childhood nostalgia. Partly because I enjoy the feeling of being transported back to my youth and partly because I want a break from the constant barrage of upgrades, trophy hunting and system updates you get with modern titles.
In my last Throwback Thursday post I wrote about a firm favourite of mine from the Sega Mega Drive era, Gunstar Heroes. This week is another old favourite of mine – The Streets of Rage, a side-scrolling beat’ em’ up released in 1991.
The game allows you to choose one of three protagonists – Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding and Adam Hunter (it’s almost like their parents named them for the sole purpose of being in a 90s video game!). Each character is a retired police officer and master of a specific form of martial art who all deliver justice in the only way they know how – by kneeing gang members, punk rockers and dominatrices in the face. Nowadays they’d be classed as self-entitled millennials and be issued with an ASBO but in 1991, they’re the streets’ only hope.
Mr Big is the game’s main villain who has corrupted the police force and brought crime to the once peaceful streets. Your mission is to fight your way across eight levels, disposing of Mr Big’s faithful minions to reach the big man himself. Whilst the story is overly simplistic and all too familiar from action films of the same era, Streets of Rage is a fun game to play.
Each character has a minor difference in their fighting style which gives the game just about enough diversity. You can also pick up weapons along the way including lead pipes, bottles and knives to get rid of your foes. Due to the sheer number of enemies you face, the game itself is actually quite challenging; particularly when played alone on hard.
However, one of the best things about most titles on the Mega Drive is their co-op multiplayer and SoR is no different. The console does a great job of bringing that arcade feeling into the living room as a friend can pick up the second joystick and enter the game at any moment. Disposing of your enemies is also a lot more fun with two people as the game allows you to team up for special takedowns with your friends.
An aspect of the game I never paid attention to when I used to play was the music and I now realise what a fool I was because the soundtrack is amazing. Yuzo Koshiro was the brain behind the soundtrack and was heavily inspired by house music at the time. Each level is perfectly accompanied with sweeping synths and basslines that are able to capture the tone of each stage of the game. The music is easily on par for me with the soundtrack from the first Mortal Kombat movie.
However, whilst the soundtrack is an incredible throwback to 90s house music, visually the game doesn’t hold up too well. Even though I enjoy the contrast of the dark background of each level (the levels always take place at night) to the bright colours of our heroes, the graphics feel outdated and rough around the edges, especially when played on a 40 inch TV. Nevertheless, for a game that is 25 years old, we can probably cut it some slack.
The Streets of Rage games are the best beat’ em’ up titles on the Mega Drive and whilst the first hasn’t aged well, it is a fun experience to re-live. The multiplayer is a complete joy and teaming up with a friend to fight off the endless army of thugs is a perfect way to spend some care-free hours.