Few games represent the Genesis quite like the Streets of Rage trilogy. Find any random Genesis-owning household circa 1994 and you’d be likely to see at least one of the three cartridges among the collection, probably sandwiched between a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the port of Mortal Kombat with the uncensored blood. Get any former Genesis owner to start waxing nostalgic about their experiences with Sega’s second U.S. console and they’d probably dwell on memories of teaming up with a buddy and pounding the ever-loving crap out of various thugs and ne’er-do-wells with the aid of Axel and company. But the ugly secret of Streets of Rage is that the first game really wasn’t very good.
Sega was no stranger to beat-em-ups when they created the original Streets of Rage, having given the world the likes of Altered Beast and Golden Axe a few years prior. But in many ways both of those titles were largely arcade tech demos, designed to treat players to exciting, cutting-edge visuals in exchange for fistfuls of quarters. As actual “games” they were pretty lousy, featuring stiff controls, poor hit detection, and unbalanced difficulty. Despite being created solely for consoles, the original Streets of Rage wears its arcade heritage on its sleeve. Just like its predecessors, it too seems designed to quickly drain players of their lives. Cheap hits abound, and boss fights typically come down to battles of attrition, where the key to victory simply involves properly timing the screen-clearing special moves.
Arcade games can, to a degree, get away with this kind of behavior. After all, they’re there to take your money, so you know what you’re getting into when you pop in your first quarter. Getting angry at them for doing so would be like getting angry at slot machines for not paying out more often. Console games, though, have no such excuse. Good console games need to require skill to surmount their challenges, not luck. Arcade games of the era also had the advantage of additional hardware that home systems simply couldn’t match. Golden Axe and Altered Beast might have been crummy games, but they at least looked pretty nice, featuring large, detailed sprites and intricate backgrounds. By comparison, Streets of Rage is an ugly game. Its sprites are tiny, and its graphics overall have that muddy quality seen in many early Genesis titles.
In its day, the original Streets of Rage gained popularity primarily by providing Genesis owners with a console game that aped the likes of phenomenally popular arcade brawlers like Final Fight and Double Dragon. Sure, it was a pretty poor substitute, but it was essentially the only one Genesis owners had. Other than its admittedly solid soundtrack (a techno mixture composed by the outstanding Yuzo Koshiro), it really doesn’t have much to recommend it today. Thankfully, it was at least an important building block of great things to come.
Article by Mike Zeller
GameSpite Journal 12: Streets of Rage