The Completist Presents: The Streets of Rage Series – Part 1
Wife: “She kicks.”
Zack: “She kicks? What do you mean by, she kicks?”
Wife: “I’m telling you, she kicks.”
Zack: “Can you give me a little more information about her?”
Wife: “SHE KICKS!!!”
Zack: “Are you talking about Chun Li from Street Fighter 2? She’s got really long legs and has a blue dress and she kicks A LOT.”
Wife: “No, that doesn’t sound right.”
Zack: “What about Sonya from Mortal Kombat? She’s dressed in green and kills you with a fiery kiss.”
Wife: “No, that’s not her either.”
Zack: “Ok, you have to give me something to go on here other than the fact that ‘she kicks’. All girls in fighting games kick honey. It’s that female fighter stereotype thing.”
Wife: “I think that she was dressed in red and was really bad ass.”
Zack: “Are you talking about Blaze from Streets of Rage?”
Wife: “YES! STREETS OF RAGE! I LOVE THAT GAME!”
Zack: “Seriously?!?! ME TOO! I LOVE YOU!”
Wife: “I LOVE YOU TOO!”
Let me point something out here, this conversation happened early on in our relationship, well before my wife and I were married (probably around 05-06). But as far as I can remember, it was our first real conversation about a video game. It was exciting for me because my wife was not a gamer and at that point, she had basically shown indifference towards my favorite hobby. And while we have many, many things in common, (Sc-Fi, Star Trek, Star Wars, Fantasy, Botany, Scuba Diving, the Ocean, etc.) video games were not one of those things. So, when I asked her one day early on in our relationship if she had played any video games, this above conversation was the result. And it has stuck out in my memory ever since as a special moment between us. Not to mention a special moment for Streets of Rage as well.
My memories of Streets of Rage began in middle school. I’ve talked about my middle school experiences before and anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that I had a rough time of it. I was bullied a bit and was a zit faced, dandruff laden, colored socks wearing pasty, skinny white kid with a bowl hair cut and self esteem issues (gee I wonder why?). Don’t pity me though, because I had Streets of Rage to help me out.
I discovered Streets of Rage while sitting on the bus in 6th grade. I’ll never forget it. There was one particular 8th grade brute that frequently threw my text books out the windows of the bus or made fun of me in ways I’d rather not remember. To drown out this hell, I would frequently engage myself in reading gaming mags (because homework just wasn’t’t my thing). I can’t remember exactly what magazine I was reading at the time but this was 1991 so it was most likely either EGM or Gamepro. Near the front of the magazine was a nice little “preview” section with what was generally a one page layout and a single screen shot of the games they were previewing. I saw the title “Streets of Rage” and “Sega Genesis” and thought immediately that the game was for me. I’ve always loved the word “Rage” plus, I was pissed off at being bullied, so what better way to deal with it than by beating up virtual bullies in a video game! It beats the hell out of shooting up your school! Who says video games cause school shootings? I say they prevent them!
And if the name of the game wasn’t good enough, the screen shot was even better. The one in the magazine that I spent months staring at looked something like this:
That screen shot completely sold me. Fire? Huge guys with boomerangs? A hot chick in a red mini-skirt? An angry black dude who looks bad ass? It’s over. I want this game, NOW!
And who else to get me the game of my dreams than my wonderful grandmother. I have many treasured childhood memories of playing the original Streets of Rage (as well as quite a few other games) at my grandmother’s house on the beautiful Singer Island in Palm Beach:
She bought us the game one summer day in 1991. The first time I turned it on and played it was in her living room, on that beautiful island far removed from the bullies of my middle school prison. I don’t think my brother and I quit playing the game that day until it was time to go to bed. It was our first real experience with a co-op beat-em-up (I’m not counting TMNT 2, sorry) and it stuck with us, me especially.
My brother and I would also frequently get up at 5 AM on school days to get a game in before we got sent off to jail. And let me tell you something, NOTHING in the world was going to get me up at 5 AM except Streets of Rage. To this day, it is the only game that has ever inspired me to get up that early to do, well, anything really. I would hear that alarm going off and think: what am I doing? Then I would remember that Adam, Axel and Blaze needed our help to save “the city” and it was time for action.
Which brings us to the game itself. The original Streets of Rage is not what I would consider an overly difficult game. It is also not a particularly long game clocking in at 8 levels and less than an hour and a half to finish in most cases. It is also relatively simple when compared to later beat-em-ups. However, the game does what it does well. The fighting is fluid, the graphics are crisp, the environments are vivid and the music, oh the music. Whoever says the Genesis didn’t have a good sound board obviously didn’t have Yuzo Koshiro at the helm.
Now, I have talked about Yuzo Koshiro before and I simply can’t say enough good things about the man. The sound track to Streets of Rage is still, to this day, one of my favorite musical soundtracks, period. It got me interested in music in a way I had never been before. Because Yuzo Koshiro was so influential with his music, especially with the Streets of Rage series, I am going to feature it here throughout this article, starting with the serene but sinister sounding opening theme. Give it a listen while you’re reading the games intro text. And proceed to have chills run down your spine:
“The Streets of Rage”
“This city was once a happy, peaceful place… Until one day, a powerful secret criminal organization took over. This vicious syndicate soon had control of the government and even the police force. The city has become a center of violence and crime where no one is safe.
Amid this turmoil, a group of determined young police officers has sworn to clean up the city. Among them are Adam Hunter, Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding. They are willing to risk anything… even their lives… on the…”
And with that, my Completist take on Streets of Rage begins. Starting with the characters:
Until my wife and I played through Streets of Rage recently (in preparation for this article), I had never noticed that Adam was a Bonsai artist! How cool is that? Boxing? Ex-Cop? Bah, this guy is like Mr. Miyagi! A deadly fighter but also one of finesse and control. Bonsai is a hobby I enjoy in real life myself so I can relate to Adam wanting to kick back and expand upon his inner artist. Good for you Adam.
Axel is into video games. Go figure. One of these three had to be. It’s a given after all. I’m sure it was Axel’s love of Double Dragon that made him not only want to head out onto the streets to take on crime in real life but to also convince his colleagues to do so as well. I’ve always felt bad for Axel though, mainly because neither I nor any of my friends ever really used him much, at least in the first game.
Ahhhh Blaze. The titular centrepiece of early 90’s adolescent boy’s masturbation fantasies. Those long legs always drove me and my friends crazy I’ll have to admit. With a skirt so short there was nothing much left to imagine. And look at her, she even has the Cindy Crawford mole! And what exactly is Lambada? Some sort of 80’s dance routine apparently. Well Blaze, I’ll give you this: my friend Nick was so obsessed with your beauty growing up that he mastered pausing the game right at the exact moment you were most…. exposed. Nick, this one’s for you buddy:
Now that I’m done objectifying women, (c’mon now, I was 11 years old!) it’s time to begin the game. But before I do, I must present to you this incredibly obvious disclaimer:
Streets of Rage, or any other beat-em-up for that matter, is not worth playing unless you have a friend to play with (what the hell were they thinking with the original SNES port of Final Fight?). I have tried many fighters by myself and it just isn’t much fun. So make sure that if you try this or any game in the Streets of Rage series that you have someone to play it with. Otherwise, just listen to the soundtrack.
And we begin. The Pine Pot is open late and we are ready to fight some red haired punks on our way to defeat this evil crime syndicate. 80’s station wagons, “Rach’ Shops” and Bar’s named “L Devo” line the street as well as phone booths that break far too easily to pass city code. Let’s also not forget the yellow “ninja turtle” thugs in full jumpsuits that love to toss you through the air like feathery Frisbees. I can only tell my wife to hit UP+C so many times (which allows you to land on your feet) before we succumb to swarms of judo trained street punks and criminals.
Ah, but Yuzo Koshiro has a stellar first round anthem for us here. It also happens to be one of my favorite SOR tunes. A funky rhythm and an explosive beat that would be right at home in any big city dance club. Let’s use some Brazilian Capoeira and dance while we fight!
“Fighting In The Street”
Fight long enough and we reach our first destination, two big hunks of beef! Or are they turkey legs? It’s really impossible to tell. But if ambiguous powerups are any indication, we have our first boss fight at hand. But wait! Adam and Blaze aren’t alone in this fight! We have some fellow vigilante police officers to help us with our cause. Hitting “A” summons them, complete with a sparkling “Blaze” of glory:
Here they come, sirens blazing! Fire that explosive minigun and let’s see how fast these 8 foot tall boomeranged thugs fall:
Not as fast as we’d like but jump kick their boomerangs and body slam them to the pavement and they die with a melodramatic “Gluuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.” These guys were cake. What’s next?
Now that the main street is clear, it’s time to clean up the alleys. Well, at least one alley. And it’s a mean one at that. Accompanied by a rather upbeat but gritty tune complete with distant sirens and a “ticking” beat that make you feel dirty just listening to it:
Familiar enemies will taunt us but beware because the “fire juggling clowns” make their first appearance. If you don’t punch them just right, their smouldering fire sticks will knock you to the ground like a burning, battered tree.
Make sure you don’t waste all of your aggression on thugs because you’ll want to save some for the many metal barrels scattered across the alley. They are chock full of money bags, extra lives, and apples; all of which are useful. It’s a good thing there are so many well-to-do bums in this city, for what other explanation could there be for all of the hidden goodies sitting out in the open? Knives and Broken bottles are also your friends here. Just don’t end up fighting each other over who gets what. You may end up in a real life fight with your wife!
Get through the dilapidated back alley and it’s time for boss fight round 2! And since I forgot to put the ominous sounding boss music in round one, I’ll give it to you here, complete with its break-beat dance club quality touch:
“Attack the Barbarian”
And here we have a mix of Wolverine and Edward scissorhands, with the speed of The Flash. Literally, if you jump, they will zip across the screen like an angry hummingbird and cut you down three quarters of the way to death. Hit them hard and use your gun totting buddy cop to burn them down to ashes.
Here comes my favorite round, and my favorite music. There’s just something about a night at the beach with the wind blowing and the rain drizzling and the moon peeking out of the clouds. Every time my brother and I got to this level as kids I was just surrounded in Streets of Rage glee. This could have been us, on the beach at Singer Island, protecting Palm Beach from the thugs of South Florida. The music with its Caribbean style beats and catchy as hell rhythm says it all:
I always wondered why someone saw fit to stack tires on the beach. Sure, we’ve all seen tires wash up on a beach before (I think) but stacks of them? This isn’t Daytona and even there, I don’t recall seeing stacks of racing tires.
At any rate, maybe the villains are enthusiastic about the beach level too, because the enemies start to bring their A game. Now we are competing with long haired leaping ninja’s and dominatrix “bitches” complete with spandex and leather whips. I call them “bitches” because many times when you hit them, they scream and then fall to their knees, invulnerable until they decide it’s safe to stand. I suppose that, when a woman is trying to strangle you to death with a whip, its ungentlemanly to hit her while she’s down… It’s actually quite an offensive female stereotype if you think about it. A woman being weaker than a man. Common Sega! You can do better than that! I know for sure your wrong on this one because my wife can kick my ass!
Get ready to kick that sand out of your shoes fast because boss number 3 is here. And it feels like a trip through the bowels of the WWF (or is it called the WWE now?). There be wrestlers abound! Sneaky ones too that love to hide just off screen and then when you least expect it, POW! One punch is usually enough to knock your lights out, permanently.
They even bring some lowly thugs along for the ride. Call in the cops before it’s too late and bring this WrestleMania to an end.
So I guess if you walk long enough on any beach (unless you’re in Greenland or something) you’ll eventually hit a bridge. And so we have. And it’s a bridge under construction. Complete with insta-death construction holes, re-skins of several previous enemies and an absolutely gorgeous view of the city.
The music this time around is a subdued, almost comfortable sounding tune that accompanies the exquisite view quite nicely:
“Keep the Groovin”
Don’t get too comfortable though or the purple variant, judo-wielding, ninja-turtle thugs will have no trouble tossing you straight down one of those large construction holes.
Just make sure you don’t give those barricades too much respect because hidden in them are the usual goodies and weapons galore. Give them a good kick or punch for good measure.
Slog your way to the end of the bridge and what awaits you is incredibly…. Fat…. And…. Hot. Yes, it’s the fire breathing fat asses (at least that’s what we used to call them).
Now, I know, calling them “fat asses” probably isn’t the nicest thing to say. But consider this, they are the only guys in pretty much any fighting game I can remember that you can’t pick up or throw. If you try, you literally get crushed. It’s actually rather hilarious watching Axel with all his big muscles try to pick one of these dudes up only to go splat on the pavement. Bravo Sega for realism! Except for the fire breathing…what’s up with that anyway? No matter, stay out of their way as best you can, hit them when they slow down (these guys are fast for fat asses) and they will eventually fall into a melted pile of lard infused goo.
So I guess every bridge ends with a boat. And apparently we need this rolling water trawler to get across town, so why not. And what a motion sickness inducing ride it is. Complete with a tune that “rolls” right along with it:
“Beatnik on the Ship”
Here you will find that the difficulty ramps up considerably. If you haven’t had much trouble dying, you will now, over and over again. There aren’t many new enemies here but there are so many of them that the screen is frequently filled with dozens of the boats angry denizens.
Not only that, but this is also the first round where you are faced with fighting a mini-boss before you fight the actual boss. Ouch. Try and stay steady on this roller coaster of ups and downs and you will reach a boss that will make you… probably scratch your head.
That’s right, Blazes evil twin sisters (I guess that makes them triplets?). And they are a malicious pair. Kicking and screaming (albeit, at a lower octave) their way to your complete and utter defeat. But have no fear, your chummy cop buddies have followed you, car and all, on to the ship! Let’s show them how it’s done and blast them to the bottom of the sea:
Yes, there always has to be a factory. And in my opinion, the factory levels in pretty much any game are typically the most blah. Even the music isn’t quite up to the “Koshiro Standard.” Although it gets the job done with its rather robotic sounding rhythm and steel drum infused beats:
One thing you will find in factories is, surprise surprise: conveyor belts. And like any conveyor belt they tend to be rather bothersome, antagonizing you in a paradoxical rhythm of opposing forces. Pulling at you like a magnet to a steel beam, right into the hands of your enemies. And enemies there are. Red haired punks replaced with bleach blonde bullies and gray judo ninja’s replaced with… well… more ninjas.
This level really is a toil of metallic proportions. The only weak point in an otherwise “complete” experience. Just do yourself a favor and don’t get slammed by the ever crunching hydraulic presses. Like this level, they make for a rather flat experience.
If you manage to make it through the droves of angry surfer looking goons, you’ll find a familiar fiend laying in wait.
That’s right, Wolverscissorhands is back and sharper than ever. Luckily, we’ve heard this song before. Call in the cops, don’t jump and you’ll be scraping their adamantium claws off the metallic floor.
Yes, the elevator to hell is upon us. Or rather, we are upon it. Going up to the crime syndicates main headquarters on the penthouse level of “the City’s” tallest building. Luckily for us though, there are no bosses to fight here. Just a straight shot straight to the top accompanied by an equally uplifting tune to keep us on our toes:
A barrage of familiar foes will also accompany us on this soaring attempt at heroism. Toss as many as you can over the edge to make life easier on yourself. Just don’t get tossed off yourself.
Clear this relatively easy ascent and it’s on to the final round.
The end is near! And this is one fancy penthouse. Accompanied by a song of equally fancy fare. This tune just screams “last level” music:
“The Last Soul”
Gold columns and haunted food carts are but a few of the treasures you will find here. Starting with mobs of every variety you have witnessed thus far, accosting you after every step you take. And to add insult to injury, this level is swapped. You are now going from right to left rather than left to right. How rude! But look closely and you will begin to see a pattern. This isn’t just your normal “last level.” This is a repeat boss corridor! Starting with our Elven looking, boomerang throwing pals from round 1:
Followed by Wolverscissorhands African cousins:
Resulting in another fight with the WWE Superstars:
Leading to yet another romp with our fire breathing fat-asses:
With this bright sliver, whip yielding princess inbetween:
Concluding with another fight between you and Blazes corrupted twins (I guess this makes them Quintuplets?):
Once Blaze is done committing sororicide (you learned a new word today!), it’s time to break down that last door and head to the final fight! (oops, wrong game…)
And the end is upon us! The evil crime lord awaits! But what’s this, a question?
In an interesting twist, Streets of Rage actually gives you a choice of what you’d like to do at this final scene. In two player mode there are 3 possible outcomes. The first being you both agree to become the crime lords “right hand man” in which he then betrays you and drops you back to the factory level. Ouch. The second outcome is that one of you says yes and one of you says no, at which point you are then forced to fight to the death. Ouch. So it’s pretty obvious what the right choice is here. HELL NO! LETS FIGHT!
And like every good “evil” boss, he has to send his thrulls to do his bidding before he can lift a finger, or in this case:
A Gun! Cheater! This is a fighting game! Not a shooting game!
Kick him while you can, or you may end up like this:
Is it possible to get pistol whipped with a machine gun?
Flip over him Adam for that final body slam!
One more kick to finish the job….
And apparently, Axel was driving along in the cop car or something because he manages to rejoin us for the crime lords final death scene!
And the city is safe! All is well! The sun is rising, it’s been a long night for our heroes. Let’s let them have their happy ending shall we:
And there you have it, my nostalgia infused romp through one of my favorite childhood memories. And yet, here I am, more than 20 years later and still able to enjoy this game with my wife as an adult. There aren’t a lot of instances in my life that I can share equally with my distant childhood and my evident future. This to me, more than anything else, makes Streets of Rage (all three of the games) a special continuing moment in my life that I hope to share with future generations of my family. Long live Streets of Rage!