MIA - Streets of Rage
No, seriously-- where are you, Yuzo Koshiro?
People complain about the plethora of Modern Warfare first person shooters these days, but those same people forget that every few years there’s some genre that dominates the gaming landscape. We’ve gone through the survival horror phase, the RPG obsession, the fighting game craze, and of course the beat ‘em up era. During that time, one of the most popular and legendary brawlers was the Streets of Rage series. It’s been nearly 20 years since Sega’s personal head crackers had a new adventure, so it’s time to dust off this franchise and resurrect it.
Brawlers were huge in the early ‘90s, thanks in large part to the arcade smash Final Fight by Capcom. It was an easy genre to shoehorn licensed characters like the X-Men, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Pirates of Dark Water into, but Streets of Rage was an original IP that stood out from the pack. It was also an all-important exclusive title for the Sega Genesis in an era where exclusives were the key to system sales.
The first game was designed by team members that had previously worked on the Shinobi games. While Streets of Rage had good graphics for the time, the stand out was the soundtrack, supplied by Yuzo Koshiro, a young composer would go on to write the music for the rest of the series as well as the action/RPG Beyond Oasis and the SNES hit ActRaiser. The game was released in America at the end of 1990.
Streets of Rage was a side-scrolling beat ‘em up that was extremely similar to Final Fight. While the game didn’t have the huge character sprites that Capcom’s 1989 arcade hit had, the game compensated through a robust amount of animations, which was a big part of the print marketing campaign. The three playable characters of Axel, Adam, and Blaze had many more moves at their disposal than Haggar, Cody, and Guy from Final Fight. It was also a two player game, which the SNES port of Final Fight a year later would lack.
Sega followed up Streets of Rage with a sequel a couple years later. Considered by many to be the pinnacle of the series, Streets of Rage 2 was a noticeable improvement over the first game. Characters were nearly double in size, and the attention to detail in the sprites was a huge step up in quality. This time around Adam was captured by series baddie Mr. X, so the team was joined by Skate, a young man capitalizing on the rollerblading fad, and Max, a pro wrestler. Streets of Rage 2 introduced character specific special attacks, and this added a lot more strategy to the brawler. Yuzo Koshiro crafted a soundtrack that fans of the series can still bust a groove to anytime they hear it.
The third and final game in the series—Streets of Rage 3— hit the Genesis in 1994, but by that point the brawler was beginning to lose its luster as the fighting game took the mantle of hottest genre. It’s widely regarded as an inferior game to Streets of Rage 2, but it added a lot of improvements to the core gameplay. Weapons came with their own special attacks, and some of the levels had different places to explore, sometimes leading to different outcomes. Defeating a pair of bosses in the correct order could unlock a secret character, for example. Max was tagged out for the bizarre elderly cyborg, Zan, with Axel, Blaze, and Skate returning. The lukewarm reception and the waning of the gaming community’s interest in the beat ‘em up genre contributed to the series getting shelved.
Streets of Rage would show its head from time to time through ports and re-releases, of course. The first game saw releases on the portable Game Gear and the 8-bit Master System. Games in the series have been repackaged in numerous ways, with the first major one being the Sega Smash Pack for the Dreamcast, which had poorly emulated audio. The series has been in the multiple Sega Genesis disc collections, as well as a couple digital releases, the best of which is last year’s Sega Vintage Collection: Streets of Rage.
When it comes to bringing the series into modern times however, Streets of Rage has had the short end of the stick. There were rumors of a new game for the Sega Saturn that was to be developed by Core, but that idea got scrapped, and the development team finished up what they had and repackaged it as Fighting Force for the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. When a higher up at Sega was asked about Streets of Rage making a comeback around the Dreamcast days the person in charge reportedly asked what Streets of Rage was. Just this year, footage of a possible Streets of Rage successor by Crackdown developer Ruffian was leaked. It’s still unknown if this is a game still in development or a cancelled project.
The Streets of Rage fan community stands alone in the sense that multiple home brew sequels exist for the series. These run the gamut from games that repurpose existing assets to games that utilize a completely different art style, but one fan game reigns supreme in this category: Streets of Rage Remake. Developed by Bombergames, Remake pulls in various design elements from the original three games while adding animations, tweaking gameplay, and remixing music. It was programmed from scratch and only uses the source material as inspiration. Streets of Rage Remake was released in 2011 for PC, but just days after launch it was hit with a cease and desist order from Sega. Even though the existence of the game was widely known (it had been in development since 2003), Sega didn’t seem to see the need to intervene until the project was actually completed. However, Streets of Rage Remake and the other fan made projects are still easy to find online.
MIA isn’t just about bringing up classic games’ past glories though. We’ve come to my favorite part: where I get to talk about how this series should be brought into the modern age. Considering my love for Streets of Rage and the long, cold years that the series has been dormant I’ve had a lot of time to come up with the perfect return for Axel, Blaze, and company.
When developers try to bring classic brawlers into the modern era there’s a tendency to play things far too close to the source material, and the problem with that is that this genre was notoriously shallow even in its heyday. To that end, I’d completely change the fundamental game mechanics while retaining the side-scrolling nature of the originals. Imagine a control scheme more akin to fighting games: two punch buttons and two kick buttons on the face of the controller, with a block and grapple button resting on the triggers. This would give players plenty of options for putting together combos and special moves, as well as adding a much-needed defensive mechanic to the game.
Including some RPG mechanics and character progression is a no-brainer at this point. I would flesh this out far beyond what’s been seen in other beat ‘em up hybrids like Guardian Heroes; with each point spent on attributes having immediate and noticeable changes to characters. Adding to the fighting game control scheme, I’d include a ton of interesting and strategic special moves that can be unlocked and upgraded. This would include super moves, but something I’d really like to see is the addition of team attacks that could be easily coordinated with a push of a button.
So, who should tackle this ambitious project? For me, it can be none other than Arc System Works—the developer behind the popular fighting games Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. They’re known for putting out amazing, high-definition 2D sprites, which seems like the best way to update Streets of Rage while still paying homage to its Sega Genesis roots. Their fighting games have a lot of depth while being easy to pick up and play, which would give the beat ‘em up just the added punch it needs.
It’s been two decades since Streets of Rage was on the radar of gamers. It’s a series that’s close to my heart, and I would absolutely adore its return. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but at least with MIA we can dream…