Brawlers were a phenomenon in the early ’90s, but the genre has lived on to the present day, with Streets of Rage 4 in development even now. While Sega’s most popular arcade brawler was probably Altered Beast, their best effort in my eyes was the Streets of Rage trilogy. The series was a multiplayer urban brawler with items to pick up, special moves, and a slight cyberpunk look and feel. The series saw one arcade release, Streets of Rage 2, but in my mind, the series plays best on the Sega Genesis.
The first Streets of Rage is simple compared to the other two. The animation is rudimentary, but some basic elements are laid out. Adam, Axel, and Blaze are playable [Axel and Blaze would actually endure throughout the series], and you can play as two players. Things like telephone booths and barrels can reveal weapons and health pickups. In the first two Streets of Rage I relied on a cheat code to play out the end of the game, just so that I could see the credits. In other words, there’s a degree of difficulty to the game that belies the simpler aspects of it—hence my reliance on the cheat code at the end of the game.
The second game in the series is a big improvement. You will immediately notice the graphics are better, as are the animations. As you continue playing, you will also notice the music is better. Markedly better. The entire series has music from Yuzo Koshiro, and this is his best effort. The music genre is techno, and it surpasses technical limitations of the hardware to sound like music that would be on an album, not in a game. Now you can play as Max, Axel, Blaze and Skate, though in the third game Max gets the boot, and Skate continues on. The arcade version features voice samples, though not much is lost in the Sega Genesis version. Proximity can change an attack, for example turning a punch into a throw. As mentioned earlier, I made it to roughly the end of the game before I needed a cheat code. The nemesis is the same as in the original.
Which leaves Streets of Rage 3, which is probably better than the first game, but not as good as the second. We finally have a plot now, and it’s basically this: the world has been taken over by robots. As mentioned, Axel, Blaze, and Skate remain, and “Zan” now joins you. Sadly, Sega didn’t put much effort into Zan, because anytime you pick up an item – be it a pipe or a bottle – it all ends up as a bolt of lightning in his hand. Apparently, Sega couldn’t be bothered to program in specific weapon controls for Zan. You fight a robot version of Axel, and uncover other “robots in disguise.” Sadly, the game won’t run the credits until you win on the hard difficulty, and it’s a hard enough game on the first two difficulty levels.
So in summary, the first two games are great, but the last one is too inundated with plot. Interestingly, the fourth title is being published by DotEmu, which made a number of ports for Sega games, showing loyalty goes a long way. Ubiquitous as the brawler genre was in the arcade, we never got a title quite like those in the Streets of Rage series. It is on the Sega Genesis Classics collection in North America, which is available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch, in addition to the PC, all at a reduced price. Connect a second controller and play two-player. The more the merrier. Just don’t be surprised when you get that disappointing feeling at the end of 3.