Released: December 19, 2013 / $5.99
Version Reviewed: 3DS
Original Release: Genesis / 1991
During the 16-bit wars of the early 90s, the most public battle being fought for the hearts and minds of children was between Mario and Sonic. Yet down in the trenches of dirty, decrepit city slums, another fight raged…
Final Fight was first to the 16-bit brawler scene, moving from the arcades (1989) to the Super Famicom (1990) with huge sprites and one of the greatest video game characters ever: the mustached mayor turned street fighter (turned wrestler), Mike Haggar. Streets of Rage hit the Sega Genesis in 1991, and while quite similar to Final Fight at first glance, it had an entirely different “feel.” Simply put, the original Streets of Rage is the most atmospheric brawler ever made.
It’s strange how a game world filled with aggressive, sometimes armed, thugs can be inviting, but Streets of Rage manages to pull it off. A moonlit blue color palette combined with an attractive cityscape gives the world of Streets of Rage the feel of a neon urban dystopia- a technicolor Gotham City. While the look was in stark contrast to Final Fight’s decrepit, but still bright, Metro City, what really gave Streets of Rage its soul was the soundtrack.
Composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro, Streets of Rage’s OST eschewed both the catchy chiptune melodies of the 8-bit era and the more symphonic ambitions that were rising at the advent of 16-bit machines for something darker. While still driving and memorable, Koshiro’s electronica soundtrack always hinted at something more threatening and bleak beneath the surface. If other video game soundtracks of the time were ABBA, Koshiro’s Streets of Rage OST was New Order.
As would be expected from an M2 joint, the soundtrack is carried over to this 3D version flawlessly. There is even the option to choose between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 emulation in this version- according to Koshiro, the Genesis 2 version sounds significantly better, but my untrained ears had a tough time recognizing any differences during my second playthrough of the game. Yes, on the night I downloaded 3D Streets of Rage, I played through it back to back- the international version using the Genesis 1 settings and the Japanese version (called Bare Knuckle) using Genesis 2. This is a game that lends itself to multiple playthroughs for the reasons I listed above, but this version becomes even more replayable with the new “Fists of Death” setting. In this mode, every enemy in the game (including bosses) can be taken out in one hit. This drastically reduces the amount of time required for a playthrough, and makes completing the game a brief, yet satisfying, way to soak in the impeccable aesthetic.
At this point in time, it’s almost as silly to bring up the Streets of Rage vs Final Fight rivalry as the Nintendo vs Sega one, as both brawler series have been (sadly) retired for years. What we have here with 3D Streets of Rage is an atmospheric brawler that’s still incredibly playable today, developed and ported with care by Sega, and fit nicely onto a Nintendo handheld.
I think that in the end, everybody won.