This summer sees Sega capitalizing on the drought of new releases in the gaming world by unleashing a number of classic titles onto the Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace. Taking many people back to their gaming roots, these Vintage Collections are home to some of the Mega Drive’s most loved franchises that give the hearts of gamers that warm, fuzzy nostalgic feeling to this very day.
Time for a quick history lesson: For those who might have missed these games the first time round, the concept of Streets of Rage is a pretty simple one. A series of side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, influenced by the likes of Double Dragon and Sega’s very own Golden Axe, sees three ex-cops take matters into their own hands when an evil crime syndicate, led by the sinister Mr. X, runs amok on the streets of their home city. It’s a plot worthy of an eighties action film. Of course, the real appeal was the two-player co-op option which, to this day, remains a treasured memory for many gamers who were lucky enough to own, rent or even live near a Sega Mega Drive console.
First released in 1991, Streets of Rage allows you to choose between Axel, Blaze or Adam in order to take the city scum. Each character has their own set of moves as well as the infamous special attack, which is usually extreme firepower provided by the local police department. For anyone familiar with the series, these special attacks come in particularly handy whenever faced with one (or two if playing two player) of the game’s larger-than-life bosses.The only warning would be to read the instructions first, as quite often that fatal mistake can be made by hitting a wrong button, and accidentally unleashing your special attack at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Usually these retro games don’t stand the test of time when it comes to translating the controls to fit with the current generation of consoles. Not the case with Streets of Rage as the game has full analogue support and the buttons are as responsive, if not more, than the Mega Drive counterpart. Vibrant, addictive and packaged with a kick ass soundtrack, revisiting this game is like meeting up with an old friend - you’ll get on together just as well as you always did.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it seems to be the motto with the second installment, Streets of Rage 2, which maintains the same addictive gameplay as the first and only adds a few minor changes. First and foremost are the graphics which seem to have been given a few extra pixels, giving the characters, enemies and backgrounds that bit more detail. The enemies have been given life bars and names, a privilege reserve only for the bosses in the first game, and have added a few new types of thug to their ranks such as bikers, ninjas and even robots. The character roster has been modified slightly, seeing Adam abducted by the syndicate and replaced by his younger Skate who lives up to his name by navigating the screen on his roller-blades providing the game with a character whose focus lies on being speedy. Another new addition to the team comes in the form of wrestler Max Thunder who despite being the slowest character in the game provides the team with some well needed muscle. In order to accommodate this diversity in character selection, the move list has been expanded and updated, giving players more ways to beat their enemies to a pulp. The back-up officer special attack has been replaced by a more humble special move performed by the characters themselves, such as Axel’s fast paced gut punches which can do substantial damage, if you can get close enough.
On paper, Streets of Rage 3 could be technically described as the all-singing all-dancing update of the series, as it boasted extra characters, faster frame rate, and all round better graphics. Both heroes and villains look a lot better than the previous two installments, with some of the original rogue gallery from the original game given a shiny new update. Nowadays better graphics are essential to any sequel, but this isn’t the case with Streets of Rage 3, which actually loses some of its charm thanks to the graphical overhaul. Otherwise, it doesn’t deviate too much from the original formula in terms of game play and still maintains it’s classic co-op gameplay. It also spices up the series with some rather peculiar characters. Joining Axel, Blaze and Skate this time around are the cyborg Dr Zan and the boxing kangaroo Roo making this line up the strangest the series has seen since its inception. Chances are a lot of gamers may have missed Streets of Rage 3 the first time round, possibly due to the impending release of the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation, so now, nearly twenty years on it is time to finish the fight.
The big addition to all three titles is the option for online co-op. Now you don’t need to invite a friend over after school in order to complete the game as, through the magic of Xbox Live, the classic two-player experience still lives on. For those looking for a little extra bang for your buck, this particular Streets of Rage collection also has a few special features. Each game has a series of trial modes which gives players a set of challenges, such as beating certain levels within a given time limit, or taking your chances against some super duper extra hard modes. You can also play the one of the game’s many regional versions, such as the European, American and Japanese. Did you know that Streets of Rage was known as Bare Knuckle in Japan? That’s not the only difference. On the surface there are a number of cosmetic differences such as different coloured costumes for the heroes, and some variation on the sound bytes. Dig a little deeper and you’ll soon discover that Streets of Rage 3 has two different story lines, depending on whether you choose the American/European version or the Japanese version. Considering the collection is limited to the standard 200G achievement points, there is a very little reason to visit these extra modes and trials other than to achieve bragging rights with your fellow Xbox Live members. Still, as far as rounding off the package is concerned, these make this Streets of Rage collection the most complete version to date.
At the pocket money price of 800 MS points, the collection is great value for money, particularly during the summer season when new releases come out about as often as the sunshine. Admittedly, the co-op gameplay still steals the show, particularly with the first two titles and will provide plenty of entertainment for a couple of mates looking to spend their evening “productively.” Whilst the trial modes and regional versions are a nice addition, they will hardly be the key selling point, particularly for those who have already got the Sega Mega Drive Collection in their stack of games. Still, this collection is a great coda for the series and, as far as retro gaming is concerned, it is safe to say that Streets of Rage still packs a punch.