Neon dreams: Streets of Rage 4′s painful legacy

Monday, 21 January 2013 08:09 GMT By Dave Cook

Streets of Rage 4 has been subject to many false starts over the years. VG247′s resident series fanboy Dave Cook discusses Sega’s failed attempts, and argues the cases for and against a Streets of Rage revival.

Streets of Rage

The series launched in 1991 on Sega’s Mega Drive/Genesis console. The first game saw cops Axel Stone, Adam Hunter and Blaze Fielding take to the streets to bring down ruthless Kingpin Mr. X. His mullet is as fearsome as his name,

Streets of Rage 2 is notable as one of the best-received scrolling beat-em-ups of its day, while the third game received a mixed reaction due to butchered Western ports.

Sega has been toying around with bringing the series back for years. First on Dreamcast, then on modern consoles.

Just last month footage of a canned Streets of Rage remake by Crackdown developer Ruffian Games surfaced. Check it out here.

Sega was in trouble back in 2001. PlayStation 2 was giving the company’s Dreamcast a kicking at retail, third-party developers had jumped ship in droves and the gaming business was turning into an increasingly savage domain. In January that year, the company announced that it was halting production of the console, and with it, Sega was withdrawing from the hardware production sector.

It was a sad day for followers of the company who had weaned themselves on the delights of Alex Kidd in Miracle World – built into Sega’s Master System II hardware – or those who marvelled at the Mega Drive’s so-called ‘blast processing’ that gave Sonic his trademark speed. It was always an edgy company, calling out its competitors and beating its chest with brazen ad campaigns and sleek console units. But now it had lost its teeth.

Since the demise of Dreamcast, Sega has lived on as a software developer and publisher, and often revisits its glory days through some superb examples of fan service. Most recently, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, featured cameos from classic characters like Ristar and boasts an entire circuit based around the stellar Shinobi III, complete with a remixed arrangement of Yuzo Koshiro’s original 16-bit soundtrack.

Sega and its partners know fan service like the back of their hand, but where it stumbles is in franchise revival. 2008′s Golden-Axe sequel, the critically-mauled ‘Beast Rider’ proved that trying to panel-beat an old formula into a modern paradigm is trickier than it looks. The same goes for NiGHTS follow-up ‘Journey of Dreams’ and the PS2 reboot of Altered Beast.

These revivals need care and attention to detail, not just the hope that they will sell on name alone, and it seems that Sega’s top brass are trying to get heir collective heads around how to bring the iconic Streets of Rage franchise kicking and screaming into the modern age.

Streets of Rage 2 is my all-time favourite game, and lord knows I go on about it enough on these pages. Although born in the ’80s I place the apex of my childhood firmly in the mid to late ’90s because back then gaming was hotting up, the fabled PlayStation we heard so much about in the pages of Mega and Sega Power would be no match for Sega’s Mega-CD – they told us – and we looked forward both formats having a massive duel.

Sony kicked the shit out of Sega in the CD stakes of course, but man, what a time it was to be a gamer. The one title that sums up the spirit of the time better than any I can think of was Streets of Rage by Yuzo Koshiro’s team Ancient. It even sounded like the ’90s:


Above: A decade in condensed audio format.

First released across North America in 1992, Streets of Rage 2 was a technical marvel on Sega’s console. although the Mega Drive controller only featured three buttons, the move-set was surprisingly complex at the time. You could double up buttons to do different attacks, hold down the punch button for a new move and even land on your feet after being thrown by holding up and jump in mid-flight.

The dance and techno soundtrack, incredibly slick pixel-art animation and a riotous two-player co-op mode would see it go on to be a cultural phenomenon. It even spawned a six-issue story arc in Fleetway’s ‘Sonic the Comic’ series. Even now you can buy all three Streets of Rage titles on almost every format out there today, and the series is heavily supported by the Streets of Rage Online fan community, and a prominent homebrew scene.

Through OpenBoR – an incredibly versatile Streets of Rage engine used to create scrolling beat-em-ups in the homebrew community, gamers who have grown tired of waiting for Sega to revive the series have made their own sequels in an attempt to realise their own vision of how the franchise should live on. At the end of last year the Streets of Rage Online community even sent a whopping petition to Sega lobbying them for a fourth game that followed the spirit of the original titles, for fear of a 3D hack job.

Many people want more Streets of Rage games, but they’re cautious of how Sega will handle it. The company itself considered making a Dreamast sequel, but it never saw the light of day. All that remains is this infamous tech demo reel:

It looks awful, so it’s no surprise that the project was quietly canned. The critically-panned PSone game Fighting Force, which was developed by Tomb Raider studio Core, is said to have been Streets of Rage 4 at some point in its development cycle, but again, the project never came to pass as originally intended.

Most recently we reported that Crackdown 2 studio Ruffian Games was developing a Streets of Rage remake for Sega. We posted some leaked prototype gameplay footage here. While it’s certainly the best official attempt at trying to bring back the series, the 3D perspective still sends alarm bells ringing. Even Bionic Commando reboot developer Grin had a stab at the franchise before it was closed.

The best attempt at creating a series sequel was the indie project Streets of Rage Remake by Spanish indie developer Bomber Link. Sega quickly halted distribution of the game after the final build was issued, but you can still download it from the underbelly of the internet if you look hard enough. Do it. It’s seriously, absolutely brilliant.

I’m torn on this issue because the Streets of Rage fanboy in me really wants a new game in the series, while the cautious game critic in me is sure that Sega would fuck it up big style. We’ve seen it happen in the past to so many franchises, but yet hope lives on that the publisher will make the right decision.

That’s the problem with rose-tinted specs though isn’t it? near the end of last year I wrote a piece about why nostalgia is brilliant, because it can make us stop being so cynical and enjoy less than spectacular experiences. I mean, I want to spit on my TV every time Super Meat Boy grinds me down to tears, but oh, look at all the retro references.

If Sega is to bring back Streets of Rage and avoid pissing on our memories it needs to keep the 2D Perspective, retain the pixel art approach, smother it in dance music – NOT DUBSTEP – and actually set it in the ’90s. Surely in a digital distribution market so forgiving it allows games like Retro City Rampage and Fez to both exist and succeed, such a game could be made reality with relative ease?

Whatever Sega is struggling over, I just hope they take all of the above into consideration, because it’s a sentiment I’ve seen fellow Streets of Rage fans share online before. Please Sega, do this one right.

(Or just get Platinum Games to do it and they’ll show you how it should be done, whichever’s easier for you.)

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