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Neon dreams: Streets of Rage 4′s painful legacy

Monday, 21st 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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32 Comments

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  1. bitsnark

    Fucking brilliant article Dave; looking at that early footage for an SOR game on the Dremacast makes me chew my fist when I think how they could have diverted the production budget from the risible Spikeout into something a lot more worthy.

    Not to mention the fact that when I’m playing the Yakuza games, I squint a little bit during the fighting portions of it and pretend I’m playing a new SOR title.

    There! I confessed! :)

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 thanks :)

    SoR is a series I hold close to my heart, and I’m so cautious of Sega messing it up, but at the same time I want to see more from it. Part of me thinks they should have hired Bomberlink – the SoR Remake guy – and got him to make SoR 4. He understood what was needed to make a new SoR game great, as it captures the spirit of the old games and adds many new ideas without sacrificing the old game’s DNA.

    So to anyone reading this, seek out SoR Remake – you can still torrent it if you look hard enough – and play it, seriously.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. bitsnark

    @2

    I’ve had a look at the remake in screenshots only and it appears to look exactly the same as the recent XBLA conversions.

    Or do the differences run deeper than just aesthetics?

    I’m really just curious, in what way does it consider itself to be a remake?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. YoungZer0

    Oh fuck yeah! Just imagine how awesome it would be to finally have a new Streets of Rage set in the 90′s (The many possibilities of a 90′s inspired art-direction), featuring a soundtrack Composed by Yuzo Koshiro? I’d love it! Especially with a pixel art-style.

    At this point we can actually ask ourselves “What’s there to lose?”.

    The could save a lot of money releasing it on Steam/PSN/Xbox Live only.

    Games like Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The Game and Double Dragon Neon show that the genre is still popular! And games like Urban Reign, Yakuza and Altered Beast show that 3D doesn’t suit the Beat ‘em Up genre.

    If you go 3D, you have to be as good as Bully or The Warriors. A lot of three roaming elements would definitely be nice.

    Anyway, i still think the Soundtrack from the first one is much better. Never liked the remixes from the second one.

    http://youtu.be/SwrVafAwAjE

    Love this song.

    Oh and btw. great article, really. Thanks for bringing back some really nice nostalgic memories.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @3 oh man it’s so different;

    -Mode 7 effects
    -Handguns
    -Bike Chase level
    -Remixed Soundtrack by the OverClocked Remix community
    -World map with many multiple routes
    -Multiple endings
    -New enemies and bosses
    -All new plot set after SoR 3
    -A Revenge of Shinobi-style train top level
    -The return of police super-attacks
    -Entirely new stages, plus some old ones
    -Remastered visuals
    -A Tekken Ball mode
    -In-Game shop where you spend your loot on new fighters
    -SoRR Maker: an in-built editor. Think LBP for SoR
    -Tons more.

    Seriously, get it :)

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Dave Cook

    @4 “Oh and btw. great article, really. Thanks for bringing back some really nice nostalgic memories.”

    No, thank you :)

    #6 2 years ago
  7. YoungZer0

    @6: btw. Dave, have you played the Warriors? Or any game you’d classify as a worthy contender as 3D beat ‘em up done right?

    #7 2 years ago
  8. bitsnark

    @5

    New content you say?

    FUCK, SOLD.

    @4

    “And games like Urban Reign, Yakuza and Altered Beast show that 3D doesn’t suit the Beat ‘em Up genre.”

    Aw, I thought the scrapping was pretty good in the Yakuza games :(

    Not ‘The Warriors’ good, but still pretty decent all the same.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. bitsnark

    @7

    That’s a point actually – why the heck isn’t didn’t that game make it to Games on Demand or something like that? I would still play it.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. manamana

    Yeah Dave, the article is great and the fond memories are deep. I thought that the first time I combat in Batman AA, was when I had that SOR vibe. Maybe Sega can do it.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Dave Cook

    @7 yeah absolutely man, Warriors was fun enough but I think God Hand is the best example of that kind of experience in 3D. That said if Platinuk took a Bayonetta approach to SoR I’d be happy as well :)

    @8 Yakuza games remind me of the fighting in Die Hard: Arcade and Dynamite Cop 2, which is no bad thing of course. Feels like a scrappy bar room brawl than elegant fighting. Chunky.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Dave Cook

    @10 thanks :)

    Yeah I think you’re right: 3D fighting in games has improved a lot over the years. Sega could look to the games that do it right – it published Bayonetta – and use that to either enlist a good developer or do it right. I hope that they treat it with proper respect.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. GwynbleiddiuM

    Dave It’s extremely cool of you to write these stuff, I love it. /hug

    I too wish that SoR make it back to gaming scene, keeping everything that was cool about the series, 2D aspect, music and fashion of the 90′s. It’ll be brilliant. If titles like Mark of the Ninja, Hotline Miami and others can be successful, can’t see a reason that a SoR game couldn’t.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. YoungZer0

    @11: Count me out, God Hand was way too difficult for me. WAAAAY too difficult.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. friendlydave

    Brilliant article, was looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint.

    I would like to see a remake of the original, Not to sure if I would like a new game. Beat ‘em ups don’t seem to translate well on modern consoles.

    Fighting force was critically panned? :( Never realised. Mind you I never did play the PlayStation version. I only thought that game was out in Arcades. Had so much fun playing it as a kid.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Dave Cook

    @13 thanks :) it’s a subject I hold close to my heart. You’re right, there’s no good reason this game couldn’t exists and work well today. They just need to be smart about it.

    @15 yeah it was mauled dude, and I may be wrong on this but I’m sure Fighting Force never release in arcades. I may be wrong though :) glad you liked the article man. Cheers for reading.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. bitsnark

    @16

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure Fighting Force was a home-grown product. It was developed by the original Tomb Raider dev CORE at the time IIRC.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. friendlydave

    @16 Definitely was Fighting Force, got a photo of me and my brother by the sea playing it, it had an attached seat so you sit down while playing with 2 sets of joysticks and 4 buttons. This was 90′s Swanage seaside arcade so it was most probably a PC emulation.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Dave Cook

    @18 sounds like it was an emulation job, but a decent one at that with the joysticks and such. To be fair as well it smacks of an arcade game too :)

    #19 2 years ago
  20. richiefrank

    Two things: 1) proofread your work please, lots of careless typos . 2) Hurry up with making your point, 80% of this is retro look back and that’s not what I expected from the headline and opening.

    As for the point you are trying to make, I guess I understand about wanting it as much like the originals as possible, but I think there’s more merit in modernising the game rather than keeping it old school. It doesn’t need to have dubstep but as long as care and devotion goes into it then a good game will be made. The problem with the examples you gave was that they were all awful games, but more and more devs are rebooting franchises with success as they learn what is important about a particular franchise. The problem is, that is so different for so many people.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Dave Cook

    @20 1) I’m on holiday, someone else should have proof-read for me 2) what do you mean hurry up and make my point? The piece is about the game’s legacy, as in a look back at it’s history and where it might be going next.

    Appreciate feedback but felt this was a tad harsh IMO.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. Clupula

    Honestly, I wouldn’t want it to stay 2D nor animated. I’d want it to get the God Hand approach, just with online four player co-op.

    The problem with Beast Rider was that if you took away the Golden Axe connections, it’d still be an awful game. If they would actually have made a great game, we’d probably be on the third Golden Axe spin-off by now.

    Make something in the spirit that continues the story, but don’t be beholden to the old games too much.

    Actually, besides Platinum, I’d love it if they had the same team that did Yakuza handle it. Such an amazing series. I am so afraid we’re not going to get Yakuza 5 in the West.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Clupula

    I’m surprised no one suggested letting Ninja Theory reboot it, since it seems to be the thing to pretend they’re competent these days.

    At the very least, in a game dealing with street gangs, a conversation that consists of “Fuck you” fifty times would actually be appropriate.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. bitsnark

    @22

    It seems like I’m not the only one with Yakuza anxieties in this regard.

    I’m also hoping that the Yakuza HD double pack comes out over here too.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. Clupula

    @24 – Me too. Both of those would be day one purchases for me. The Yakuza series is one of the best things Sega has ever done.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. Mus42

    I remember seeing Bare Knuckle at the local independent import store when I was at college – seeing that game that made me buy an import cartridge just so I could play it :)

    #26 2 years ago
  27. dizzygear

    I remember when a dutch mag aimed at Sega consoles wrote in their SoR2 review: “forget about a Sonic 2. SoR 2 is the best Megadrive game ever.” Good times…

    I always wondered why Sega never made a SoR game with the Die Hard Arcade engine back on the Saturn. That game was pretty good except for the annoying QTE’s always fucked up for some reason.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. Gheritt White

    6 Reasons “Streets of Rage 2″ is The Best Game of All Time: http://www.funnyordie.com/lists/eeee501534/6-reasons-streets-of-rage-2-is-the-best-game-of-all-time

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Dave Cook

    @27 ah dude, SoR with the Dynamite Deke engine would have been ace. I think an XBLA release of Die Hard Arcade is in order, but the license issues will likely make that an impossibility.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. SameeR_Fisher

    Great read Dave, and great work.

    I hope to see more of this from you, more coverage to games gamer have been asking for, like Onimusha, Dino Crisis, Legacy of Kain, …………..etc

    Keep the hard work.

    #30 2 years ago
  31. Dave Cook

    @31 thanks man :)

    #31 2 years ago
  32. Zutnunzor

    I remember Sega pulling a cease and desist on the completely free Streets of Rage Remake Project as it version 5.0. It featured multiple paths, around 10 playable characters, huge soundtrack, HD and Controller support.

    Game was actually friggin’ fantastic, but nobody got to play it! Sega SHOULD take a note from their fans on this one and if they really wanna do the next Streets of Rage right, maybe get the developers of the original as well as the people that made the fan-based remake together and make a true next-gen Streets of Rage.

    One can dream, right?

    #32 9 months ago