Streets Of Rage Is Rubbish — Though The Soundtrack Still Kicks Ass [Review]

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Streets of Rage by Sega
Category: iOS Games
Works With: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Price: $0.99

So let’s get the obvious out of the way at the start: Streets of Rage isn’t exactly new. The original game came out in 1991 — meaning that it would now be of legal drinking age were it a person. The iOS port is newer (obviously), but coming out in 2009 that puts it in roughly the same timeframe as iOS 3. Ancient.

So why are we reviewing it?

Well, chalk this up one up to a Christmas bonus. Over the holidays, regressing momentarily into childhood as you’re back in your old room at the family home, it’s little wonder that things turn nostalgic.

And if you’re a child of the 1980s and early 90s, nostalgic means Streets of Rage. This was, after all, the game that whiled away plenty of after school sessions on the Sega Megadrive (Genesis, for those in America).

A sideways beat-em-up scroller, Streets of Rage picked up where 1987’s Double Dragon and 1989’s Golden Axe left off: namely depositing the gamer in a violent world full of weapon-wielding baddies, and letting them fight their way through en route to taking out the final boss.

You play as one of three different ex-police officers, each with his or her own skills. There is Adam Hunter, accomplished boxer; Axel Stone, skilled martial artist; and judo expert Blaze Fielding. Once you’ve picked your avatar it’s a linear progression through various different streets of rage, taking out hundreds (thousands?) of thugs and a bevy of increasingly fearsome villains.

So how does it stack up?

The controls are altogether a bit rubbish.

The controls are altogether a bit rubbish.

While Streets of Rage’s simplistic formula occasionally made it pall, what made the game great were three distinct elements: the music, the controls, the multiplayer. I’ll take each one in order.

One of the best 16-bit soundtracks in history

First of all, the music. Yuzo Koshiro can rest happy, knowing that one of the best 16-bit soundtracks in history (one which received its own soundtrack CD in Japan) is present and correct. To say that the best a game gets is its opening text-scroll is normally a terrible insult, but in this case it really isn’t. Listen to this theme without your head bobbing and, well, I don’t know what to tell you other than that you must be dead inside — or else have a taste in music that doesn’t delve into electronic chiptune synth territory. This really is as good as it gets.

Sadly, if music is all in superb nick, controls are another matter. Streets of Rage for iOS contains a pretty lazy example of a virtual D-pad, which (somewhat criminally) often means that your thumbs obscure what is taking place on screen. There is an option to shrink the screen, but this is done to such a degree that you’re left squinting to see what is going on (iPad and iPhone 5 users obviously have an advantage thanks to the devices’ superior screen real estate).

It’s a bit disappointing to say the least — particularly since the original’s controls were so fluid.

The multiplayer mode is a massive disappointment.

The multiplayer mode is a massive disappointment.

Streets of Rage never had a whole lot of depth to it. But while the music and controls made it fun, what really kept us coming back was the blazing multiplayer mode. You and a friend — each with their favorite character — would take one controller each and play through in a scintillating co-op mode: the perfect unity only broken when you’d inevitably wind up bickering about who got to pick up certain weapons. It was all great fun, and perfect social gaming before online multiplayer became a “thing.” It’s also pretty much skipped over here.

Multiplayer isn’t entirely absent, it should be noted. (Although it was in the first version released). It’s possible to use Bluetooth to connect to other iOS devices in your proximity — thereby semi-replicating the 16-bit sensation of two people hunched around a single TV — but it is difficult not to feel let down by what is (quite literally) a tacked-on addition.

[Streets of Rage is] sadly indicative of the company Sega became after the heyday of the 16-bit era.

There are a few positive tweaks. A “continue” mode has been added, which allows you to pick up exactly where you leave off each game — meaning that players are no longer forced to recall the painful “done-in-one” aspect of 16-bit gaming.

Ultimately, though, this is just a lazy cash-in that could have been so much better. Reanimated graphics (as seen in a game like Prince of Persia Classic), a remastered soundtrack, better controls, and a proper multiplayer mode wouldn’t have been difficult or costly to implement — and would have cemented this as a great game for more than the nostalgia-starved few who remember it from its original release.

It’s a crying shame, and sadly indicative of the company Sega became after the heyday of the 16-bit era. Streets of Rage will always have a fond place in my heart — but this is a real disappointment.

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Game Name: Streets of Rage
The Good: It’s Streets of Rage. On your iPhone.
The Bad: Controls are a bit poor, multiplayer should have been better.
The Verdict: A real missed opportunity.
Buy from: App Store

Cult of Mac rating: 2/5

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About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Apple Revolution, published by Random House, and is currently writing a book about algorithms for Random House/Penguin to be published in 2014. He also covers the digital humanities for Fast Company. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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