For a brief period in the late 80s and early 90s, the side-scrolling brawler captured the imagination – and the coinage – of gamers everywhere. Standing shoulder to shoulder around an arcade cabinet taking down waves of enemies as you gradually work your way to the end of the game was a wonderful experience, but Sega’s Streets of Rage not only brought this experience home, it took it to the next level. And now it’s back, better than ever. In fact, Streets of Rage 4 is nothing short of a masterpiece.
The golden age of brawlers kicked off with a wave of games spearheaded by Double Dragon, a coop-based side-scrolling beat ’em up that triggered a deluge of competing titles from a range of publishers. Capcom asserted its dominance here with the epic Final Fight – and its subsequent port to Super Famicom in late 1990 served as a powerful opening salvo in the 16-bit console war. Despite enjoying success with Golden Axe, Sega needed something darker, grittier and more ‘urban’. It needed a Final Fight killer and Streets of Rage was its answer.
Released just six months after the Super Famicom conversion of Final Fight hit the market, Streets of Rage boasted simultaneous two-player action, with crunching combat backed by a killer soundtrack. It was a strong effort, but it was with Streets of Rage 2 and its sequel that Sega amped up the action, refining a winning formula and fully delivering on what I consider to be the three key pillars of brawler design.