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This Sega classic begins with a tough-looking young cop striding into the crime-ridden core of an unnamed city. The fantastic ’80s music blares in, neon signs flicker on and off in the background, and a couple of thugs slowly approach. With a few swift punches to the face and a knee to the jaw, the thugs are quickly taken care of by the cop.

And then the player accidentally hits the C button on their Sega Genesis controller. A police car rolls in, one of the officers inside fires off a napalm bazooka, and the now vacant arena is filled with ineffective flames as the thugs long since flickered out of existence.

Well, that’s the Streets of Rage for you.


Released on August 2nd 1991 in Japan under the title “Bare Knuckle”, Streets of Rage is a side-scrolling beat-em-up that builds on Sega’s previous game in the genre: Golden Axe. Unlike that fantasy adventure, however, Streets of Rage is set in a hyper-violent interpretation of the late ’80s and early ’90s, complete with mohawks, leather jackets and incredibly tight jeans.

Just as in Golden Axe you can pick from three characters to play as, although in this case they have some of the best names in video game history: Adam Hunter, Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding. Each has slightly different strengths and weaknesses in three different areas: movement, jumping and power. It’s up to the player to experiment and figure out who best fits their play style.


Streets of Rage also takes some elements from other contemporary beat-em-ups, like Final Fight and Double Dragon. The most notable of these is the inclusion of weapons like bottles and knives that you can pick up and use against enemies, which would lead to some pretty brutal scenarios if it weren’t for the lack of blood effects.

Of course, like most beat-em-ups, the game truly shines in its co-operative multiplayer. The game is very much the same but four fists are better than two, plus you get access to a ridiculously cool move where one player throws the other as a flying kick projectile. The police car special move also changes depending on the player, switching from the napalm attack to a barrage of rocket propelled grenades if summoned by player two.


The two player mode also gives the player the option to get a “bad” ending, which is unlocked by one player agreeing to side with the nefarious boss Mr. X and the other saying no. This results in a fight between the two players, and ultimately the victor usurps Mr. X himself to become the new lord of crime.

Unfortunately the game is affected by an issue that plagues many early beat-em-ups of the era: it gets repetitive fast. With nothing but the initial moves available throughout the adventure, the thrill of rampaging through the city might wear off for some by the fourth or fifth stage, especially when combined with the frustrating bosses and their tendency to spam moves.

Luckily Streets of Rage was a hit, and Sega developed and published two more sequels for the Genesis, both of which are now considered improvements over the original game (Streets of Rage 3 even features a playable boxing kangaroo!) It’s still worth checking out where this short-lived franchise started though, and, as was the case with Space Harrier, one of the best ways to do this is through the 3D Classics re-release on the Nintendo 3DS eShop, which is a perfect port of the original game with some added extras.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you when you accidentally napalm an empty sidewalk!

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Written by Tom Brown

Whether it’s an exciting new entry in a series long established or a weird experiment meant only for the dedicated, Tom is eager to report on it. Rest assured, if Nintendo ever announces Elite Beat Agents 2, he’ll be there.