Streets of Rage

There are some games that will always remain close to my heart. Streets of Rage is one such game. For almost 30 years, I have regularly returned to this game time and time again, and am instantly transported to my youth. I decided to revisit it once more with my “reviewers” hat on and wondered if it would hold up to scrutiny. Read on to find out my verdict!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Streets of Rage (Bare Knuckle in Japan) is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Arcade and Sega Mega Drive in 1991. It was later ported to the Game Gear (1992), Master System (1993), Wii (2007), iOS (2009), Microsoft Windows (2011) and Nintendo 3DS (2013). I reviewed the Sega Mega Drive version.

You have the choice between Adam, Axel and Blaze. Each character has a unique move set (Screenshot taken by the author)

A once peaceful city has been the victim of a crime wave. A secret criminal syndicate has taken over the local government and the local police force. Frustrated by the police force’s corruption, three young police officers take it upon themselves to clean up the streets and stop the crime syndicate.

Streets of Rage can be played in either one or two-player modes. You can choose one of three characters:

Adam Hunter – an accomplished boxer

Axel Stone – a skilled martial artist

Blaze Fielding – a judo expert

My favourite character has always been Axel (Screenshot taken by the author)

The gameplay is fabulous. Each character has an impressive number of moves, with plenty of differentiation between the characters. Blaze is quick and can jump high and far but not as powerful as the other two. Adam is the slowest but is powerful and can jump high and far, and Axel, my personal favourite, is quicker than adam and just as powerful but doesn’t jump as high or as far. There are even a few moves with which you can use to double team the enemy. If things get too heavy, each character can use their special attack which involves calling for back-up in the form of a police car. A police offer, leaning out of the window proceeds to fire napalm or rain down fire upon the enemy in the form of a gatling gun rocket launcher hybrid.

Throughout the eight levels, there are also a number of weapons such as bottles, knives and baseball bats that you can pick up and use against the enemies.

Along the way, you gain points for killing the enemies but you also gain extra points for picking up cash and gold bars. To gain health, you will need to find apples and beef joints. Occasionally, you may come across a 1-up icon too.

Blaze can easily hold her own against a gang of baddies (Screenshot taken by the author)

Firstly, this game looks beautiful. The character sprites are clearly defined, colourful and very detailed! The level designs are also some of the best I’ve seen for 16-bit games released around this time.

The controls are tight, and each character has plenty of moves to prevent this from becoming a monotonous button mashing affair. The controls are nice and responsive and the hit detection is spot on. There is also an element of strategy when fighting some of the bosses so that you can work together in a team.

The game has four difficulty settings ‘easy’, ‘normal, ‘hard’ and ‘hardest’, but even if you stick to the easiest setting, I found that I returned to this game again and again, especially when playing in two-player mode with my brothers and sister.

I have so many fond memories of this game, and it’s probably why I rank it as as only of my favourite games of all time. Even after almost 30 years, I still return to it yearly with my little brother and we play through it.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed this game many times over the years on the ‘easy’ and ‘normal’ settings.

What the critics said:

Sega Power: “Double Dragon-style street fighter with arrange of 40 combat moves! Loads of enemies, frenzied activity and brilliant soundtracks. This sets new standards for urban guerrillas. Overall 5/5.[1]

Mean Machines: The greatest and most enjoyable beat ‘em up yet seen on the Megadrive. Overall 90%.[2]

Games-X: “Okay as beat ‘em ups go, but will only appeal to fans of the genre. Overall 3/5.[3]

Computer and Video Games: “Beautifully presented, the games smacks of quality from the moment you slap in the cart and prepare to slap heads. The gameplay is totally wicked. Each fighter has his or her own characteristics, but you’ll soon choose a favourite with which to kick ass. Overall 93%.[4]

Mega Tech: “This is the best beat ‘em up on the Megadrive with tons of moves, action, death and great electro soundtracks. Overall 92%.[5]

Sega Pro: “Basically this is Final Fight for the Megadrive. Great graphics and some amazing moves. This is the best beat-‘em up game yet for the Megadrive. Overall 96%.“[6]

Wizard: “Fighting game, third generation game. Not bad, still holds up well. Lots of action. Overall B.[7]

My verdict:

“I can’t praise this game enough. It looks fantastic, it plays fantastic and the sound track is awesome. It truly is one the greatest video games ever made and I can be certain that even when I’m in my senior years, I will still return to relive the Streets of Rage adventure again and again.”

Rating:


[1] ‘The Hard Line: Mega Drive – Streets of Rage’. Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 13th September 2020).

[2] ‘Streets of Rage – Review’. Mean Machines. (September 1991). Issue 12:80-82. (https://retrocdn.net/images/f/f2/MeanMachines_UK_12.pdf Accessed 15th September 2020).

[3] ‘Bare Knuckle – Review’. Games-X. (22nd-28th August 1991). Issue 18:38. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/26/GamesX_UK_18.pdf Accessed 15th September 2020).

[4] ‘Streets of Rage – Review’. Computer and Video Games. (October 1991). Issue 119:54-6. (https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d0/CVG_UK_119.pdf Accessed 15th September 2020).

[5] ‘Streets of Rage – Review’. Mega Tech. (February 1992). Issue 2:30. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/21/MegaTech_UK_02.pdf Accessed 15th September 2020).

[6] ‘Streets of Rage – Review’. Sega Pro. (April 1992). Issue 6:29. (https://segaretro.org/index.php?title=File:SegaPro_UK_06.pdf&page=29 Accessed 15th September 2020).

[7] ‘Game Reviews – Streets of Rage’. Wizard. (January 1993). Issue 17:24. (https://archive.org/details/WizardMagazine017/page/n27/mode/2up Accessed 24th September 2020).

Altered Beast

Altered Beast was one of the first 16-bit games I played as child and I have idealised memories of how good the game was. The question is…how will I feel revisiting it after 25 years?

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Altered Beast is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with some platform gaming elements. It was developed and published by Sega, and released in the arcade in 1988. It was later ported to the Master System, PC, NES, Atari ST, Mega Drive, ZX Spectrum, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga and MS-DOS. It was later released in the Wii Virtual Console, Xbox and PlayStation. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version.

After rising from your grave, you must fight your way through a graveyard whilst collecting orbs that turn you into an anthropomorphic beast (Screenshot taken by the author)

“Rise from your grave!” demands Zeus, as you emerge from your tomb. You play as a Roman Centurion who is resurrected by Zeus (I know Zeus was a Greek God and the Roman equivalent was Jupiter, but let’s overlook the mythological inconsistencies). Your mission is to rescue Zeus’ daughter, Athena, (Minerva for the Romans) from the evil Demon God known as Neff who has taken her to the Underworld.

The cutscenes are accompanied by some incredibly eerie gothic organ music (Screenshot taken by the author)

you must punch and kick your way through graveyards and caverns to reach the Underworld, all the while fighting numerous undead minions and monsters. In order to meet and defeat the end of level bosses, you need to collect three orbs which increase your strength and eventually morph you into anthropomorphised animals such as wolves, bears, tigers and dragons, each with unique abilities.

Chicken Stingers, as they are called in the manual, are similar to the pink creatures you ride in Golden Axe, with a similar attack. Does this mean Altered Beast and Golden Axe are in the same universe? (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is tougher and more frustrating than I remember. The screen scrolls slowly from left to right automatically, meaning you have no choice but you advance. The controls are sluggish and your punching and kicking range is so small that you need to get very close to the enemies. They are quicker than you and so can kick your arse pretty easily. Modern critics argue that the game doesn’t hold up to today and I have to agree.

The graphics are clearly, early 16-bit. The sprites and backgrounds would be cleaner and more detailed if this game was released a few years later. Having said that, I still think the games looks good. The creepy gothic organ music during the cutscenes is pretty cool.

In a previous review, Shining in the Darkness, I discussed the possible links that suggest Shining in the Darkness and Golden Axe were in the same universe, due to the presence of Gilius-Thunderhead, the green dwarf. During this review, I noticed that the Chicken Stingers, are identical (except for athe colour palette change) to some of the Bizzarians in Golden Axe. Does this mean that Altered Beast is also set in the same universe as Shining in the Darkness and Golden Axe?

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “Altered Beast is a spot-on conversion of the coin-op. The trouble is, the game wasn’t exactly a smash-hit – it’s a very simply beat ‘em up with only five levels. The gameplay is very samey, and it doesn’t take long to get all the way through the game. Overall 67%.”[1]

Sega Pro: “For its day, it was amazing – speech, smooth scrolling and lots of playability. However, its finest hour has truly passed. Overall 74%.[2]

The Games Machine: Altered Beast turns out very close indeed to its arcade origins, complete with two-player mode. The main characters and enemy sprites look ever so slightly washed out, but the detail is all there, and background graphics are spot on. Overall 87%.[3]

Sega Power: “However much you enjoy the coin-op, give this one a miss. Poor scrolling, jerky animation and limited gameplay. Overall 2/5.[4]

My verdict:

Does Altered Beast deserve the accolade of being a classic title? There are many video games that acheive the accolade as a ‘classic’ but not all of them are worthy of title. Having revisisted Altered Beast, I can say that the concept was great, but the execution was lacking. The game is too short, the controls too sluggish and frustrating, and the graphics should have been better. I think this game is better remembered than played.

Rating:

What are your memories of Altered Beast? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Altered Beast’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:137. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n135/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[2] ‘Sega Software Showdown – Altered Beast – Mega Drive.’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 28th July 2020).

[3] ‘Review – Altered Beast’. The Games Machine. Issue 19:17.  (https://archive.org/details/the-games-machine-19/page/n15/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Altered Beast’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:52. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 29th July 2020).

Double Dragon

If memory serves, my first time playing Double Dragon was on the Sinclair Spectrum ZX. I remember loving it and I’m sure this was another game that I played with my dad and my older brother. It has gone down in history as a classic game and I was certainly looking forward to revisiting it again.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Double Dragon is a beat-em up developed by Technōs Japan and released in the Arcade in 1987. It was published in Europe and North America by Trade West, coming to home consoles in 1988. Versions have been released on the NES, Master System, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari ST, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Game Boy, Mega Drive, Game Gear, ZX Spectrum and Atari Lynx to name a few. It appeared on the Wii Virtual Console in 2008, Nintendo 3DS in 2013 and Wii U in 2013. For this review, I played was the NES version.

You play as twin brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee (Hammer and Spike in the American versions), who must fight their way through the territory of the Black Warriors gang to rescue Billy’s girlfriend Marian. At your disposal are an array of punches, kicks, headbutts, throws and elbow strikes. Along the way, you can temporarily use weapons such as baseball bats, knives, whips and dynamite sticks. There are only four levels, but the game is quite challenging and, at present, I can only make it to level three (I swear I completed this game as a kid!).

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Unlike the arcade, the home console version’s two-player co-operative mode was replaced by alternating play, meaning each player plays the game on their own, which was a poor decision by the game designers. Initially, you are limited to just a few fighting moves but as your gain experience points, more fighting moves become available to you which I thought was a nice touch. Due to the lack of power, the NES could only generate two enemies on the screen at any one time.

The NES version also contains a MODE B for both one and two-players where you can select any character from the game to fight in one-on-one battles which adds some replay value.

The graphics are good, especially the background of level one, and are superior to many contemporary games such as Renegade. The characters are distinctive, but the protagonist looks like he’s barefoot. The controls are easy to learn but aren’t as responsive as they could be. You can’t turn around quickly whilst punching but you can whilst kicking. I’d recommend kicking rather than punching anyway. One annoying part of level three is where you need to jump across a stream but as soon as you land you are hit by an enemy and fall into the water, losing a life.

Oddly, this character looks like The Thing from Marvel’s Fantastic Four (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

No, I’ve yet to complete the NES version.

What the critics said:

Entertainment Weekly Magazine: “…Double Dragon now has quality as well as content. There are more screens than the arcade, as well as vertical scrolling and the one on one match that is very reminiscent of Karate Champ (thrown in for free!)…This game is worth every penny! DIRECT HIT!”.[1]

Computer and Video Games: “Nintendo unfortunately locks the two-player mode option, but more than makes up for this deficiency with an extra one-on-one Street Fighter-style game included on the ROM. Overall 83%.[2]

Joystick: “Overall 75%”.[3]

Awards:

Best Graphics – Electronic Gaming Monthly “1989 Player’s Choice Awards”[4]

My verdict:

“Double Dragon is a classic title and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t played it. In fact, I’d wager that I have never met a gamer who hasn’t at least heard of it. The game looks good, and there is a nice amount of hand-to-hand attacks and weapons to use. When this game was released, I can imagine it being a great game! However, it loses marks for the lack of a two-player co-op mode and its short length. It is not a game that encourages regular revisits. Sadly, the game is not as good as I remember but then it is always difficult to revisit games.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Double Dragon? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.


[1] Moon, J., ‘Review – Double Dragon’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :44. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).

[2] Rignall, J., ‘Mean Machines – Double Dragon’. Computer and Video Games. (December 1988). : (https://ia800604.us.archive.org/view_archive.php?archive=/1/items/World_of_Spectrum_June_2017_Mirror/World%20of%20Spectrum%20June%202017%20Mirror.zip&file=World%20of%20Spectrum%20June%202017%20Mirror/sinclair/magazines/Computer-and-Video-Games/Issue086/Pages/CVG08600175.jpg Accessed on 4th July 2020).

[3] Huyghues-Lacour, A., ‘Double Dragon’. Joystick. (April 1991). 15:112 (https://archive.org/details/joystick015/page/n111/mode/2up Accessed 6th July 2020).

[4] The 1989 “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Graphics: Double Dragon. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).

Shining In The Darkness

Shining in the Darkness (Shining and the Darkness in Japan) is a role-playing game developed by Climax Entertainment and Sonic Software Planning, and was published by Sega in 1991 for the Mega Drive.

Shining in the Darkness doesn’t have a title screen as such (Screenshot taken by the author)

In the Kingdom of Thornwood, the king’s daughter, Princess Jessa, has disappeared whilst visiting the shrine of her deceased mother. Mortred, one of the king’s most brave and trusted knights, was charged with escorting her to the shrine. He is also missing. You take control of Mortred’s son and agree to be the search party.

Shining in the Darkness is a real dungeon crawler that sees your character, along with friends Milo and Pyra, exploring what seems like endless miles of dungeons. Along the way you have random encounters with all manner of ugly beasts. Deafeating these will help your team gain experience points and level up, increasing stats and allowing new spells to be learnt. Gold is also acquired which allows you to buy new weapons and armour.

When leaving the palace, a map appears showing you the three locations you can visit: the palace, the town or the dungeons. In the town you can visit the shrine to save your progress; enter the tavern to talk to some interesting character and regain your health with an overnight stay; visit the weaponry and armoury where you can upgrade to stronger weapons and armour; and buy antidotes and healing potions needed for your adventures in the dungeon from the Alkemist (not alchemist I might add).

Isn’t that the same guy from Golden Axe? (Screenshot taken by the author)

Moving through the dungeons is simple. You can move forwards, walk backwards and turn left or right. The interactive menu consists of four boxes at the bottom of the screen and can be called upon at any time. It allows you to check your party’s status, use items, equip weapons and armour etc. When confronted with enemies, the menu changes to include attack, use item, use magic and flee options. When attacking, you have the option to choose which groups of enemies to attack first, but sadly, you cannot choose which individuals to attack within a group. If your health gets too low, you can spirit yourself out of the dungeons using the egress spell or angel feather.

The music sounds great and has heroic air, fitting for such a game. The graphics are awesome. The palace, tavern and shop scenes are bright and colourful, and the dungeons themselves and the enemies are well illustrated. There really are no complaints here. The game looks gorgeous!

To arms! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Although it is easy to learn, the game soon becomes too monotonous in my opinion. Having to navigate the same dungeon levels to gain enough experience points to fight deadlier opponents and raise enough money for better weapons becomes a real drag after a while. I know this is the whole point of RPGs but I found myself losing interest, especially when you have to traverse the same dungeons you’ve completed to reach the next dungeon. There are also times when it is unclear where you should go next. I definitely recommend you drawing your own map else you will get lost.

A nice little Easter Egg is that the dwarf who sells you your weapons seems to be the same dwarf from Golden Axe. One of his sacks on the left in the background even has a picture of one of those little imps who you steal magic potions from. Does this mean that Golden Axe and Shining in the Darkness occur in the same universe?

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: “A reasonable, but pricey RPG with impressive graphics, let down by combat system that soon becomes a chore. Overall 69%.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “A role-playing game with excellent graphics and a brilliant window system. Shining in the Darkness is recommended to RPG buffs. Watch out though for irritating combat, reliant on luck than the player’s skill. Overall 72%.[2]

Dragon: “The game combines the icons and combat of Phantasy Star III, the first person perspective of Phantasy Star I, and the great close-up graphics of Phantasy Star II. The combat can sometimes be tedious without the battle animation so well programmed in Phantasy Star II. Overall 4/5.[3]

Sega Force: “Shining in the Darkness is the most colourful, enchanting RPG I’ve played on the Mega Drive – I enjoyed it even more than Phantasy Star II and III. Overall 90%“.[4]

Sega Pro: “RPG’s and great graphics don’t usually go together but Shining in the Darkness breaks the mould. Loads of playability and potential addictiveness will make this RPG a game to remember. Overall 93%.[5]

Sega Power: “Startling graphics, super smooth animation and brilliant labyrinths to explore. A corker! Overall 5/5.[6]

My Verdict:

“This is a beautiful game! It is easily to learn and there is plenty there to keep hardened RPG fans interested for hours and hours. For the average gamer though, monotony and frustration at repeating the same areas again and again soon becomes tiresome. However, this game is definitely worth your attention”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining in the Darkness? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Mega Drive Review: Shining in the Darkness’. Mean Machines. (November 1991). Issue 14:112-3. (https://ia800308.us.archive.org/3/items/mean-machines-magazine-14/MeanMachines_14_Nov_1991.pdf Accessed 11th February 2020).

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Shining in the Darkness’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:140. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n139/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[3] ‘Reviews – Shining in the Darkness’. Dragon Magazine. (February 1992). Issue 178:60. (https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg178.pdf Accessed 14th June 2020).

[4] ‘Reviewed – Shining in the Darkness’. Sega Force. (January 1992). Issue 1:52-3. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/27/SegaForce_UK_01.p Accessed 14th June 2020).

[5] ‘Proreview – Shining in the Darkness’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:58-60. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 15th June 2020).

[6] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Shining in the Darkness’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed on 29th July 2020.