Streets of Rage (1991)
When I see tourists around Dublin city I am left dumbfounded. Now, I’m not going to hit you with all the self-loathing and culture cringe that often occurs when someone talks negatively about their country. But what exactly are these tourists doing? If someone asked me for Dublin city recommendations, I could hardly even give them the ideal pub or club to go to, because I don’t know any myself. I do know some great Spars and Subways. A CEX or two. I know some of the bus-stops. I even know where there is a 24 hour library. But what do the Germans and Japanese think to themselves when they come here? Apart from “Das golly-gosh Hilda, this place is sehr expensive.”
More to the point, where do these people stay? Where do they venture on those rare days when the Irish weather ain’t miserable? I sometimes fear for them, because the ugly truth is that not many of Dublin city’s streets are fit for human consumption. Let me give you a bit of a tour: the main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, is almost famous for its junkie quotient. Just off that is Talbot Street; I once made the long walk down there to check out a retro game shop apparently located there, possibly decades old itself. I sprinted back – empty-handed as well.
Grafton Street is the pick of the shopping streets and one of the busiest in terms of footfall, but I can’t really go down there as the missus might drag me up and down all three floors of the Disney store. Harcourt Street, not far from there, is infamous for its several dens of iniquity. Dame Street is absolute murders on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. Henry Street plays home to the Rapping Junkie, and yes you read that right, although I do secretly love seeing him. And they don’t let me on leafy Dawson Street anymore, not after the last time. After that, you’re on your own.
Take a wrong turn in Dublin though, and bloody hell, you are for it. When I took that saunter down Talbot Street in the hopes of finding some SNES gems, the property values evaporated fast; the passers-by were becoming more slit-eyed and shirty; my phone even lost GPS. Soon my thoughts turned from retro games to the terrible types of games played in prison showers that my jailbird pen-pal once told me about. Was this in the brochures? I had my premium Ray-Bans on, so obviously I didn’t want to be bothered, so why were passing scoundrels eyeing up my shades? I just couldn’t understand it.
You did get a healthy whack of tourism in three places in particular: Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse and Christchurch Cathedral & Dublinia. We also have, and I’m not joking on this, a Leprechaun Museum somewhere in the city, which I really must visit one of these days. I love going on these tours in my own country because I already know the stories and folklore and all of that. So when the female tour guide asks a primary school-level question on Irish history, I can barge to the front of the crowd and get there way ahead of Johnny Foreigner.
It’s not too hard to guess the answer to most of the questions anyway, even if you aren’t up on it. It’s usually something to do with the whole 800 years of oppression thing that the British had over us. If it’s not that, it could be the 1916 Easter Rising, seen as a decisive victory for us even though we were suppressed rather quickly and most of our heroes were killed, in many cases by firing squad. Those killed had “famous last words”, of course, ones that we all read about in school. But they’re not much use when you’re facing down a quartet of gun-toting butchers, are they?
The answer might also be The Famine, the infamous potato blight, that thinned out our population to such an extent that we haven’t reached those pre-Famine levels since, although the sheer amount of potato jokes we endure possibly makes up for this. And if it’s not any of those, the answer is probably Strongbow; nowadays known as a putrid cider, it was this lad who the deposed King of Leinster offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to, in exchange for his assistance with an Anglo-Norman invasion to help get his lost land back.
And then what happened? Why yes, 800 years of British rule including that very same Famine. Yes, we harp on about it and no, we haven’t quite got over it. I had also originally been told that Aoife, the daughter of the King of Leinster and the one we can pretty much blame for everything going wrong, was as young as 13 or 14 when she married Strongbow.
I had therefore been hoping to brand Strongbow a nonce, 900 years after his death, just to ensure that I had the last laugh. But having done some research it looks like she would have been nineteen at the very youngest. So Strongbow’s woman was educated, and an heiress too. And now I have to be jealous of what must be now dust and maggots in his tomb. But the good news is that his tomb is kept just down the road from me, so perhaps one of these days I shall stroll down and spit on it.
I’ve given you plenty of Irish history lessons here, pal, but don’t worry if you’re not getting any of it. You may be a bit lost, but you’re entire galaxies ahead of the types you’ll see on some of Dublin’s dodgiest streets. Not much room for culture there, and not a far cry from the types of locales you’ll be visiting in the 1991 Sega Mega Drive classic, Streets of Rage. Whereas Ireland existed under martial law back in 1916, Streets of Rage brings us to an entirely lawless society, where gang-members and street rats in “colourful” clothing rule the roost, and it’s up to three valiant ex-coppers to put a stop to evil crimelord Mr. X’s regime.
Yes, Mr. X is the name of the villain, and three diverse, young martial artists in bandannas have to sift through the scum and save the day. The entire premise of the game, not to mention its aesthetic, calls to mind those 80s action films that you’d always end up renting on VHS of a Friday evening, invariably starring Jean Claude Van Damme or even lower down the ladder than that.
Having only 3 non-corrupt cops left in the entire unnamed city conveniently saves Sega quite a bit of development time you’d have to say, and they follow a pretty generic trend. You’ve got Adam (powerful, less fast, but a decent jumper, bit like the horses I gamble on really). Then there’s Axel (the opposite of Adam in just about every way). And then the consummate professional’s choice, and what you’d have to call the token woman, Blaze, who rather obviously is designed to be nimbler but less powerful.
And what follows next is you and perhaps a co-op buddy, strutting down the road and battling all of the head-the-balls that come your way. The game is simplicity itself, which is probably why it works so well: you don’t have many moves at all, and the ones you do have are usually accompanied by a digitised yelp with nasty, grackly static. You can employ a Special Move once per level and request two far more cowardly police officers in a squad car to come and bazooka the entire area.
This move, which I can guarantee you will press by mistake every time you play Stage 1, is usually best reserved for the stage bosses, who are easily the most memorable part of the game. To wit, you’ve got Boomerang Man, Freddie Kreuger, the Ultimate Warrior, Fatty Arbuckle, and the Demon Sisters from Hell. It’s pretty much palette swaps after that, and really the palette swaps for the regular goons show up as early as the third level. That should be a minus point, but in a strange way it adds to the game’s charm. After all, you’re going to be kicking the face off thousands of minions by the game’s end. Who cares what colour gimpsuits they’re wearing?
As a final note, the Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack is stunning – and would get even better again in Streets of Rage 2. If nothing else, play the game just to listen to some of the nicest early 90s dance and techno tracks around. I get so into it sometimes that I end up putting on double-denim, a headband, and big leather boots. A bit of shadow boxing, a little practice swinging a lead-pipe, and then out I go onto the mean streets of Dublin to lay the hurt on some fools. After all, it’ll serve as fine practice for the upcoming Streets of Rage 4.
29 August 2018