In the early 90s, Sega differentiated themselves from the competition by marketing their system to the older crowd. They’re responsible for the “Nintendo is for kids, and we’re for men” stigma that still persists today. While not commonly crossing over into inappropriate, many Sega Genesis games take on more mature titles and subject matter. The beat-em-up genre was booming in this era. It’s only natural that Sega would take a shot at it for their audience. I’ve never played a beat-em-up before. Not for more than maybe two minutes. With the hype around the fourth entry, I figured it’s time I finally check out what many consider the quintessential brawler. It’s time to enter the Streets of Rage.

A once peaceful city has been thrust into violence by the gang leader Mr. X. A place that once housed many families has turned into a dreary wasteland of fear and violence. Mr. X has established a hierarchy of thugs and put the police on his payroll. Three rookie police officers, Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, and Adam Hunter, decide to take the law into their own hands. They set out to take Mr. X down themselves.

Streets of Rage is a very simple game to get your head around. Before starting your adventure, you’re given the choice between the three protagonists. Each of them have their strengths and differences, but I found them close enough for it to not matter too much. You have access to a basic attack, some throws, and any weapons you find along your journey. The game really just leaves you to go figure it out for yourself. This is very basic for the genre but incredibly entertaining.

Streets of Rage still uses the outdated lives and game over design. You start off with three lives and are given the option to find more in levels or earn them with a high score. This is an incredibly outdated hangover from the penny-pinching days of the arcade. Considering the game’s age, I’m not holding it against Streets of Rage. At the same time, it’s an experience dampener. I’m obligated to point these things out.

Levels are broken into segments. You’ll be going down a hallway, and then get stopped by an enemy ambush. After you defeat all of the enemies, a giant neon “GO!” sign will appear. You’re given a time limit to accomplish each segment. If you can’t beat every enemy in time, you’ll lose a life. This causes an issue later in the game. Enemies themselves have a tendency to back off. When the screen locks, they can go off-screen where they’re invincible. I had quite a few close calls because of it.

At the end of most levels, you’ll face a boss. Most bosses strike the perfect balance between challenge and fun, but there are outliers. Especially later on, bosses can have incredibly tight windows of time to hit them and overload you with too many enemies to fight them all. This becomes worse when bosses are turned into regular enemies thrown in stages. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it would’ve ruined my experience without save-states.

This is my first experience, and I don’t have anything to compare it with. I’ve heard for many years that the Streets of Rage franchise is the perfect beat-em-up series. This game, for all of its flaws, has shown me great promise for future entries and the genre itself. Streets of Rage is dirt cheap on Steam under the Genesis Classics library. I highly recommend you pick it up and throw some hands!