Here's a topic I never thought I'd get to write about. It only took 26 years to make it happen! As always, thanks for reading.
Just yesterday, something happened that hadn't come about in a very, very long time. Against all odds, a new Streets of Rage game was released. Streets of Rage 4, which started development back in 2018, finally made its way to multiple platforms, Switch included. It marked the end of an extremely long wait between installments, and the rebirth of a franchise that countless fans believed to be dead.
Back in the SNES and Genesis days, a lot of young fans were caught up in the console wars. While I've long moved on from those battles, I was definitely a participant when those platforms were the hottest thing. It's embarrassing to look back on, but I was young and dumb. Most of us were on the playground arguing which platform was better and for various reasons. Whenever the SEGA fans spoke up, you could bet they'd mention the Streets of Rage series.
While I was firmly on the side of the SNES in those days, I did own a Genesis. Even in my console wars stupidity, I could fully admit that the Streets of Rage series was fantastic. I played the second installment first, and absolutely fell in love with it. I quickly went back to play the original, which I loved as well. The third installment, while divisive in the soundtrack department, still brought the goods when it came to gameplay. This beat'em-up franchise was top of the heap when it came to SEGA exclusives, and showed the power of the system, as well as SEGA's prowess in creating exciting games.
Fans of Streets of Rage were extremely lucky back in the day, as three separate installments came to the Genesis in a short amount of time. With those releases, it seemed the series was cemented as a major player for SEGA going forward. SEGA fans were eager to see where the series would go next with new hardware on the way. How would SEGA use new platform features to enhance the franchise and take it forward? All we could do was sit back and wait...and wait...and wait.
Numerous SEGA platforms saw release as the years rolled on. The SEGA CD, 32X, Saturn, and Dreamcast all had their time in the spotlight, yet a new Streets of Rage was nowhere to be found. Somehow, one of the biggest franchises SEGA had on the Genesis would go completely neglected with every hardware follow-up. It almost seems impossible when you think about it. It would be like Nintendo skipping over a Legend of Zelda title in the move to new platforms. Streets of Rage was synonymous with SEGA during the Genesis era, yet it completely dropped off the face of the earth after.
How in the world did this happen? Unfortunately, we don't have a definitive answer. All we know is that SEGA shot down multiple attempts to bring the series back for over 20 years. Core Design pitched a new Streets of Rage that SEGA said no to, which Core would turn into Fighting Force. Composer Yuzo Koshiro was involved with early work on a Streets of Rage sequel on Dreamcast, but that never came to be. Ruffian Games and Backbone Entertainment worked on prototypes as well, but SEGA would shut those down too.
Perhaps SEGA simply didn't see a vision for Streets of Rage going forward. In the jump from 2D to 3D, multiple games found their path forward in a polygonal world. Other genres seemed to disappear without a clear path ahead. All of these years later, the beat'em-up genre is largely the same as it was back in the 90s, just with prettier graphics. There haven't been any major revolutions in how beat'em-ups play, as the jump to 3D didn't seem to offer much in the way of gameplay enhancements. Fans of the genre nowadays don't mind that one bit, and continue to embrace the gameplay for its classic roots. The same can't be said for gamers back when video games made the jump to 3D.
A lot of devs and pubs thought that consumers wouldn't want anything to do with 2D games once the gaming world went 3D, and for a large portion of the audience/amount of time, they were right. Almost the entire industry shied away from 2D gameplay for a very long time, as it seemed dated and restrictive. Players wanted experiences that were in 3D, where they could explore a new dimension and fresh gameplay mechanics. Outside of Nintendo, it was quite hard to find developers who would work in 2D and sprites, as well as developers who continued to embrace genres that had been popular in the past.
Obviously a lot of time has passed since the Genesis and SNES were kings of the game market. The game industry has come an incredibly long way, and now brings in more fans than ever before. That means there's an audience for your game no matter how it looks or plays. Millions flock to games that employ the latest visuals and push hardware to its limits, while classic pixel-style adventures in timeless genres can find just as many fans. There's no such thing as a game that looks too old or plays too close to the classics anymore. It's just about playing games in general, and being a fan of the variety the industry has to offer.
If SEGA did shy away from the Streets of Rage series after the Genesis due to not knowing how to bring it into 3D, seeing the series come back now makes perfect sense. SEGA has seen first-hand that there are millions of gamers out there who want to experience new installments in classic gameplay styles. While Sonic has certainly found major success with his 3D outings, there is still a huge amount of people who yearned for a series entry that both looked and played like the classics. That's what lead to the creation of Sonic Mania, a retro-styled revival that was pretty much built by fans who grew up in the classic era. That game saw a huge amount of success both with critics and sales alike, and clearly opened SEGA's eyes to the potential in their other IP.
Turning to Streets of Rage for a revival must have been a no-brainer for SEGA at this point. While there are still plenty of classic SEGA franchises that fans would like to see come back, hardly any are held in the same high regard as Streets of Rage. Fans of those three original titles, myself included, never stopped talking about those games. They weren't just beat'em-ups, they were the pinnacle of what the genre could offer. Their design, artwork, and music were shining examples of the era, and influenced countless developers going forward. The fan base, no matter how many years had passed, were still eager to talk about the series, and desperate for a new installment. It was a series that died at the height of its popularity, and it deserved a return.
Thus, here we are today. 26 loooooooooong years after Streets of Rage 3 came to the Genesis, we finally have a new installment. SEGA might be in a very different place nowadays, but its fans are more than ready to support the company's classic brands. Even though we're just two days into Streets of Rage 4's release, it seems like things are going incredibly well. Critics showered the game with all sorts of praise, and buzz around the launch is undeniable. Will that equal a sales success like the one Sonic Mania saw? We'll need a bit more time before that can be decided, but we're certainly off to a good start.
Should Streets of Rage 4 have taken 26 years to come out? I think we can all agree that it shouldn't have. For at least part of the series' dormancy, it seems market circumstances were to blame. SEGA may not have known how to take the series into the 3D world, and SEGA themselves were facing a lot of turmoil. As for what happened after SEGA went third party and why they kept shooting down pitches for the series' revival, your guess is as good as mine. I guess all that matters now is that Streets of Rage is once again alive. It reminds us of what SEGA was in its glory days, and how they can bring back the hype by smart partnerships and IP revival.
My only hope after Streets of Rage 4 is that we don't have to wait another 26 years for Streets of Rage 5. With SEGA greenlighting the fourth installment, you'd have to think they're keen on having the series around as a regular once again. As long as this latest game is a success, I think the path ahead for the series is brighter than ever. Retro games are in, nostalgia is big, and download distribution cuts down on costs in a major way. If this moment in time can't provide a solid path ahead for Streets of Rage, I don't know that anything can. Thankfully, I think plenty of fans are ready to hit the streets once again.