[25 January 2007]
On the surface, Counterstrike and Ms. Pac-Man don’t have much in common. One’s macho, realistic, and violent, and the other’s sweet, quiet, and mellow. One demands communication and input from dozens of buttons and commands; the other needs only a solitary joystick and your commitment to play with pill-popping voraciousness. But what Ms. Pac-Man and Counterstrike do have in common, as representatives of their genres’ finest, is their quality. And, more importantly, they represent the rare occasions that the hackers and the unemployed have beaten the professionals at their own game. To that homebrew hall of fame we can now add Streets of Rage Remake.
Remake feels familiar. It’s a staunchly anachronistic beat-em-up, born from the graphics and sound banks of Streets of Rage 1 - 3 (originally released at the beginning, middle, and end of the Sega Genesis’s life). Like Godard meets Miyamoto, Remake slices up the chronology of the stages, then pieces together an entirely new story. One screen you’ll be fighting on the pier from SoR 3, the next screen you’ll be on a beach taken from the first game. Thugs, renegades, and hookers that know kung-fu from the entire game chronology crop up constantly and in fearful numbers, retaining the claustrophobia that made the original series memorable.
But Remake is more than a simple 16-bit jumble. What knocks this above the cute experiment level is Bomber Games’ (the Spain-based outfit behind the game) ambition to make it their own. Characters, weapons, and whole stages have been added. In addition, a character editor, volleyball minigame, and survival mode go beyond the duty of typical hacks.
Because a beat-em-up lives and dies on how fun its multiplayer is, and because there’s no net play, the option to clean up the streets with a CPU second player is most welcome. You can even select your ally’s attitude (ranging from “aggressive” to “stupid”), though the difference is mostly negligible. In the end, you get the equivalent of a canine: it’s dumb and clumsy, but it’s loyal, and you’re so happy to have the company at last.