Porting a console classic to modern times is a no-brainer when it's an impulse buy where half the purchase decision is fueled by nostalgia. But is Sega's Streets of Rage worth it on the iPhone?
All the Rage: This is a straight-up emulation of the Genesis original, so of course everything you love and remember from the 16-bit sidescrolling beat-em-up is here, right down to the sound tests in your start menu. The chop-socky music, Adam's "whooul-yah!" flying attack, Blaze's upskirt when she's thrown to the ground, and, of course, suplexing those screeching biker chicks, it's still a great trip down memory lane.
Outta Control: Unfortunately, since this is a straight-up emulation of the Genesis original, that means the control system is what's getting reviewed. You're given three options, all with serious drawbacks. By default, Streets of Rage overlays a translucent D-pad and A, B and C buttons. This gives you the best view of the action, but when bad guys go hide on the edges of the screen, as they usually do, it's hard to see them under your thumb and fingers. An alternate view, setting the D-pad and buttons inside a frame surrounding the screen, solves that problem. Unfortunately, it shrinks the playing screen by more than a third. Still, for the game's later levels, this mode is recommended. Finally, there's an accelerometer mode replacing the D-pad. It's gimmicky at best, and feels disconnected from the action, particularly for the grappling attacks. The throw combo is nearly impossible to pull off with it. Your best bet is one of the two D-pad modes, remembering that light touches will move your controller just fine. Otherwise your hand will cramp up, especially if you're hellbent on beating the game in one sitting.
Whoa, framerate: This game was reviewed on a second-generation iPhone. With a lot of enemies on the screen, or the rudimentary environmental effects like waves, rain, blowing trash, etc., I found the emulator really bogging down and slowing both the framerate and the soundtrack - especially, it seemed, if the accelerometer was enabled. This is a significant problem, notably in a boss battle with a lot of supporting henchmen. The game's App Store page says a patch is on the way to improve performance for 3GS versions.
What kept Streets of Rage from being repetitive - relative to its time of course - was the two player cooperation and the fighting combos you could pull off. On the iPhone and iPod Touch, it's single player only, and the combos are slightly more difficult to execute with this control scheme. Especially that satisfying B+A back attack. Further, when I played the original, I seem to recall that I could grapple, knee-butt a boss twice, vault, disengage and grab, butt him twice more, and rinse-and-repeat my way to fast victory. With this scheme, not so much. You'll find yourself a lot of the time whacking the B button just to get through a level, rather than using the vaults and throws and grab attacks that make the game a creative diversion.
But if the point is to give you old-school console action to kill time on your mobile, then, OK, Streets of Rage will, within the limits of the device, provide the complete single player experience you recall.
Streets of Rage was developed and published by Sega for the iPhone and iPod Touch on July 14. Available on iTunes App Store for $4.99. Played all characters on standard difficulty using all control schemes, completing the game with Axel and beating ass galore with Blaze and Adam.
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