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Streets of Rage, known in Japan as Bare Knuckle (ベア・ナックル Bea Nakkuru), is a well-known beat 'em up series developed and published by Sega. The series centers around the efforts of several heroes, including series mainstays Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, to rid a troubled city from the rule of crime boss Mr. X and his syndicate.
The three games in the series were released between 1991 and 1994, the first of which was later included as part of the Sega 6-Pak. The first entry in the series, Streets of Rage introduces the main characters: three young police officers (Axel, Blaze, and Adam) and Mr. X, the evil mastermind himself. Gameplay is different from later games in the series, as were the graphics—which are significantly smaller in scale than the graphics of the later games.
The next entry in the series, Streets of Rage 2 had new music by Yuzo Koshiro (inspired by early '90s club music), more defined graphics and bigger selection of moves. It also introduced two new characters, Eddie "Skate" Hunter, and Max Thunder (or Sammy "Skate" Hunter and Max Hatchett in some regions). Various gameplay tweaks and enhancements were added.
The final entry to the Streets of Rage series, Streets of Rage 3 was also perhaps the most controversial. Despite some enhancements, it has been seen as very similar to Streets of Rage 2. This entry to the series added a more complex storyline, told using cut scenes. The Western port's plot was largely censored and its difficulty level significantly increased.
Although it was one of the most popular franchises on the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis, no new Streets of Rage games have appeared on subsequent consoles. After porting Die Hard Arcade, a 3D beat 'em up from the arcades to the Saturn, Sega had reportedly tried to bring the Streets of Rage series to the Sega Saturn and expressed interest in using the 3D title Fighting Force to do so. Nothing ever came of this and the game was released without Streets of Rage branding.
Early in the Sega Dreamcast production cycle, demos tentatively titled Streets of Rage 4 were made by Sega of Japan to bring the Streets of Rage series to the platform. The demo showed a character similar to Axel fighting off a group of enemy characters. Various changes in gameplay had apparently been planned, including the introduction of new team attacks and a new first person perspective. However, allegedly due to new management at Sega of America being unaware of the series and its past success, Sega did not follow up on it and the game never advanced past the demo stage. Video clips of a demo were eventually leaked out. , .
All three existing titles were included in the Japanese version of Sonic Gems Collection  and recently Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. All three are also available on the Wii's Virtual Console.
In order of appearance:
Streets of Rage
Playable character in all the games, Axel is the front man of the series. A former police detective in the first game, he opened his own karate dojo in the outskirts of the city, although in the Japanese Bare Knuckle 3 storyline, he is actually transferred to the Special Investigation department. He turns slowly from an all-around to a bruiser in the end of the series. In the later games, his special attacks are a 360 degree flaming punch (Dragon Wing) and a punch/uppercut combo (Dragon Smash). His blitz attack is a flaming uppercut named Grand Upper (which was renamed to Bare Knuckle for SoR3, maybe as an in-joke). It was toned down considerably in SoR3 due to its excessive power in SoR2.
Like Axel, Blaze is a playable character in all the games. Blaze was also a former police detective. She then began working as a private investigator. While she starts out the series as a stereotypical female character (fast but weak), she ends up becoming the series' "all-rounder" by the second game. Her specialty is Judo, giving her a more powerful 'throw' move than the other characters. With even stats and good techniques, Blaze is usually seen as the best character to use in SoR3. Her special techniques in the later two games are a cartwheel kick (Enbukyaku) and a fireball (Kikousho(Soulfire in SoR3)). Her standard blitz attack, Hishousouzan (Terra Shield in SoR3), is a forward somersault that strikes enemies with her fists.
Adam is a playable character only in SoR1. He is kidnapped in SoR2, and appears in the cut scenes of SoR3 twice. He is the older brother of Eddie "Skate" Hunter. Adam is an ex-professional boxer who joined the police force as a detective. Unlike Axel and Blaze, he did not quit the police force at the end of the second game. He is the opposite of Blaze, in that he is slower but stronger.
The syndicate boss Mr. X is the main antagonist, and appears as the final adversary in all games in one form or another. In the two first games, he is armed with a Tommy gun. After barely surviving his first two encounters with the SoR team, in SoR3 he is nothing more than a brain in a jar, and has a robot, Robot Y (or Neo X in the Bare Knuckle Version) who fights for him—this could be similar to Cain's final form in RoboCop 2, where he is hospitalized, killed, and his brain is stored to control his actions in his Robocop 2 form.
Streets of Rage 2
Max Thunder (Max Hatchett in BK2)
Only playable in SoR2, Max, a wrestler, is by far the slowest character in the series, but also the hardest hitting. Max is a friend of Axel, and makes a cameo appearance in the ending of the third game. His special techniques were a spinning axe-handle blow (Thunder Bomb) and a dashing tackle (Thunder Tackle). His most famous attack is a devastating backwards-grappling move called Atomic Drop, which does the most damage (about 70% of a "default" lifebar) of any move in any of the games. His surname differs between the U.S. and European Games, being Thunder in the U.S. version and in Bare Knuckle, and Hatchett in the European version. In a Streets of Rage story published by Fleetway magazine Sonic The Comic in 1993, Max Hatchet is depicted as a Cop like Axel and Blaze, quitting the force after Axel is brutally pummeled by corrupted officers. Max has also an arch-nemesis, Hawk, that manages to kill at the end of the episode. He is the exact opposite of Skate as in that he sacrifices a lot of speed for power. Although he is not present in Streets of Rage 3, he can be seen in the good ending with other characters watching the sunset.
Eddie "Skate" Hunter (Sammy Hunter in BK2 and BK3)
Playable character in SoR2 and SoR3, the kid brother of Adam. His first name is Sammy in BK2 and Eddie in SoR2. "Skate" is his nickname, as he fights on rollerblades. He is fast, but the weakest of all characters. In SoR2 he was the only character who could dash, an ability all playable characters gained by SoR3. In both games, one of Skate's special moves was the Double Spin Kick. In SoR2, he uses the Corkscrew Kick and in SoR3, he uses Rolling Punches, a flurry of punches. At 4' 10" (147 cm), he is the smallest playable character by far.
The boss fought right before Mr. X in SoR2, and up to two times in SoR3. He is Mr. X's bodyguard and a very skilled fighter, his repertoire of moves matching the regular playable characters. He is also a secret playable character in SoR3, who can be unlocked right after defeating him by holding down the B button. He is named after the Hindu god Shiva.
Streets of Rage 3
Dr. Zan Gilbert
A former syndicate henchman, Zan tells Blaze about the robot conspiracy in SoR3, and about the Rakushin bombs in the Japanese counterpart BK3. He is one of the four initially selectable characters. Zan is himself part robot, a cyborg. Unlike the other characters in SoR3, Zan has no specialized blitz weapon attacks; every weapon he picks up turns into a ball of nergy. His special techniques are the Electric Body and Electric Reach, both using his cyborg parts to shock the opponents.
Roo (Victy in BKIII) is a kangaroo mini-boss in SoR3. If his cruel trainer, Bruce (Danch in BKIII), is destroyed first while keeping Roo alive, he becomes playable when a continue is used (alternatively, the player can press Up+B+Start at the title screen to select Roo directly at the character selection screen). His moveset is very complete, even including team attacks with the regular SoR characters.
A minion of Mr. X and the first mini-boss faced only in BK3. His character is a very stereotypical homosexual, a very feminine run, even a little 'laugh' taunt (which can still be heard in SoR3 in the sound test under VOICE 14) and tons of female mannerisms. Because of this, he was removed from the Western ports SoR3. In BK3 he drives a boat which drops off punks and afterwards jumps off to fight himself. Like Shiva, he is also a secret playable character, but unlocked by holding A once defeated. Ash's moveset is very limited; for example, he has no jumping attacks, but instead his punches are humorously overpowered. Like Shiva and Roo/Victy, he cannot hold any weapons.
Three six-part comic strip series based upon the games appeared in Sonic the Comic in the early 1990s (along with several other adaptations of popular Sega franchises). The first two of these was written by Mark Millar, who has since become popular writing The Authority for Wildstorm and Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates for Marvel, while the third (and a Poster Mag story) was written by Nigel Kitching. These three stories are an alternate continuity from the games, and do not feature Adam.
The first story, simply entitled Streets of Rage, involved Axel, Blaze, and Max quitting the highly corrupt police force in order to do more good as vigilantes, taking down Max's ex-partner; the crime lord and martial artist Hawk.
The next serial, Skates' Story introduced Skates, delinquent stepson of Murphy, a friend of Axel and his team and one of the few honest cops left on the force, who was unwillingly drawn into joining Axel's group after his parents were killed by Mr X.
The third and final story, called The Only Game In Town, involved the Syndicate unleashing an army of street gangs on our heroes, with the event turned into a gambling event as Mr. X opened a book based on whether or not the heroes would reach the river without being killed first. This ploy was played against the villain when Blaze bet on twenty-thousand dollars on her team's survival at odds of a thousand to one. This third story was notable for revealing that, for his failure, the old Mr. X had been the victim of a 'swimming accident' and had been replaced with a new one by the Syndicate at story's end. Like many non-Sonic stories in this magazine, the story had a cliff-hanger ending, with the new Mr. X promising that he would 'recoup his losses' and kill the heroes.
The Poster Mag story, called The Facts of Life, involved the heroes causing a racket by fighting one of the many street gangs in a sleeping neighborhood. The police arrive and arrest the thugs, as well as take the heroes to a junkyard for execution. Along the way, Axel explains why he, Blaze, and Max quit the force to a young rookie officer. At the junkyard, just as the officers are about to shoot Max, Blaze breaks free of her handcuffs and proceeds to beat the stuffing out of the cops, with Axel, Skate and Max following shortly. After the dust clears, the rookie officer says that he's seen the true colors of the police force and requests that Axel hit him. Axel does so until Blaze tells him to stop, and they and Max and Skates leave as dawn breaks.
The game's soundtrack was acclaimed, with several soundtrack albums being released. The soundtracks were composed by Yuzo Koshiro. Another musician, Motohiro Kawashima, helped on the second, providing a few tracks, and making even more for the third. Three soundtrack CDs were released in all, each of which now sell for high prices at auction and in Japanese markets.
- Ancient Corp, Koshiro's game company
- Streets of Rage Online Universe
- NTSC-uk's Streets of Rage Retrospective
- 'Streets of Rage series at MobyGames