Retro or Reboot?: Pocky & Rocky

If there are any regrets I’ve had while writing articles for Retronaissance, it would simply have to be the fact that I’m overzealous when deciding to begin new series. It’s not to say that I don’t like the concept of writing multiple pieces based around a single cohesive theme – quite the opposite, in fact. My problem is that I always seem to decide to start them off with only an idea or two to explore. I always sort of take my ability to come up with new ideas that relate to these categories on a whim for granted, but in reality, coming up with topics that I deem both suitable and interesting is a difficult undertaking. As such, I would often exacerbate the problem: introducing more series with the expectation that they’d be easier to write for. Sometimes this ends up working to my advantage – I’ve got quite a few concepts lined up for a few existing series – but when it doesn’t, it only adds to my guilt. As such, I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to try to restart a few of these abandoned series – or at the very least, give them proper follow-ups – and what better place to start than with good old “Retro or Reboot”?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written one of these articles, so it’s only fitting that I review exactly what Retro or Reboot entails. I’ll be looking at a series – with a minimum of two games – that has fallen victim to a significant hiatus. In the past, I’ve considered only games that haven’t seen a new release since the sixth generation (the days when the PlayStation 2 ruled the gaming world), but since the present generation has finally come into its own, I’ll amend this to involve anything that hasn’t been revived since the seventh generation: Xbox 360, PS3 and the Wii. Anything newer than that still has a chance to be revisited after all. Generally, I’ll favor series that only managed to exist during a single generation – it’s just easier to find a cohesive theme when you don’t have to worry about deviations like the 3D Castlevania games or the 2010 reboot of Splatterhouse when considering a franchise’s core concept. I also tend to prefer older franchises, simply because I’m more likely to be familiar with them. In the end, I craft two proposals to revive the franchise: one retro-themed proposition which simply tries to maintain as much of the originals’ concepts as possible and the other a total reboot that tries to reimagine the series with modern conventions. Of course, both proposals can be best described as fantastical pie in the sky wishing, but these are meant to be happy articles, soul-crushing reality be damned!

This article’s topic is Pocky & Rocky. Developed by Natsume, the P&R series is a perfect example of the shoot-‘em-up sub-genre colloquially referred to as the “cute-‘em-up”. The games play similarly to a specific style of shmup where players are capable of freely roaming the stage at their own pace – other examples with similar gameplay include Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Commando and Shock Troopers. Some time ago, the Nopino Goblins went on a rampage. A young Shinto priestess named Pocky managed to put an end to the mayhem, restoring the peace. One day, a Tanuki named Rocky came to Pocky’s temple, asking her for help. The goblins had lost their minds and began their rampage anew. The two team up to find out just why the spirits run amok once more. The second game involves the harvest festival, attended this year by Princess Luna – not that one –  the princess of the moon when she is kidnapped by a gang of demons, led by an oni named Impy. This time, Pocky and Rocky are joined by two new partners, Bomber Bob and Little Ninja. While I personally didn’t own a Super Nintendo when I was a kid, my cousin did and he had both games, so I have fond memories of them from my childhood. Years later, I got to play them again and they definitely held up. Unfortunately, the games haven’t been re-released since: Natsume expressed interest in putting them on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service, but they claim that Nintendo wasn’t interested in releasing any titles from that platform.

Retro

The funny thing about this is that I’ve already got a perfect framework to base the entire concept around. Recently, Natsume did an enhanced port of Wild Guns: Reloaded – currently on the PS4 and coming soon to PC via Steam – which took the original game and rebuilt it, optimizing it for larger resolutions, adding new characters and stages and beefing up the multiplayer to allow for up to 4-player cooperative play. With such a product already existing, why not expand on its core concept with another classic Natsume game? I normally try to title these concepts and this time around I actually have a perfect title: “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection”. You know, because the enemies fought in this game are mostly various spirits and other creatures generally associated with the afterlife? Besides, the series hasn’t been active since the Game Boy Advance days – so I think that constitutes “Resurrection” in the title.

Speaking of, that brings up a potential issue with the entire concept. You see, the Pocky & Rocky games are actually sequels in a series of games that were originally created by Taito. Known as “Kiki Kaikai” in Japan, the series originated in Japanese arcades in 1986. Here, the character we know as “Pocky” was referred to as Sayo. Taito would eventually release the game on both the MSX2 computer and the PC Engine and even develop a remake for the Famicom Disk System. After that point, the games that would become the Pocky & Rocky games were developed by Natsume who also published the games in both Japan and North America. These two games improved the gameplay of the series significantly: the original Kiki Kaikai games were slower affairs with stiffer controls. They were also the first games in the series to allow for simultaneous multiplayer play: the previous games in the series only allowed 2 players with alternating turns. The only direct follow-up to these two games was a Game Boy Advance game developed by a third company, Altron. This game was published in the West as “Pocky & Rocky with Becky”, including a third character – “Becky”, Pocky’s nigh-identical friend who first appeared in the Famicom game – though the gameplay itself more closely resembled the original arcade games, to my dismay.

There was another attempt at licensing the Kiki Kaikai name for another title – but by this point, Taito had been purchased by Square Enix which led to an argument over the rights to the name of the game. The game would eventually be released as “Yuikinko Daisenpu” – or Heavenly Guardian as it was known in North America – and is clearly meant to be a spiritual successor. This begs the question: would Natsume be able to make a new game in the Pocky & Rocky series? After all, they re-released the GBA game with little problem, but would Square Enix be willing to license the rights to Kiki Kaikai for a worldwide release or would Natsume have to perform some kind of trademark wrangling in order to get a new game made in the first place? Given the fact that Square-Enix has previously tried to license out the rights to various Eidos properties, allowing independent developers to make pitches for new games in those franchises, I think that there may be a chance that they may be more open to licensing out the property, especially to a former collaborator like Natsume.

The funny thing about this concept is that I’d argue it would work even better with Pocky & Rocky than it did with Wild Guns. They have two games to work from, as opposed to one, offering a wealth of existing content to delve from – after all, both games were pretty much built with the same game mechanics in mind, so utilizing the stages from both games under a shared framework should be completely possible. Throw in some additional brand new stages on top of that like Wild Guns: Reloaded did, and you’ve got a perfect retro revival on your hands.

I’d argue that the gameplay should resemble the original games as closely as possible, but by the same token, take into account various advances we’ve seen in video games since the SNES days. Of course, there were some slightly different mechanics between both P&R games: the single-player in the original allowed you to play alone, while the sequel gave you an AI partner of your choice, that could be thrown as a bomb attack for massive damage or taken control of, offering Pocky an additional hit point. The first game gave each character a health meter and allowed them to power up their shots in two ways – either a spread shot or a flaming shot which did more damage. The second game depicted Pocky’s health via her clothing, allowing her to don additional armor for an extra hit point and added new power-ups like bunny ears that enhance Pocky’s speed and a flashing block that would allow her to switch out her partner for a different character, including those that could be unlocked by finding them while playing the game. Due to these improvements, I would suggest using the second game as the revival’s basis, but offer two different single-player modes: one with a partner (representing the second game) and a solo mode (for those that preferred the first game). Better yet, in the former, you’d be able to choose any of the partner characters as your main – which could allow Pocky to act as a partner character. I originally considered adding in an alternate control method – one akin to twin-stick shooters – before I quickly realized that this would completely break the balance of the games. From the series’ conception, players have only been able to aim in the direction they’re moving, a mechanic that is of the utmost importance when enemy placement is considered. As such, I’d have to insist that Natsume maintain the original control scheme from previous games if they decide to take this route.

Obviously, a multiplayer mode is a must. In fact, keeping in line with single-player mode, there should be individual modes relating to both of the previous games. The first game gave each character their own unique health and extra lives, while the second game only allowed the second player to play as Pocky’s partner – only capable of taking a single hit of damage, but having an infinite set of lives, not unlike the Sonic & Tails mode in Sonic 2 and 3. I’d also suggest adding a 4-player mode (based on the first game’s multiplayer), just like the one found in Wild Guns: Reloaded. This time, however, I’d say that Natsume should try to balance the difficulty levels based on how many players are playing at a time – as the game constantly being balanced for 4 players was the chief criticism I heard levelled at Wild Guns. I’m probably a bit biased, but I’d also love to see an online multiplayer mode in addition to the classic couch co-op mode found in Reloaded. Of course, considering how small of a company Natsume is, a mode like that might be a massive undertaking – but it would be a nice touch all the same.

The graphical style is a simple decision: just use the same graphics from the old SNES games, like Wild Guns: Reloaded did. Upscale the graphics so that they look good at the higher resolutions modern platforms can display, but keep the character to playing field size ratio intact, while rendering the game itself in widescreen. Fortunately, the shift to widescreen shouldn’t have as much of an effect on the game as it did with Wild Guns, just due to the difference in genre. Likewise, the sprite work found in both games is similar enough that they should be easy enough to incorporate into a single title and any new artwork should be drawn to match the existing style.

Ideally, I’d want P&R: Resurrection to include both original games in their entirety: storyline, stage progression, boss fights, effectively acting as both an archive of the original games as well as their evolution. On that note, I’d love to see a “third” story added to the mix – with an all-new assortment of stages, as opposed to the few new levels thrown into Reloaded. In addition, throwing in a sort of “remix mode” that would throw a random assortment of levels from all three scenarios would be another awesome bonus feature that would certainly add hours of replay value.

Reboot

The first issue with trying to conceive a modern take on Pocky & Rocky is simply that it’s hard to think of a modern genre that could easily represent it. After all, the classic beat-‘em-ups of the golden age of arcades clearly share DNA with modern character action games, and even the shoot-‘em-ups of yore could easily be turned into rail shooters for big-budget releases today. However, what of the run-and-gun variant of the shmup? After all, part of the appeal there is having full control over the playable characters, while both standard shmups and rail shooters both rely on the screen scrolling constantly, pushing the player along designated paths. A better question: what’s the modern equivalent of a cute-‘em-up? In spite of the second game’s “Angry Kirby” packaging, the in-game graphics still maintain a light-hearted appearance. The Bomberman: Act Zero treatment clearly isn’t going to work with this one – granted, it didn’t even work with Bomberman in the first place.

My basic concept involves a lot of genre blending. Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any game that plays particularly like this – if anyone does, let me know in the comments – but essentially, it’d be a cross between an action game and a twin-stick shooter, essentially using some elements from a third-person shooter to bridge the gap between those two disparate genres. Essentially, we’d be looking at a game that offers quick mobility, emulating that of the SNES games – you could even incorporate the slide as like dodge maneuvers common in the action genre – but also allows for easy shooting controls. Ideally, the second stick would be used to both direct and aim Pocky and Rocky in a 3D environment, while either a face or shoulder button would be used to fire shots. Likewise, the items used to deflect enemy shots – Pocky’s “magic stick” and Rocky’s tail – would likely be expanded upon, expanding on what the melee attacks both characters were capable of in the previous games, while being sure not to overshadow the long-range attacks.

Originally, I considered basing a reboot of Pocky & Rocky on a third-person shooter. The problem with that is that games of this genre generally have clunky controls, which would be incredibly counterproductive when trying to translate a game like Pocky & Rocky into a modern design. After all, even among run-and-gun/shmup hybrids, both P&R games had remarkably responsive controls. The only game I could think of that even came close to what I was trying to achieve was Red Dead Revolver – itself originally conceived as a modern reboot of Capcom’s Gun.Smoke – but a modern take on P&R would require a much smoother and arcade-like interface. This led me to consider contemporary genres known for their responsive controls – and the action genre struck me as the best choice. Likewise, shooting is much more complex in the third-person shooter genre, so a simpler design choice was necessary and nothing is simpler than twin-stick aiming.

The graphics probably wouldn’t need to be all that complex – and any major release out of Natsume would likely lack the budget for anything ornate – so instead, I’ll discuss the type of art direction I’d like to see in this “big budget” reimagining of one of the cult classics from my childhood. First, I’d rather see an over-the-shoulder camera as opposed to the classic overhead view. If they wanted to retain the overhead view, they’d be better off going with the retro-themed revival. Besides, it would be interesting to see the world of Pocky & Rocky from a more direct angle. As for the game’s art style, I think the game should be done in 3D with cel-shaded graphics. I’m torn about how the art direction should take form beyond that point: either a colorful anime style or a graphical style evoking traditional Japanese paintings (not unlike Okami) would work for me.

As for potential developers, I’m kind of at a loss. Natsume doesn’t really have too many partners that they can commission to develop something like this and the project’s scope is also likely beyond the capabilities of their internal teams. As usual, my gut tells me Platinum Games would be a perfect choice, but given the caliber of publishers that have hired them in the past, they’re likely outside of Natsume’s budget. The best I can think of would likely be some random indie developer. The only team that really comes to mind would be The Game Bakers, the team behind the sleeper hit Furi – a game with an even faster pace than what I would expect from a Pocky & Rocky revival. Having said that, I’m almost certain that there may be some Japanese indie dev I’ve never heard of that would be a perfect fit for this concept.

It feels good to write another one of these and I’m happy to say that I’ve got even more ideas for Retro or Reboot in the pipeline. What did you think of these ideas? Would you rather see “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection” become a reality or does a more modernized take on the series excite you more? Do you disagree that Pocky & Rocky is worth reviving in the first place? Do you have an even better idea for either concept? Are you also excited that Wild Guns: Reloaded is coming to Steam this year? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Retro or Reboot?: StarTropics

I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed doing the first Retro or Reboot article and really wanted to do another one as soon as possible. So what if I decided to cheat my own rule about leaving an entire month between articles in a particular series, technically I’ve written 2 more articles since the last one. That has to count for something, right? The only real issue was trying to think up a new topic that could get me just as excited as the last one.

Before we get started, let’s recap the purpose of these articles. I’ll be taking a look at various series (with at least two games) that have fallen on hard times, ones that haven’t received a new game since the PS2 era (I think IPs that originated after that still have a pretty decent chance for revival). Usually, I’ll favor franchises that saw all of their major iterations in the span of a single generation and older generations tend to be favored, just to make for a more radical difference between the two proposals for a new entry in the series: a retro-themed revival that effectively takes the original gameplay and updates it to fit modern game design sensibilities and a full-on reboot, which merely takes the setting of the old franchise and implements it onto an entirely new playstyle. Sort of like a clash between budgets, small versus big. Of course, to make this more of a positive experience, I’ll be optimistic with my proposals.

This article’s topic is StarTropics: a lesser-known Nintendo franchise, but one I’ve been begging to get resurrected for almost two generations now. Effectively the Ristar to Zelda’s Sonic, StarTropics was an adventure game that took the base mechanics of the original Legend of Zelda and took them in a slightly different direction, focusing more on rudimentary puzzle solving and taking a more linear route over Zelda’s open-world exploration. Players took control of Mike Jones, a teenager searching for his lost archeologist uncle, last seen studying the mysteries of C-Island. Armed with only a yo-yo at first, Mike sets off to find his uncle and to solve the mystery of the island. The game’s cult status can likely be attributed to two main factors: the original was only released in North America and Europe and the second game, Zoda’s Revenge, was released exclusively in North America on the NES in 1994, well-after the release of the Super Nintendo. There were rumors back in 2008 of Camelot working on a new iteration of the series on the Nintendo Wii, but nothing really came of it. Likewise, there was a similar rumor stating that Retro Studios was working on a new StarTropics game for Wii U, with similar results. As of right now, the original NES games can be bought on the Wii Virtual Console in North America and the Wii U’s Virtual Console in Europe.

Retro

What we’re looking at here is basically “Super StarTropics”: a game that does for StarTropics what A Link to the Past did for the original Legend of Zelda. Though at this point, it’s also the kind of thing Link’s Awakening, the Oracles games and A Link Between Worlds did for the original Zelda as well. Like with Streets of Rage 4 before it, Super StarTropics probably wouldn’t be the final name for a new game in the franchise, it just perfectly represents how this game should be developed.

Considering the fact that Nintendo R&D3, the developers of the first two games, has been disbanded and the fact that it was mostly popular in the West, I’ve got a specific developer in mind that I think would be perfect for it. You’re probably thinking Retro Studios, but you would be wrong. After all, I can still remember the backlash from when Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze was announced and how it kept Retro from developing Metroid Prime 4 their own original IPs. Besides, this is intended to be a smaller project in terms of scale. Frankly, I’d feel more comfortable with “Super StarTropics” being handled by Next Level Games. They did an amazing job on Punch-Out!! for the Wii and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and they have a close enough relationship with Nintendo that I’d consider them a “second-party” developer for the Big N.

I see this game being sort of a hybrid of A Link Between Worlds (due to the added emphasis on puzzle solving compared to ALttP) and the original StarTropics. The puzzles in the dungeons themselves would be more intricate than just the hidden switches in the original Startropics games (though it wouldn’t be StarTropics without them) and the puzzles on the overworld needed to progress through the game would also likely be made more complicated than those from the NES era. Aside from that, I’d also keep a more linear progression compared to the Zelda games, to better differentiate the two series. Keep the limited ammo on the sub-weapons, the awesome bosses and the control style from the original StarTropics. Mike Jones better be able to jump in any new StarTropics. Ditch the lives system from the old games though, maybe incorporate an item similar to Zelda’s fairy to replace it instead.

Now onto the boring part: graphical style. As usually, I’m pretty neutral on the whole thing. High-definition hand-drawn 2D graphics, 3D models incorporated into a 2.5D style (ala ALBW) or even retro-styled pixel sprites, it doesn’t matter to me. As long as it’s pleasing to the eye, I’m good.

Usually I wouldn’t really have anything else to say here, but I do have some other thoughts on the retro revamp this time around. Specifically, which platform I’d prefer it to be on. Oddly enough, I think this type of game would work better on 3DS (or whatever future handhelds Nintendo comes out with) than on a home console like the Wii U. Maybe it just has to do with the fact that it would be a smaller game and I couldn’t really see something like this being a big hit on a console, especially if it’s a download-only game. A Link Between Worlds, on the other hand, performed fairly well and it was a handheld Zelda that managed to get major acclaim.

Reboot

I guess the best way to describe this one is “StarTropics: Ocarina of Time”. Again, as with “Super StarTropics”, this isn’t by any means a final title, just a summary of how this would play out. In fact, considering how poorly the story of Zoda’s Revenge was received, maybe we should just stay away from time travel entirely. Basically, what I’m proposing here is a game that brings StarTropics out of the early ‘90s and into the modern day, doing for the franchise exactly what Ocarina of Time did…back in 1998.

Earlier I said that I wouldn’t feel comfortable if Retro Studios developed a retro-themed throwback to the StarTropics games of yore, but if we’re talking a modernized big-budget release, I feel like they would be a perfect fit. People have been clamoring for a Retro-developed Zelda game, but Shigeru Miyamoto himself has gone on record stating that even if they are qualified to make a new game, the code base for Zelda resides in Japan while Retro is an American company. Nintendo has a tendency to be very watchful with their more important ideas, so the differences in both time zone and distance would make this project troublesome. On the other hand, StarTropics holds strikingly little importance among Nintendo’s intellectual properties, so Retro would likely require far less oversight on a project like that. Better still, since StarTropics has lied dormant since the NES era, Retro would likely be more able to put their own spin on things without Nintendo fearing fan backlash if they deviate too far from the original formula.

The gameplay style for this game is somewhat obvious: start with the basic action-adventure mold made popular by such games as Okami, Darksiders and every mainline console Zelda since Ocarina of Time. Then throw in some characteristics from StarTropics: mild platforming, puzzle solving and a greater emphasis on the overworld. Keep the basic characters, settings, items and storyline from the first game. Try to ignore the second game’s storyline, or if you have to, make fun of its silly time-travel plot (Bad dream? Fanfic?) Considering the biggest audience for this one is likely to be Westerners, so the gameplay should favor that audience overall. On that note, I’d keep things fairly light and comical in tone, we don’t need any more poorly thought-out gritty reboots.

Unlike the retro revamp, 3D is really the only viable choice for graphics in a big-budget title like this. So, instead, I’ll be talking about the game’s aesthetic. What I say here would also apply to the lower-budget revamp as well. I would like the artstyle of this new game to somewhat resemble the cutscene graphics from the old NES games, especially the old one. I wouldn’t mind seeing character designs take on a similar look to Punch-Out!! on the Wii: something cartoony, but strictly Western. Try to avoid anime aesthetic as much as possible.

There is one last thing I’d like to touch on, something that applies to both proposals. It would be really cool if any new StarTropics game utilized Nintendo’s vast array of sensors for various puzzles. See, back in the day, the original StarTropics came with a letter that revealed a secret message when submerged in water. Imagine decoding messages like that using the Wii U or 3DS’s touch screen. Imagine blowing the dust off of an ancient artifact using the built-in microphones. Imagine using the gyroscope or even the NFC to complete various puzzles in-game. I don’t know about those of you reading, but I think something like that, some interactivity more physical than just hitting buttons would be really cool.

Thus ends another entry in the Retro or Reboot series. What did you think of my ideas this time around? Would you like to see “Super StarTropics” or would you rather see Retro bring the series into the 21st century? Do you disagree with both of my ideas or even feel like StarTropics is not worth resurrecting? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section.

Retro or Reboot?: Streets of Rage 4

(I’d like to preface this article with an apology for the lack of activity lately. I just wasn’t feeling motivated to write any more articles for the past couple of months, mainly due to writer’s block. Fortunately, I’ve got some ideas now and I’ve decided to make up for the hiatus by posting two articles each for the next two months.)

One of my favorite series to write on this blog was Sum of Its Parts. Unfortunately, lately I’ve been lacking proper topics to continue it. I’ve received some outside suggestions, but they were all inappropriate: they were either series that I’m not familiar with or, worse still, series where there’s already an ideal game in the series (which kind of defeats the entire point of a series dedicated to fashioning together elements from numerous games to form an ideal sequel, don’t you think?). Still, I enjoyed writing those articles too much to just completely give up on the idea, so I decided to try retooling it a bit, to create a sort of “successor” to the original concept. Having said that, I hope you enjoy the first of what I hope to be many articles in this new series, Retro or Reboot?

But what is the point of this new series? Basically, I’ll be taking a series that has been inactive for at least two generations (so, at this point, we’d be seeing stuff from the PS2 era or earlier), preferably one that saw all of its releases in the span of a single generation and speculate two potential avenues for a modern revival: a retro-themed revival that would simply try to recreate the original concept (albeit with more modern technology and likely end up as a budget release) and a higher-scale reboot that would take the original concept and try to transpose it onto a genre that would be more palatable for modern audiences. Of course, both of these could go wrong very easily, but I’m going to back away from my standard cynicism and just go with what I’d consider the ideal for both iterations could be.

Today’s topic is, obviously, Streets of Rage: one of my all-time favorite beat-‘em-up series. The entire trilogy was released on the Genesis back in its heyday, though the first two games also received scaled-down ports on Sega’s Game Gear. Since then, the original games have seen multiple re-releases on modern platforms. Aside from that, the series has laid dormant since the third (and currently, final) game was released. Of course, that’s not to say that there haven’t been attempts to revive the series. The short-lived PS1/Nintendo 64 3D beat-‘em-up Fighting Force was originally an attempt at making a fourth Streets of Rage game on the Saturn. There was also an attempt at a series revival on Dreamcast, Bionic Commando Rearmed developer GRIN was working on a 3D remake before their closure, Backbone Entertainment pitched a new game, and even Ruffian Games (developers of Crackdown) made a pitch for an updated revival on what is assumed to be 7th-generation platforms. Unfortunately, none of these projects ever came to fruition and alas, the series has remained inactive since 1994.

Retro

Simply put, we’re talking about going back to basics here. A straight-up, good old fashioned multi-plane beat-‘em-up, in either a fully 2D or a 2.5D style. Of course, Streets of Rage 4 may not be the best possible title for a game like this, considering Sega’s previous attempt at an old-school revival with that number, but for the time being, let’s just use that title as a placeholder.

Potential developers for a retro-themed revival would be a good start, but before we get to that, I’ve got a couple of honorable mentions that were disqualified for various reasons. It’s a shame Sega scared off the team behind that awesome fan-made Streets of Rage remake, they were literally perfect for this kind of a project. Likewise, Double Helix did an amazing job on the Strider and Killer Instinct revivals, so seeing their work on a SoR game would’ve been great. Alas, they got bought out by Amazon and are likely relegated to making shoddy smartphone games for the rest of their tenure there. Just as well though, I wasn’t really fond of their designs for Jago or Hiryu anyway, so I shudder to think how they would’ve done up Axel.

With the honorable mentions out of the way, I do have a few developers in mind that I’d love to see work on this. First and foremost, WayForward Interactive. They did an amazing job on Double Dragon Neon (my favorite beat-‘em-up of last generation) and they have a previous relationship with Sega (they developed the Metroidesque Aliens: Infestation for Sega on the Nintendo DS). Another developer I wouldn’t mind seeing work on this would be Vanillaware. Sega did buy out Atlus, with whom Vanillaware has a previously established relationship, and they’ve done some amazing work in the beat-‘em-up genre with Dragon’s Crown. Finally, in spite of my mixed feelings on their work in the Sonic series, I feel like Dimps Software would be another good choice for a Streets of Rage retro revival. Ignoring their hit-or-miss record on the Sonic franchise, Dimps has actually made a great number of good games, including work on the recent Street Fighter games and the Game Boy Advance title Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure (a great example of a full-2D beat-‘em-up), Spikeout: Battle Street (a sequel to a Sega Dreamcast game that was considered a successor to the Streets of Rage series) and even Demolish Fist, an arcade-exclusive 2.5D beat-‘em-up in the same vein as Final Fight or Streets of Rage.

Now let’s go even further into detail on the most important part of the game: the gameplay itself. The most important thing any developer put in charge of this project must consider is the “feel” of Streets of Rage and how it compares to other beat-‘em-ups. Yes, I’m aware that this is as vague as “soul”, “emotion” or whatever buzzword people who don’t like modern games says in order to justify their inability to articulate what it is they think the game lacks, but trust me, it’s not quite that bad. I’ll elaborate. Beats of Rage is a fan-made engine that has been floating around the internet for a number of years that is based on the Genesis-era SoR games. Many games have been made in it, including fan-made sequels and/or remakes of other classic beat-‘em-ups such as Battletoads, Double Dragon and Final Fight. Of course, these games don’t feel quite right as entries in the series they’re supposed to take place in, they feel like reskinned versions of the later two Streets of Rage games. This is an important distinction to make and as such, the original trilogy’s gameplay engines (especially those of SoR2 and 3) should be the basis to shoot for when it comes to making a brand new game in the series.

A new game in the series doesn’t necessarily have to be a 1:1 recreation of the classic games in order to be a good Streets of Rage game. There are some modern conventions that SoR4 could take on that would improve the quality of the game. As an example, I’d like to bring up the evasion maneuvers in modern beat-‘em-ups like Double Dragon Neon and Dragon’s Crown. Old-school beat-‘em-ups were arcade games through and through, with cheap mechanics that guaranteed that the average arcade gamer would feed their machines with a thousand allowances’ worth of quarters. As we know, the arcade scene is pretty much dead outside of Japan, but beat-‘em-ups never really made the jump properly and still relied on their old tactics like unstoppable cheap beatdowns for the sake of difficulty. DD Neon gave players an evasion roll (ala The King of Fighters) which, if timed correctly, also gave players a boost in damage. Dragon’s Crown gave players the ability to backflip to avoid attacks, which could be leveled up to allow up to 4 evasions in a row. Branching paths, like those found in the cease-and-desisted SoR Remake would be another element I’d love to see brought into the series proper. I’ve always been a sucker for that gimmick. Maybe timed boss fights like those in SoR3 could be interesting, but only if they’re properly balanced. One last thing that I think would be a good addition to the series would be to make good on some lost content. I am, of course, referring to the motorcycle segment that was excised from the third SoR game. Let’s face it, it looked fun and it would definitely add some diversity to the gameplay.

Finally, let’s discuss the aesthetic. Earlier, I mentioned that I didn’t really care whether the game was done in true 2D or “2.5D”. I’d like to expand on that and say that regardless if SoR4 uses pixel art, high-definition 2D graphics or 3D models in its artstyle really doesn’t matter to me. What I find more important is whether or not the game resembles those from the Genesis era. As I mentioned earlier, there were numerous attempts to make another game in the Streets of Rage series and what I’ve noticed about most of them is that many of them barely resembled the games of old. Sure, Fighting Force and the Dreamcast SoR4 had their excuses, they were trying to apply a new spin on a then recent, if slightly outdated series. Less forgivable is what Backbone entertainment’s pitch entailed. The concept art that was released for their pitch was…unsettling, to be polite. In fact, the only pitch with an artstyle I really liked was GRIN’s, because it actually resembled the old games to some extent. Keep the old games in mind when handling the game’s art design and you can’t go wrong.

Reboot

An old-school beat-‘em-up from the arcade days might work well for a low-budget release, but for something demanding a decent budget, it would just be a waste of money. Fortunately, we’ve got a perfect successor to the genre: the modern action game. Games like Dynasty Warriors, Devil May Cry and God of War all stem from the beat-‘em-ups of old, so revitalizing Streets of Rage in this genre would be perfect.

Having said that, there’s really only one real choice for this one: Platinum Games. They have the action game pedigree (Madworld, the Bayonetta games and Transformers Devastation to name a few), the pre-existing relationship with Sega and the popularity with core gamers necessary to even attempt a revamp of this magnitude with minimal pessimism. Having said that, if they couldn’t get Platinum to do it, I’d have at least a little faith in Dimps if they got called in to handle this one.

With that out of the way, let’s go a bit more in-depth with the gameplay. Like I said earlier, the best way to modernize Streets of Rage would be to turn it into an action game. The question is, what level of craziness should we expect from a modern translation of SoR? Considering the fact that the first game allowed you to call bazooka support, the second game included locales like a baseball stadium and an amusement park and the third game’s plot involved resurrecting main villain Mr. X as a cyborg and replacing key figures around the city with robot duplicates, it’s safe to say that the series was never really grounded in reality. Fighting hordes of gangbangers across a location as interesting as “The City” is bound to be amazing to say the least. If Platinum ends up working on it, I’d want them to crank up the insanity levels significantly though. I’m talking “fighting the Statue of Liberty with your bare knuckles” (ha ha) insane.

Aesthetic is a much different beast in the reboot compared to the retro revival. As I said earlier, most of the later attempts at a new entry in the Streets of Rage series had aesthetic problems in my opinion. In this case, I feel like the Ruffian Games version best described my fears of what a big-budget SoR revamp could look like: a bland realistic-looking world. Personally, if they decide to go all-out for the graphics in a brand new game, I’d love for them to take artistic cues from the Japanese box art of the Bare Knuckle games. Keep everything really colorful with high contrast. Neon signs and other interesting effects in the city areas and maintain the series’ tendency towards crazy locales. Even the first game, which was more down to earth than any of the others, had a level on a cruise ship. Basically, make the game look like 1990s concept art fully realized. Finally and perhaps most importantly, if you decide to redesign any returning characters, make sure they actually resemble their original designs in some tangible way.

With the two options for a series revival fully realized, I’d like to wrap up my thoughts with some miscellaneous thoughts: elements I’d like to see in a new game in the Streets of Rage series, regardless of the direction it takes. First of all, it is imperative that they get Yuzo Koshiro back for the soundtrack. Next, as for a roster of returning characters, it would be great to see all of the characters from the first two games return. Yes, seeing Adam fight alongside Max would be great, and you’ve got to bring back Axel, Blaze and Skate as well. I was never really fond of Dr. Zan, but I wouldn’t really mind it if he and the other SoR3 characters returned as well.

And so the first article in the Retro or Reboot series comes to its conclusion. What do you think? Would you rather see a Genesis-style revival or one that’s more up-to-date? Do you disagree with any of my opinions about how either take on Streets of Rage should turn out? Let me know in the comments section.