Most folks have no issue with saying “1984” or “Invisible Man” are life-changing novels. Or that “Star Wars” and “Apocalypse Now” forever altered their view of adventure and war. But outside of gamer circles, you won’t find too many people saying video games get to the core of who they are as humans. The beat em’ up revival, Streets of Rage 4, took me back to one such title, Streets of Rage 2. It reminded me, once more, that games have the power to impact us just as much as our favorite albums and films. Streets of Rage 2 is not only regarded as one of the top games of the ’90s but it’s also one of the reasons I’m a gamer to this day.
CRT Tough Love
In 1993, the console war between Nintendo and Sega reached a fever pitch. Luckily for me, my fragmented family was Switzerland. My mom totally bought into the family-friendly image of the Super Nintendo. My dad on the other hand already owned a Sega Genesis. So while I was a Nintendo kid during the week, on weekends I would get ferried over to the Eastside of Detroit and cram hours into that Genesis.
Like every kid in the early 90’s, my interest in video games was novel. I still loved going outside, playing baseball, hanging out with my cousins that lived down the street from my dad. My mom didn’t game with me at all, but she realized video games helped with my reading comprehension just a much as anything else. Pops, on the other hand, saw everything as an opportunity for hands-on teaching. Games with my dad were more than a past time, it was life lessons with a D-Pad. He used to beat me so bad at “Joe Montana Football” that I would cry. “Gotta learn how to lose if you ever want to win” he’d say. If I died too much on one part of “Sonic” I had to give up the sticks until deduced where I was going wrong. Gaming was adversarial with my dad, that was until Street of Rage 2.
If you are unfamiliar with beat em’ ups, the concept is very simple. You fight waves of enemies over various stages eventually culminating in a final boss. It’s one of the first genre of games that was truly collaborative. My dad and I cranked hours into Streets of Rage 2 almost every weekend. Usually, we’d play for a couple of stages before we eventually had to do yard work or run errands. But one day, he looked at me and said: “We are going to beat the game.”
Through our journey, he explained how the soundtrack to the game took influence from Detroit house/techno music. When we encountered kickboxer enemies in the game he told me about Muay Thai fighters and his time he spent in the Navy traversing South East Asia. Crazy considering I now naturally gravitate towards Muay Thai characters in almost every fighting game I play. During a level on a boat, he talked about what living on a ship was like. It felt like he had a story for every stage. In one sitting, my dad went from just “dad” to the most interesting man I’d ever met. I’ll never forget seeing the sun slowly set as we finally downed Shiva and Mr.X and saw the closing credits. It was the first game I’d ever beaten in one day, and I knew I’d forever be hooked on that feeling.
I’m turning 33 this month. I’m writing/talking about video games as a living. Something I directly owe to both of my parents. My mom for understanding they didn’t rot my brain. And my dad for seeing meaning and extracting experience from them. My dad taught me about sports, cars, music, and life many times through the lens of video games. It was amazing to see him do the same for my younger brother but encourage me to pass on his lessons to him as well.
Streets of Rage 4 released in April and the moment I loaded it felt a flood of emotion. The Retro Soundtrack option transported me to the basement of my dad’s yellow brick house. Its throwback characters had me sitting in front of an old CRT TV with the weird magnifying panel in front of it. I heard his voice screaming “TAKE THAT!” as I pummeled updated versions of Y. Signal and Galsia. I remembered what made me a gamer. Bonding, talking, laughing, and sharing frustration. Streets of Rage 2 is a game that I can say is foundational to who I am. Not because of its story, but because of the stories I was told while playing it. Streets of Rage 4 reminded me of all of that. And I’m so happy it doesn’t shy away from the nostalgia it invokes. I can’t wait to play it with my dad.
Featured Photo: DotEmu