As a program, Beats of Rage is a simple but masterful work of code from a developer who’s likely forgotten more than I’ll ever know. Crafted in less than ten months, it would go on to become the basis for OpenBOR and deserves credit for helping to spawn much of today’s independent game making community.
What about the game though? Does it hold up? I may catch flak for this, but my answer is a flat NO. I first encountered BOR in late 2004, and I was ecstatic. All new Streets of Rage experience with Neo-Geo graphics and effects. Are you kidding me? SOLD! Then I played it… and shut it off on the first level. Since then, I only completed the game just to make a fair review.
First, the graphics. Sure, they’re from SNK, but all sharing 256 colors (128 for the characters) and it shows. This instantly defeats the whole purpose of having Neo-Geo assets. I’ll take Streets of Rage 2’s artwork built around its palette limitations any day. Animations are all statically timed and there's no transitions, giving the whole game a stiff and disjointed feeling. For example, when you jump, you simply go from standing to flight and back again instantly. You do get some nice blending effects, something the Neo-Geo famously lacks, but overall it's big a step down even from NES games. The sound isn’t much better. For whatever reason, the devs elected to use SOR3’s sound effects, giving hits the impact of wet paper. The music isn’t bad, but it’s a rather odd mix that never seems to match the stage.
Gameplay is the worst aspect. There’s a reason we say BOR Clone Syndrome. Try throwing someone and notice it’s not an actual throw. You just sort of mime an awkward motion and the enemies are slung backward like a bath towel - completely disconnected from your own animation. This is what I refer to in other reviews when I lament the slinging towel throw. There’s no side switching, no slams, no running, no dodging, no combos, and no unique character abilities other than Max’s slightly higher HP. In short, you don’t even get the basics of Final Fight or Double Dragon, never mind Streets of Rage. There's also no stage interactivity or variety at all. Walk left to right, ride an occasional elevator, the end. Again, NES beat em' ups did more than this.
If this was about one of the reskin jobs you might give a pass for engine limitations of the time, but these guys were building the engine. They had total control over game design. I will say the fundamentals are solid. You won’t find bad offsets, broken level design, or any of the other typical fangame mistakes here. Still, I never understood the hype. Middling graphics and mechanics surpassed by games from the 80’s. Why was this exciting?
Of course, over nine million people disagreed with me and I’m glad they did – now over a decade later I’m the caretaker of its legacy. Hard to believe all that started here.