Bare Knuckle :: Review by Don
Sega's Streets of Rage, known as Bare Knuckle in Japan, was a beat 'em up similar to that of Double Dragon and Final Fight. Following his work on the Ys series and The Revenge of Shinobi, Yuzo Koshiro was asked to score the title. Setting stage for some of the most fun music to ever greet the Mega Drive, he combined groovy rhythms with a club focus. Alfa Records released the first version of this soundtrack in 1991, though it has since been featured in two compilation albums.
Streets of Rage is a soundtrack all about the funk! Every track has a strong club music influence to them, with a variety of styles featuring throughout the soundtrack. It's definitely a soundtrack you could dance the night to! The title theme, "The Street of Rage," makes clear right from the start that Koshiro has a strong appreciation for the club sound and is more than capable of conveying it through the soundtrack. He complements the urban setting of the game with its strong ground beat and haunting synth melody, while offering something very different from most video games back in the day. While it's not one of the most popular tracks on the album, it is still very catchy and atmospheric.
Most of my favorites are featured in the early sections of the soundtracks. Perhaps the most iconic track on the score, the first stage theme "Fighting in the Street" features amazing funk styles and breakbeats. The boss theme "Attack the Barbarian" also features impressive mixing, inspired more by the hardcore techno scene of the 90s. Both tracks are highly rhythmically driven, but feature so many compelling rhythms and catchy hooks that they're highly accessible too. They're prime examples of the amazing sounds Koshiro can convey on technologically limited consoles, using an inspired combination of FM and PCM synthesis. It's a soundtrack that is ahead of its time both stylistically and technologically.
Most of the other stages themes maintain this club influence, while exploring different moods and styles. For instance, "Dilapidated Town" sounds relatively mournful and has an urban hip-hop influence, whereas "Stealthy Steps" takes things down a notch in favour of a more percussive influence. Even the relatively weak "Beatnik on a Ship" proves very enjoyable. The other clear highlight "Violent Breathing" motivates listeners prior to the final stage with its prominent melodies and strong FM vibes. The soundtrack reaches its climax with the urgent last stage anthem "The Last Soul" and the final boss track "Big Boss", which reprises many of the elements of the boss theme in an intense but danceable way.
In addition to the original soundtrack, this album features a number of exclusives. There are several prototype tracks, "Up & Up", "The Super Threc", and "Name Entry". While all of these were worthy of a place in the game, the former is certainly the best of the bunch. With its strong sense of rhythm and excellent sampling and seemed to inspire many of the best tracks on the final soundtrack. These tracks were absent in the recently released compilation for the series, but were available on the Yuzo Koshiro Best Collection Vol. 2, making this original release more definitive.
In addition, there are five exclusive arrangements here. The main theme sounds more like a remastering than anything, with some industrial sounds accentuating its already profound mood. "Fighting in the Street" takes a more liberal approach with its much jazzier sound and further demonstrates Koshiro's mastery in different genres. "You Became the Bad Guy" is more of a surprise while the original created a very sinister sound for the bad ending, this arrangement greets you with what seems to be the exact opposite a very happy piano melody. The other arrangements, "The Last Soul" and "Keep the Groovin', are also pleasant expansions on their less remarkable originals.
Streets of Rage is the first in a set of three games for the Sega Genesis. Koshiro created a very impressive initial soundtrack with this one, quite befitting of the urban environments you'd traverse. It's authentic club stylings remain impressive even by today's standards and it's a soundtrack worth getting your groove on to. The soundtrack is extremely mesmerizing on the whole and a fan of this musical style would absolutely love this one. This soundtrack, while not the best in the series, was the trendsetter for the rest! This particular album contains several exclusives, though fans of the entire series' music should consider picking up the Yuzo Koshiro Best Collection Vol. 2 or Bare Knuckle Rage Original Soundtrack instead.
Overall Score: 8/10