Now that I have your attention with that outrageous title, I guess I will need to justify making such a statement and with good reason. Whenever the topics of worst videogame reboots and worst modern updates of classic franchises get brought up, you can bet a fat wedge of your hard-earned money that Final Fight Streetwise will make it onto that list. It’s easy to see why too: the game was released in that awkward mid-noughties period when publishers seemed to believe that what their cherished franchises needed to succeed on the PS2 and Xbox was grittiness, tits and gratuitous profanities. Many series’ fell foul of this notion (an entire topic in itself) including Capcom’s much-loved Final Fight beat ’em up series.
Eternally a sucker for the more obscure stuff that lies at the dusty side of this well-travelled road we call “Gaming”, I decided that it was high time I played the game for myself to see if Streetwise was really deserving of its poor rep.
The shocking thing was that I found myself enjoying the game! After hearing nothing but hatred for Final Fight Streetwise over the years, this was a big surprise. It certainly goes to show that popular internet opinion isn’t always correct and that you should always try a game out for yourself before joining in the chorus of condemnation based on what you have heard/read or seen in video footage.
That’s not to say that the game is a classic or anything approaching that because there ARE many things that are wrong with it. The big elephant in the room is of course the ‘Final Fight’ name on the box and the depiction of the likes of Cody, Guy and Haggar in this game. A lot of the scorn for Streetwise stems from the fact that this game is part of the Final Fight saga and fans of the older games were (understandably) pissed that their beloved franchise and characters were radically different this time around. If Streetwise had traded the Final Fight connections for new, original characters then it probably wouldn’t have invited such a critical pasting and would have simply been another 3D beat ’em up for the PS2 generation. Unfortunately, Capcom decided it was safer (ironically) to trade on an established name, a move that sealed Streetwise‘s fate from the beginning. The irony continues however when considering that Capcom also developed an original 3D beat ’em up title for the PS2 called Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance. This game was objectively better than Final Fight Streetwise in several respects but still no classic yet a lack of connection to an established, much-loved series counted in its favour.
To describe the gameplay, I’ve taken to billing Streetwise as a crap version of Sega’s Yakuza. That’s to say that there is a free-roaming nature to the game (albeit confined to a much more limited, less interactive game world) with 3D combat, the use of weapons and an upgradable set of moves/combos. Different areas of Metro City are gradually unlocked as the game progresses and there are a variety of side missions as well as a series of pit fights against opponents that stand out from the general street thugs and gangstas. All of this considered, it’s easy to make the comparisons between Metro City and Kamurocho but if Sega’s highly detailed crime saga can be likened to a Ferrari then Streetwise would probably be a Ssangyong or a Dacia by comparison.
And as a I mentioned earlier, the game fell into the trap of pandering to the teenage boy audience that every publisher was trying to sell games to in the mid-2000’s. Metro City is a gloomy, miserable urban environment this time around with a look of extreme decay and social rot about it. F-bombs and all manner of other swearing are casually tossed about, blood flies during brawls and hookers hang around on street corners, trying to sell the main character their wares. Fortunately, Streetwise doesn’t let you go any further with the latter and the dilapidated city’s porn theatre is conveniently never able to serve you due to the “register being down”. A soundtrack of gangsta beats from obscure artists serves as backing noise (and I really do consider it to be “noise”) and completes the transformation of the once colourful, cartoon-like beat ’em ups from the arcade and Super Nintendo.
You play as Kyle Travers, brother to Final Fight‘s Cody Travers and an up-and-coming fight club brawler. Many years have passed since the events of Final Fight and Cody is now older with knackered knees that can’t take the abuse of fighting anymore so he puts his time into coaching his brother instead. Cody still feels the burning desire to fight however and finds himself mixed up with shady underworld types and a dangerous new drug called “Glow” that can turn the average man into a superhuman machine at the eventual cost of the user’s mind and humanity. A dangerous gang crashes a drinking sesh at the local bar and kidnaps Cody with the gang’s leader – known as The Stiff – knocking Kyle unconscious at the conclusion of the brawl. This is where the game kicks off properly, with Kyle’s aim being to track down his brother and save him from Metro City’s underworld and the lethal Glow drug. Final Fight has certainly grown up since the old days eh?
Along the way, Kyle runs into strong man Haggar (angrier and swearier than before) and Guy who has now become a gang boss himself, heading up the Japantown district of Metro City. There aren’t really any more links to the Final Fight lineage other than these characters and a few references to their past exploits. The only classic Final Fight enemy to make a return is Andore as an optional pit opponent. Concept art for the game showed Poison and Sodom but neither made it into the final game.
Thus far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Final Fight Streetwise is a load of nonsense, trying to be cool and hardcore while re-writing the likes of Cody and Haggar to be grittier, more ‘realistic’ characters e.g. exactly what nobody asked for. Gangsta music, a drug-related plot and the more violent nature of combat certainly suggest this so you may be wondering why I’m saying that Streetwise is not actually a bad game?
Well, the “bad” stuff is often so bad that I found it entertaining with so many crappy aspects of Streetwise lending the game a unique sort of charm. The awful NPC dialogue and quotes for example are just brilliant. Metro City appears to have a large population of flamboyant men making overly saucy remarks to Kyle in passing, (one such comment even referencing a “package”…whatever that means…) while hookers come out with such brazen lines as “Fancy a shag?” or “Wanna have a poke?”…in laughably posh British accents which obviously make the world of sense in an urban, American city.
Side missions often take the form of mini games which are a stark contrast to the game’s moody, violent vibe. One standout distraction is a card shuffling game where you must keep an eye on the winning card as it is shuffled with two others. You play this game by speaking to a suited businessman who just happens to be hanging around in a bad part of town, briefcase of playing cards at his side. Other amusing mini games include (literally) stamping out a cockroach infestation in the diner, smashing up a car that has enraged a local resident by being parked in their way (a nice throwback to the car-smashing interludes in the arcade game) and…blasting rubber ducks in an alleyway shooting gallery to win cash? Yep, that happens. The novelty of these side events does wear off once they begin to repeat over and over but there’s no denying that they are – initially – quirky and unexpected in a game where you expect to simply be fighting.
Speaking of the fighting, it’s actually not that bad. Yes, Final Fight Streetwise had contemparies that arguably did combat better (Urban Reign, Spikeout: Battle Street) but Streetwise is still more than serviceable. There are the standard light and strong attacks to create combos as well as the obligatory throw command. In addition, there is also an “Instinct” meter below the health bar. This energy can be used to enhance the power of moves (by holding down one of the shoulder buttons while attacking) or to fuel the use of stronger special moves such as the drop kick or suplex. Kyle can also counter an opponent’s attack if the player presses the block/guard button at precisely the right moment, sending the game into a brief slow-mo sequence where they can input various commands to evade damage and knock the enemy back. New moves and extensions to the health and instinct meters are purchased from the game’s various gyms, giving the player a reason to collect as much cash as possible from side events and enemy drops.
It’s nothing special but it works and there is a reasonable level of satisfaction to be gleaned from the combat, especially when consistently countering like a boss and sending enemies flying with an elbow smash, nose-breaker or hurricane kick.
Other sweet touches are a cameo fight against Street Fighter‘s Cammy (as a big fan of Cammy, I loved this) and a bonus arcade mode whereby you select Kyle, Cody, Guy or Haggar and attempt to fight your way through hoardes of enemies as in the old-school arcade games. Arcade mode takes on a strange 2.5d perspective with a fixed route and a much simplified moveset including a removal of the Instinct system (so no counters either) and many special moves. It’s an interesting sideshow but good luck beating it on your own without a second player because it’s absolutely brutal. Finally, you can unlock the original 1989 arcade game and play it from Streetwise‘s main menu but in all honesty, I can’t recommend the port as it feels sluggish with a poor resolution. Stick to the Capcom collections on the PS2 or PSP if you want to play classic Final Fight. Or the superb Final Fight One for the GBA.
Overall, I have to say that Final Fight Streetwise is not the absolute trainwreck that I was waiting to experience when I popped the disc into my PS2 after all these years of reading negative horror stories. Yes it is a flawed game and no, it isn’t an essential gem in the PS2 (or original Xbox’s) library. There are better 3D beat ’em ups available from this generation of gaming – without question – but I do feel that Streetwise receives a lot of flack for being a bad Final Fight game rather than a bad game in general. Strip away that famous name and you have a serviceable beat ’em up with some interesting quirks. It isn’t a bad game at all; it simply failed to live up to the Final Fight name but that was always going to be the case.
The one major complaint I personally have is that the save system is terrible. You can only save by quitting the game (not explained in-game or in the manual) and loading a saved game puts you back at your last checkpoint (also not explained in-game or in the manual) meaning that until you realise this, you can lose a lot of side-mission progress by believing that you have saved the game at your current point when you haven’t. Other small niggles are repetitive mini games, some fiddly bosses and the final few chapters feeling more like Resident Evil with zombie-like enemies and mutated bosses.
But Streetwise still isn’t a bad game. I couldn’t exactly recommend it but I COULD recommend that you open your mind a little, forget the Final Fight name and give the game a chance because it’s alright.