Film Noir: hard-boiled detectives with a nose for trouble, dames with longs legs and a gun in their purse, trenchcoat collars turned against the grimy rain that pounds the city streets. Jaleco took a look at the genre and said "well, yeah, it's alright, but it'd be better if it had pirates and robots and enough falling safes to give Wile E. Coyote a PTSD flashback". Thus was born their 1991 arcade beat-em-up 64th Street: A Detective Story.
That'll be "detective" as in "man who smacks criminals with a wrench," then.
Like all good noir stories, 64th Street starts with a mysterious client paying a visit to a private eye. Undoubtedly he's got a mysterious crime that only our heroes can solve, but what could it be? Gangster problems? Something about bird statues?
It's about a young girl who has been kidnapped. Of course it is. It doesn't really matter, because 64th Street is going to quickly become so preposterous that the abduction will seem trivial. These guys just need something to get them out of the office and someone's daughter getting kidnapped is as good a reason as any.
Their client didn't have any other information of his daughter's abductors, but luckily a clue comes in the following morning's newspapers.
In a piece of storytelling so wonderfully daft that I want to shake the writer by the hand, our hero spots a classified ad in the paper that uses the same sentence structure as the ransom note. This lets him know who the villains are and judging by that screenshot, yes he does think he's Sherlock Holmes. The Robert Downey Jr. facial-hair-and-fisticuffs version - this is a belt-scrolling brawler, after all - but a brilliant Holmesian mind none-the-less.
As you have probably guessed, this is all the detecting that gets detected in 64th Street. From now on it's just bloody-knuckled violence for our two protagonists. Let's meet them now!
Rick is a middle-aged private dick with a steely gaze and a moustache that means business. He must have got changed between this picture being taken and the start of the action, because his in-game attire is rather less... restrained than his grey suit and brown hat. Allen is Rick's protégé, a wild young punk who was rescued from a life of petty criminality and became the assistant to the world's foremost analyser of newspaper ads. Think of them as Haggar and Cody, if you like. Personally, I have trouble seeing the world in terms that don't directly relate to Final Fight. I am currently undergoing treatment.
We've encountered a crime already, and it's a crime against fashion. I think Rick may have been a circus clown before he realised that private detecting was his true vocation - he gave up a life under the Big Top but he just couldn't give up the trousers. I like that Rick called his detective agency "Rick's Detective Agency", a name that either shows a hard-boiled lack of interest in the niceties of the world or an almost Michael Bay-ian imagination deficit.
I'm sure we all know how the gameplay works - it's a two-button attack-and-jump system, with a standard punch combo triggered by repeatedly pressing attack and a health-draining special move that you activate by pressing jump and attack at the same time. You can also perform a handy back-attack, as well as a special power punch (for Rick) or dashing charge (for Allen) that I think are produced by double-tapping the stick forwards and then pressing attack, although I couldn't get them to happen with much regularity which is a shame because they're very useful. If you just keep punching and moving the stick towards the enemy you'll probably pull them off, though.
You can pick up weapons, including the traditional implement of street brawlers everywhere - the steel pipe. There's also fun to be had with the grappling, because in addition to the usual grab-n-punch combo and the horizontal throw, you also have the rarely-seen ability to throw your opponents into the background, hopefully against a wall. You can even damage the backgrounds by hurling goons into them, and sometimes items pop out so not only is it a nice graphical touch but it's actually useful, too.
For the first stage, you just have to make your way along 64th Street, a 1930s urban environment that's made up mostly of vintage cars parked on small squares of grass and pawnshops. Speaking of the shops, it'd be remiss of me to not mention this particular sign in one of the shop windows:
Adorable - possibly because I can't see that mouse as having anything other than a wide-open and extremely happy mouth - but I'm pretty sure that's not cheese. I don't think cheese should be that morbid shade of greyish-brown, although any cheese connoisseurs out there who want to prove me wrong should feel free to do so.
The first stage is good, simple fun, with bright graphics and pleasingly over-the-top sound effects. The enemies are a varied bunch, with my particular favourites so far being the hunchbacked boxers that you can see sneaking up behind Rick in the screenshot above. There's nothing that says film noir like a washed-up boxer, and he gets bonus points for reminding of Metal Slug's Marco Rossi.
Eventually you'll get tired of walking and hop on a bus, which turns out to be a bad decision because that's where the first boss is. 64th Street's grasp on the film noir theme is loose at best and is frequently abandoned completely, and the first boss is one of the staple bosses of the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre - the guy who looks like a rejected Fist of the North Star villain. Pointless armour (shinpads, in this case), mohawk, nine feet tall, someone stole most of his sleeves but left the cuffs behind? He's got all the usual elements, plus a giant hammer. He also has - and this is a touch I really appreciate - an equally punk-looking associate driving the bus. Jaleco could easily have just not bothered showing that, but they made the extra effort anyway. Good on them.
As for the Hammer Brother himself, he's pretty much what you'd expect from the first boss: much tougher than the usual goons but hardly invulnerable. His hammer does a sizable chunk of damage and he's not shy about swinging it around, but I managed to get him trapped in a pattern of repeated jump-kicks to the face and I defeated him quickly enough. Rick then presumably threatens the other punk into driving the bus where Rick wants to go (and into not stopping for old ladies waiting at the bus stop) and he soon arrives at stage two.
I've decided to play as Allen for a while. I wouldn't have guessed that the guy wearing the flat cap and the neon-pink waistcoat would be the more accurately-dressed of the two leads, but there you go. Allen seems a little easier to use than Rick, with faster punches and a more useful dashing attack. Yes, shockingly the barely-reformed street punk is a better hand-to-hand fighter than the middle-aged guy who wears suspenders. Honestly, though, there's not that much to chose between them.
It's not just Allen who seems to have been beamed into the Thirties from a different age: the enemies you'll be facing on the waterfront consist mostly of spiky-haired clubgoers right out of Jersey Shore and 80's B-Boy types. I'm sure I've said this before but the criminal gangs of the arcade beat-em-up genre must take some credit for their dedication to cultural diversity. Allen shows his appreciation for this rainbow coalition of crime by grabbing each member in turn and throwing them into the ocean. I guess Rick hasn't quite refined all of the delinquent out of young Allen yet.
His fists clenched with worry, the Ultimate Warrior looks on as Allen beats up his compatriots. That poor old man in the background - the one with the Wolverine claws and the eyepatch - is having a heart attack brought on by the stress of the whole encounter. Allen cares little for the damage his rampage is causing because he's got a young girl to rescue, at least according to that mysterious businessman. Businessmen never lie, so this whole thing should work out fine as long as I keep chucking people into walls / each other / the vast and violent sea.
You might have noticed we're on a ship now, and what do ships have?
If you said "liaisons between shipmates which are never discussed on dry land" then get your mind out of the gutter, because the real answer is pirates. Not desperate men who hijack ships and hold them to ransom, not bootleggers running hooch across the border on daring midnight raids, but the kind of campy, brightly-coloured, hook-and-peg-leg buccaneers who look like henchmen employed by a pirate-themed Batman villain. It's Peg-leg Percy, the Pirouetting Prince of Piratical Pricks! He's got one move, which is to spin around on his peg-leg like a pirate-themed waltzer. Luckily for him, it's really effective. It does loads of damage and he seems to be able to time it so that it hits you the instant you get up from the previous spinning hook. In all it's very cheap, very frustrating and has soured my mood a little after having thoroughly enjoyed the game up to this point. Hopefully it's just a temporary blip, and I can't put too much of the blame onto the boss - I mean, just look at his face:
He clearly has no idea what the fuck is going on. He just likes to spin, gawdblessim.
Right, that's buses and boats done. What's next, a train?
Well, sort of. It runs on rails, at least. It also gives me a chance to step back and really examine the character of the evil criminal syndicate that makes up 64th Street's antagonists. Here we are travelling on a small wheeled platform which I am forced to conclude was made by the bad guys. I say this because they put a plaque on it that says "Legacy of Curse" - possibly (almost certainly) the name of a Visual Kei band but more likely the name of the bad guys' organization. They attached teeny-tiny drills to the front and painted a sharp-toothed but ultimately cheerful face on the side. Try to imagine what they use this cart for in their normal, day-to-day criminal activities. What possible use could they have for those tiny drills? Are they expecting landslides as they travel through Liliput?
The best thing about this cart isn't the contraption itself but how it interacts with enemies. Enemies get onto the cart, where you must fight them: I'm sure this is what you were expecting. The enemies get onto the cart by standing on the track in front of it and letting it crash into them, propelling them up into the air and eventually having them land on the cart. They struggle to their feet and, in their groggy state caused by being run over by their own vehicle, they begin to fight our heroes. Our heroes promptly grab the bad guys and throw them straight back off the cart.
These jolly railroad japes can't last forever, and eventually you'll reach the twin bosses. I'm struggling with these guys, honestly. I don't think Sam Spade ever faced off against two gigantic Elvis lookalikes who are dressed like... like... oh wait, there's no comparison to make because no human has ever worn a two-legged, one-shoulder leotard accessorised with silver welder's gloves and spats. Spats, of all things! Jaleco's take on the film noir genre may not be in the traditional vein but by god is it ever unique.
As for the actual fight... meh, it's okay. Not as frustrating as the last one but nothing special, either. So far the boss battles haven't added much (besides the obvious targets of mockery) and they just break up the flow of the faster and much more enjoyable stages themselves.
Stage four is the Secret Factory, and what does this factory manufacture? Why, kung fu masters, of course. I say kung fu masters; for guys who have dedicated their whole lives to the mastery of deadly unarmed combat it sure is easy to pick them up and throw them into walls. Judo wins again, I guess?
Speaking of throwing things into walls, remember earlier when I said sometimes items pop out? Mostly they're pickups to increase your score, like fountain pens and pipes because apparently the game world is constructed from the desks of 1950's businessmen, but on this stage a familiar face appeared after a successful goon / wall interaction.
There he is, on the floor. Recognise him?
It's not an exact match, but I'm pretty sure this is meant to be the goofy ghost / brutally murdered young man from Jaleco's 1991 possess-em-up Avenging Spirit. 64th Street's version looks cheerful yet shy, as opposed to Avenging Spirit's ghost who looks (let's be honest) stoned as fuck, but I think they're the same guy. Spirit. Whatever.
No real reason for the inclusion of this screenshot other than to show the continuing ubiquity of oil drums in the beat-em-up genre and also because those bad guys look genuinely wary of Allen and his metal pipe. If I was the bald guy in front I'd be more worried about walking around a factory with no shoes on. That's just an accident waiting to happen.
When it isn't making martial arts dudes, the factory shifts its focus to producing steam-powered robo-men with extending hands. Much more practical than a kung fu master and an all-around impressive feat, which is why this guy gets to be a boss. There's a wrench lying around at the start of the battle, which you'd think would be the perfect weapon against a robot - but alas, this is not the case as Rick clobbers away at the steambot like a monkey smashing a tourist's stolen camera instead of using the wrench to loosen the bolts holding the robot together.
This fight is more fun than the previous ones purely because it feels less cheap, even with the robot's ability to punch you from twelve feet away. This just goes to show that the sooner humanity is replaced with a race of emotionless androids the better.
No vehicles in stage five, just Rick making his way through the enemy headquarters floor-by-floor and bashing anyone he finds. It's hardly original, but it's still quite good fun and 64th Street comfortably occupies the "pretty decent" bracket that Jaleco's games usually fall into.
That pirate's back. He's even more frustrating this time, because you're fighting him in a smaller area. Just look at that screenshot, though - that's an image that could spawn a thousand different stories. Most of them would involve the pirate's false appendages and Rick's prone body. None of them are pleasant.
At least Allen's having fun, smashing up the bad guys' hideout and prancing through the air without a care in the world. You can see where he's wrecked the background by throwing people at it. There were some items in there, including, bizarrely, a cat. Not even an agitated cat, as you'd expect a cat to be after being plastered up behind a wall only to be set free by the sudden appearance of a battered and bloody villain, but a perfectly calm cat that flies through the air in a seated pose and lands quietly on the floor, waiting for Allen to pick him up. I can only assume the cat was heavily sedated.
Oh look, a scene in a lift. I wondered how long it'd be. In a shocking twist on the usual beat-em-up formula, you don't actually fight any enemies in the lift! Well, not unless Rick has an ongoing feud with shipping crates and safes. The bellhop is a bad guy, but he's polite enough to wait until the elevator reaches the roof...
...before throwing off his uniform to reveal that he is, in fact, a kabuki actor. 64th Street: A Detective Story, folks - as far as I'm aware (and I sincerely hope I wrong on this) the only Depression-era American crime story to feature a practitioner of traditional Japanese theatre.
I've got to applaud Jaleco for going so far into left-field with this one, and it's hard to be too upset about the sudden battle between a private eye in bright orange trousers and Mr. Kabuki here, but the sad truth is that this fight is a real pain in the arse. The boss is much faster, much stronger and has a much wider area of attack than you do, and that's to be expected - he is a boss after all. The problem is that your characters fall over after being hit with any attack, and Sgt. Kabukiman here uses this to his advantage by standing over you and hitting you the instant you stand up. All the bosses in 64th Street do this to some extent, but this guy seems particularly dickish about it. It might just have been me being bad at videogames, but that doesn't make it any less irritating.
Several continues later, I managed to get enough of a hit-and-run tactic working to finally kick his ass. Time for the final stage!
Between the "robots" and the getaway zeppelin I'm stating to detect something of a Steampunk theme here. Also, let's take a moment and enjoy the villain's decision to use a blimp as their high-speed escape vehicle. Luckily for our heroes, the bad guys left the blimp's door open and a rope trailing out.
It's a very short stage, and Allen tries to get as much wrenching in as he can before the final confrontation. Look, he's unlikely to get an opportunity like this again so he might as well enjoy it.
The final boss, then. It's a bearded man in a waistcoat with a snooker cue. He's got two robots with him, but we've seen those before. This boss is kind of amazing, if you ask me - the whole game has been gradually getting more and more ridiculous, I've battled past giant punks, pirates and kabuki dancers... and the final boss is just some guy. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I think the setup is meant to suggest that the boss thought he'd got away with his evil plans, and as his blimp flies away triumphantly he decides to relax with a quick game of pool. Playing pool on a blimp doesn't sound like it'd be much fun unless there's definitely no wind at all and you've got a really good pilot, but he's still enjoying his "me" time after an evil plot well executed. Then Rick and Allen burst in, steal his snooker cue and batter him over the head with it.
Happily, this is the most enjoyable boss fight in a game littered with dull ones: it's got the right amount of challenge for a final encounter without being frustrating, plus you get the satisfaction of stealing the guy's weapon and using it against him. Once his robot bodyguards are taken care of, he doesn't put up that much of a fight and soon 64th Street is over.
Ha ha, what? Who or what is the deus ex machina here? I suppose from the kidnapped girl's perspective it’s Rick and Allen, two heroes who somehow appeared on an airborne blimp to punch some robots to death and save her. From Rick's perspective, the deus ex machina is the fact that the girl was right there the whole time - I mean, he must have walked past her to get to the boss battle - so now he doesn't have to go looking for her. Either way, I think Jaleco are being a little hard on themselves. A demigod from the machine, maybe.
Game over, then, and what can I say about 64th Street: A Detective Story? Well, I definitely enjoyed playing it even if that was due more to the absurdity of the whole enterprise than the sparkling gameplay. It does play well for what it is, which is a competent if unoriginal arcade beat-em-up. I love arcade beat-em-ups and hence I enjoyed 64th Street, but if you don't like the genre then this definitely isn't going to be the game to change your opinion. The only real problem I had with the gameplay is the underwhelming and occasionally frustrating boss fights, but the goofy, colourful world was more than enough reason for me to keep on playing.
On the scale of Jaleco games I've talked about in the past, 64th Street is much more fun than The Astyanax, but not quite as enjoyable or interesting as Avenging Spirit (a game which I assume was being worked on at the same time as 64th Street, due to the close release dates, similar graphical style and ghost cameo). In the end, it comes down to the same statement I make about many Japanese arcade games here at VGJunk: this game might not be the best in the world but by heck it's weird enough to be worth playing through.