Y’know, if the schoolteachers and morally well-meaning Saturday morning cartoons of my youth had spent less time warning us about the dangerous of street gangs and more time explaining how council tax and pensions work, there’d be a lot less stress in the world. All these lessons about not joining gangs didn’t even prevent me from playing Rainbow Arts’ 1987 Commodore 64 brawler Street Gang! That’s a real failure of the educational system right there. I think I’d have less regrets if I’d joined an actual street gang.So, a game about a street gang, in which you beat people up. Yup. Sure sounds like a computer game, huh? Yes, it is. It’s got a title screen and everything. Am I going to show you the title screen? I am, but I’m stalling because I’m not quite sure what to say about it. Are you ready? Here it is!
It’s the least menacing street gang since my local senior’s church choir went carol singing! Being in a street gang doesn’t mean you have to actually lie down in the street, friend, and having love for the streets should not extend to posing on them “seductively.” I really hope these are the people I’ll be fighting against, it’d be nice to play an easy Commodore 64 game for a change. From left to right you’ve got Vyvyan from The Young Ones’ older and somehow more unkempt brother, a David Hasselhoff album cover that’s come to life, a bloke with a knife who’s deeply regretting his choice of gang affiliation and Tiny Terrence, the capering, cavorting whirlwind of whimsy, with his jaunty sailor’s cap and high-kicking dance moves. They are united by their love of denim and the gaping black cavities where their eyes ought to be. They are Street Gang.
The game begins, and you’re on a street fighting a gang of blokes in green jump suits, so at least the game’s title is fairly accurate. Street Gang is a side-scrolling beat-em-up in that most basic of single-plane styles, with no movement between the background and foreground and very little jumping. You can jump, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You can’t attack while jumping, which makes you very vulnerable.
Instead, you should get right up close to your opponents and punch them, and I do mean right up to them. Our hero’s sprite may imply that he has two functioning arms of regular length, but the range on your punches is so short the only possible conclusion is that our hero has lost his arms below the elbow, possibly thanks to a disease he contracted by posing in the gutter on the title screen. The punching is made more difficult by the lack of feedback you receive, or rather don’t receive. There’s no sound effect played for landing a successful punch on an enemy, so the only way you know that you’re even hitting your target is when they explode and die. It’s not so much of a problem in the early stages where enemies tend to die in one hit, but later on the game really suffers from not telling you what the hell is going on. This lack of feedback also applies to your health bar, which eschews the tried-and-tested formula of having your health represented as, you know, a bar. Instead, it’s that flexed bicep at the top of the screen. Yes, it is a bicep and not a snake wearing a blue collar turning its head. When you take damage, the bicep shrinks oh-so-slightly – literally, a pixel or two is shaved off the top, an almost imperceptible difference that makes it way, way more difficult than it should be to tell how much health you have at a glance. There’s a reason games have health bars and not health upper-arm musculatures.
Then everybody exploded. Okay, cool, guess I’m done with Street Gang. See you all next time!
No, I went back in to figure out what had happened. I think that’s what you call looking a gift horse in the mouth.
The culprits were these men in the brown trenchcoats. I had to take a second look at them to come up with that description, when I first saw them I thought they were supposed to be little old ladies carrying handbags and wearing little old lady hats. It’s fair to say Street Gang doesn’t have the most well-defined graphics. Anyway, these trenchcoat men – are they meant to look like spies or private eyes, possibly? - have guns, and they love to shoot. If their bullets hit you, you’re instantly killed (and you explode, for some reason). The thing is, they can also shoot the other bad guys on the screen, so what happened in the previous screenshot is that three gun-toting madmen turned up and managed to immediately shoot each other in the back. A stray bullet snuck through and killed our hero, too. It’s a strategy that did technically get the job done, but which must make an awful lot of work for the street gang’s human resources department.
What would the Arc de Triomphe look like it you recreated it using mouldy bread and old scabs? I bit like this, I would imagine.
Anyway, men with guns. They are the main focal point of Street Gang’s gameplay from the moment they appear until the very end of the game, and not in a way that could reasonably be considered “good” or “fun.” Because their bullets mean instant death, and because you’ve got limited lives and dying sends you right back to the start of the stage, avoiding their bullets becomes your number-one tip-top priority. Sadly the only reliable way to avoid the bullets is to duck underneath them, but while you’re crouching you can’t move or attack. Thus, as soon as there’s one gunman on the screen the gameplay – such as it is – screeches to a halt as the player crouches, waits for the bullets to pass, moves forward an inch or two and repeats. Weirdly, it’s actually easier the more enemies there are on screen, because ninety-nine percent of the time they all manage to shoot each other to death while our hero remains curled up in a ball like a frightened hedgehog.
I made it to the end of the stage. It was not a long stage, although it felt like a long stage because I spent most of it huddled on the floor doing nothing, which reminded me of most of my Saturday nights and was therefore quite upsetting. As a reward for finishing the stage, I get to play this bonus level. That it is composed of rubbish bins is a remarkably apt aesthetic flourish. You pick a bin and hope a jack-in-the-box with a strangely penile nose pops out. If it does, you get some extra points. It’s so intensely dull and utterly pointless that I’m considering licking the nearest plug socket just to feel something.
Stage two begins with our hero being chased by a roving band of guitarists. At least, they look like they’re carrying guitars to me, especially that one at the back. Street Gang’s graphics are obviously not good, and there are times when the enemies and their weapons really blend in with the backgrounds. This is especially dangerous when facing the gunmen, because half the time you can’t even see their bloody bullets against the background so you’re forced into guesseing when it’s safe to more forwards.
I mean, come on: if you changed these enemy sprites from green to black and gave them sombreros, you could easily turn them into a merciless mariachi band that hound our hero wherever he goes, a concept that’s much more interesting than whatever these goons are actually supposed to be.
Just in case you think I’ve been lying to you for this entire article and Street Gang is actually a rhythm-action game or a slow-paced military strategy sim, here’s some proof that it’s a beat-em-up. It’s got oil drums in it! Can’t have a beat-em-up without oil drums, it’d be like a Street Fighter game without an arcade mode.
This stage also contains what could be the most unappealing caravan in the universe. Trust me, I went on a lot of cheap family holidays to the British seaside, I know what I’m talking about. I don’t know if it’s the caravan’s faint yellow tinge making me think this, but I’m certain the interior would smell like a mixture of a) human urine b) cat urine and c) unidentified urine.
On to stage three, which starts by forcing the player to use Street Gang’s jumping mechanics. An extremely rude situation to foist on the player after two stages of only walking and ducking, I know, but it’s the only way to avoid taking damage from these deranged cyclists. What kind of gang rides around on push-bikes? Brand-new initiates into the Hell’s Angels? Olympic cyclists? I suppose this guy is wearing a yellow jersey, but then he’s also wearing yellow trousers so I don’t think we can assume he’s the current leader of the Tour de France.
Street Gang’s infuriating lack of feedback rears its head once more during this section. You don’t have much leeway to safely leap over the cyclists, but the game does nothing to inform you whether or not you’ve taken damage. All you can do is keep an eye on the health bicep. If it loses a couple of pixels off the top, bad luck, your trailing toes have lightly brushed against the cyclist and caused you damage.
Here are some fat men that need a good punching. I did try jumping over them, but that didn’t really work, especially since they can attack from the left or the right. I just ended up getting trapped between them, unsure of whether my punches were even making contact and wondering what our hero has against Elvis impersonators anyway.
Are there gunmen in this stage? You’re god damn right there are, and I’m one of them! That’s right, I found a gun on the floor. They might have appeared in the previous stages, but I didn’t find them because their collectable pick-up item isn’t something sensible like a picture of a gun – no, it’s a small black dot that you stand on top of and press down to pick up the weapon. I’ve got a gun now, though, so watch out, rival street gang currently milling around these suburban streets!
Of course, actually using the gun is pointless, because you have to be standing up and standing still to fire it, and your bullets don’t destroy the enemy’s bullets, so you just end up getting shot.
“Use your pistol,” it says. No, I don’t think I will. Did you not read the last paragraph about how all owning a gun does is make it more likely that I’ll be killed by a gun, in an excoriating satirical take on America’s gun laws? Anyway, I’ve got a much better idea.
I waited around until a bunch of enemies started walking from left to right rather than from right to left. Then I simply followed them across the stage. The ones behind me weren’t fast enough to catch me, and because the game couldn't handle spawning any more sprites on screen I could just jog along amongst them until I reached the end of the stage. That’s strategy, that is.
The fourth and final stage takes place in that classic beat-em-up arena: the construction site. Half-finished buildings and barren earth, plus three members of Devo running around on a girder above our hero’s head. Hang on, above? How am I supposed to get up there?
There are ladders now, plus - whisper it with claws of dread scrabbling against your heart – even some platforming. Okay, so there are, like, two jumps to make. Don’t miss them, though, because if our hero falls more than three feet he explodes. Ah, the old nitroglycerin parachute, I see.
Donkey Kong it most certainly ain’t, but at least it’s some kind of variety and the movement between different vertical levels means there’s less chance you’re going to be shot. It’s still not fun, though. Street Gang is a very bad game, with almost zero gameplay and graphics so ugly they’re actually detrimental to your ability to progress through the game. That said, I can’t quite bring myself to really, truly loathe it. Maybe it’s just because it’s (technically) a side-scrolling beat-em-up, or maybe it’s because any game with a title screen as amazing as this one has earned its right to exist. That’s not an endorsement or a recommendation that you play Street Gang, but I’ll save my bile for something that deserves it even more.
At the top of the half-constructed skyscraper lurks the game’s final boss. Wait, not boss. That’s the wrong word, considering all you have to do to finish the game is walk into him. The game’s final thing, then. I hope those brown stains on his jeans are mud from the construction site, because I’m about to invade his personal space and complete Street Gang. I wonder what amazing ending this game has in store for me?
Oh shit, I’ve broken the Matrix! Or the version of Street Gang’s game file that I’m playing is knackered. Or it’s a bug in the game itself. All viable options to explain why the game has crashed into a mess of flickering, random images which, lets be honest, are no worse than Street Gang’s actual graphics. It was a shame to end the game on this note, and I do like to show as much of these games as I can, so I went looking for the game’s real ending. I found it, and I was not disappointed.
Our hero confronts the rival gang leader and… gives him a haircut? Wait, what? That’s really what’s happening here, he’s snipping away at the guy’s rockabilly pompadour. That’s the end for him, there’s no recovery from this. It’s like when a luchador gets de-masked in the ring. All this poor bastard can do now is shave the rest of his hair off and join a monastery. Again, just to reiterate, the ending of this game involves cutting a guy’s hair off. I think the garbled ending I originally got makes more sense.
On that bizarre note, I bid adieu to Street Gang. Are there any positives to it? The title screen music isn’t bad. Oh, and it’s mercifully short. It feels longer than it is by virtue of being extremely slow, but it’s definitely not a long game. In conclusion, don’t play Street Gang. Do something more productive with your time, like (insert almost any human activity here).
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