The premise of Streets of Rage is a common dystopian one—a crime syndicate has taken over the city, and three ex-cops (Axel, Blaze and Adam) are going to be the ones to save it and bring the bad guys down. Over the course of eight levels, the player (in either single or multi-player) is required to take down enemies that come from the sides and, inexplicably, the top of the screen to attack them. And, as would be expected, at the end of each level there is a "boss" who is usually just a larger-in-size version of the other baddies that you've fought over the level. The final boss fight is a bit more complex than the ones leading up to him, but we'll get to that later. Like many previously reviewed games, the player is able to pick up items off the street and use them as weapons against the onslaught of enemies—pipes, sticks, and other accoutrement work well to bludgeon. Secondarily, there is only one "special attack" and it is only available once throughout each level. At a random point, usually when you are busy attacking TONS of enemies, a police car will pull up in the distance and essentially launch of rain of fire that destroys (or at least does a bunch of damage) all of the enemies around you. It does not do as much damage to bosses, though, so keep that in mind! You can also re-up this special attack if you see a power-up that looks like a little police car—not the best planned feature, but neat nonetheless
The first super awesome thing about this game, in my opinion, is that each of the characters has different strength and weaknesses. In my experience, this kind of planning wasn't really involved in other side-scroller beat-'em-ups, and makes Streets of Rage unique. Blaze, for example, the only female character in the game is fastest in speed, but weakest except for her jump attacks—this is presumably because she is a judo master. Adam is the strongest, but also the slowest, and Axel is the "medium range" character for those players that don't specifically have interests/talents in going one way or another.
The second super awesome thing was that there were two endings for this game—the first one, or the "good" ending just required the player to beat the game on single player. Beating the game means that you have ostensibly defeated the whole crime syndicate running the city, and returned power and justice to their rightful places. This was good and all, but the really cool ending was the "bad" ending, which was only achievable on multiplayer. Basically, at the end of the game when you get to go and fight the big boss, the players are asked if they want to join the syndicate. Typically, on single player, you say "No," kill the jerk, and then beat the game. BUT on multiplayer, it is possible that one player could say "Yes" and the other can say "No."
In this case, the syndicate boss requires the two to fight to prove loyalty. If the "No" player wins, he has to fight the boss on his own, and move forward to win the game. If the "Yes" player wins, he has to fight the boss to prove his strength, and is then shown in a cut screen that says "You became the boss! You are great!" and then informs you that this is the "bad ending." While I know that this isn't a really big deal now when we have technology that makes games like The Stanley Parable where only your behavior determines which of nine-gajillion endings you get, but at the time, this blew my tiny mind.
Overall, Streets of Rage is very similar to games like Double Dragon, but it is my favorite out of the "genre" I'd say. If you are interested in playing it online, you can do so here. You can also purchase it from Steam here.