Way back in the early ’90s, some magazine — I’m guessing Mega Play — told me that Street Smart was a great game. Thank goodness I didn’t believe them; wasting 12 weeks’ worth of allowance apiece on Heavy Nova and Beast Wrestler was shameful enough! (I was later able to trade both of those clunkers during a generous Toys ‘R Us promotion to get Popful Mail, so you don’t need to cry for me.)
Even though fate spared me during my youth, I spent more than half my life believing Street Smart to be some worthwhile forerunner to Street Fighter II and wishing that I’d at least rented it. The game obviously wouldn’t feature the complexity of Capcom’s classic — that much I knew. Still, when I finally did pick up Street Smart, I was both surprised and annoyed by its simplicity.
Punch, kick, jump-kick, and special move: that’s more than Urban Champion, but it’s a low bar to clear.
The arcade version of Street Smart was SNK’s simplistic precursor to Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury. Players controlled either a Japanese karate champ or a blonde American slugger (Takuma Sakazaki or Jeff Bogard) in a series of grueling fistfights, set on 3D stages like Final Fight as opposed to the 2D planes of Street Fighter. The fights were grueling because the opponents had crazy huge amounts of stamina and you didn’t. Oh, and your health didn’t recover between matches. Beat one guy by the skin of your teeth, and the next dude would tear you apart in seconds.
The best things going for Street Smart were its fast movement, the cooperative two-player action (two buddies take on two computer-controlled enemies), and the way random girls from the crowd would join the player’s harem after each match. Yuri and Andy would be shocked, but I thought that was pretty sweet.
In the Mega Drive port, Street Smart’s characters still move pretty quickly, but the cooperative action has been removed and players no longer build up a collection of girls. Women do pose with you in victory photos, but that’s not the same as manfully stealing a hoodlum’s woman and hearing her digitized “congraturations”.
You’ll note that Takuma’s white gi from the arcade has turned orange. Perhaps this was due to color limitations, or perhaps it was due to quick-hitter Guy’s insane popularity. Either way, I like the girls’ green outfit best — the sarong was a nice touch.
The colors in general are poorly chosen; characters often blend into the background and are primarily discernible by their movement. In the two shots below, if they’d just swapped the scenery, then the fighters would be easier to see. Maybe Treco ran up against palette limitations, but I don’t see 64 colors on those screens, so I’ll blame poor art design instead.
I tend to dig Genesis music, but Street Smart’s soundtrack is pretty shrill. The only tune that starts out well is the ending — it’s got a cool beat — but the high-pitched squeal kicks in after a few seconds, ruining a promising song. The arcade game’s soundtrack wasn’t particularly notable, but it wasn’t actively annoying, either.
Despite these downgrades, I prefer the console port. First of all, iron-fisted Tommy has become ultra-black, which is infinitely cooler than his arcade incarnation. I have no idea why I fought him in front of the White House — I’d imagine the Secret Service would put a quick stop to those shenanigans — but it made for a cool stage. There’s also a new last boss, raising the number of matches to a feeble nine, and the new stage features some neat parallax. Enemies no longer run around with obscene levels of health, player stamina regenerates between opponents, and Treco added the ability to customize stats and place bets. The stat customization is pretty useless; the power parameter doesn’t make much difference, and a high health or defense is required to survive to the end. It’s imbalanced to the point that the final bosses are easier than earlier punchers, but experimentation gave me cause to play through the game a few times, which is more than I can say for the arcade.
The gambling is the fun(ny) part of Treco’s Mega Drive port. Before each fight, you can wager your earnings-to-date on either yourself or your opponent. The bet isn’t for the fight as a whole, but for the next round . . . so you could bet on the foe, lose a life, win the overall battle, and still collect some sweet cash. At first, the odds are against you — the best strategy for those first bouts is to bet on yourself, pummel the opponent, and collect the winnings.
After a while, once people figure out you’re a street smart badass, you’ll actually earn more money by betting on the opponent and intentionally taking a dive during the first round. Oddly enough, the final boss is one of those underdogs: bet 20 million on Mr. K, let him knock you out, and you’ll earn 100 million. The game’s ending varies depending on how much you’ve earned; that’s a cool feature that would fit in nicely with a fighter that’s actually fun to play repeatedly.
I’d love to live in Street Smart’s world, a world where I could earn 100 million bucks by pummeling a few punks. Of course, I’d do stuff like throw people, perform uppercuts, and maybe even headbutt punks in the face — things that can’t be done in Street Smart. Keeping that in mind, and also seeing the below image of what a “mere” $200,000 would get me, maybe I don’t want to live in Street Smart’s world after all.