Final Fight CD Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Capcom and Sega's Brawlers: Final Fight and Streets of Rage!]

I can't, in this column, talk about God Hand (or any other excellent current game), so I figured I may as well discuss its roots. In the early nineties, brawlers (aka beat-'em-ups or fighters) weren't new; they were a heavily copied formula. Of all of them, two stand out as notable because they were major selling points in what was, at that time, a "next-generation" console war. These games were Streets of Rage for the Genesis (titled Bare Knuckle in Japan) and Final Fight for the SNES.

What these games had was the ability to punch, kick, and hit punks, rockers, and ne'er-do-wells in the face, and other body parts. The primal and visceral act of pummeling someone, especially a bad guy, cannot be matched by jumping on their heads or selecting from menus. Even adding a sword as a permanent weapon completely changes the feel of the attack in these games. That instinctive action of clenching your hand into a fist and tenderizing a body part can only be properly evoked by a direct button hit that brings your rage to life on the screen. Doing this to twenty-five baddies in about one minute only increases the sensation.

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Brawlers are instantly classifiable as cheesy. They're entrenched in (debatably) bad machismo action films from the eighties and late seventies, with a just hint of anime influence. No one attempts to justify why the President was captured or whether you are a bad enough dude to get him back. These are just accepted at face value and have gone into videogame (and film) history as what some people like to call "campy" or even "corny." The game puts you into the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, and Sonny Chiba. We’re not in high-brow territory here.

And what sets Final Fight and Streets of Rage apart is … well, honestly not that much. But they are of the best in the genre, specifically the best of that era. Both have these absolutely ridiculous stories (only heightened by the full voice acting for the Sega-developed Final Fight CD), each one synthesizing about fifteen action flicks. In Final Fight, the mayor's daughter is kidnapped by the evil gang that Mayor Haggar (who is one of the playable characters, mind you) refused to "play ball" with. Streets of Rage involves a group of vigilantes who want to take back the streets from crime that has gone so far as to corrupt even the local police.

Both games have you finding food in garbage cans, fighting punks with outrageous clothing and hairstyles, and temporarily using improvised weapons to get the job done faster. The games also shared the same amount of releases per system, a trilogy for each. There was obviously some brawler-specific competition going on between Sega and Nintendo, even if Final Fight wasn’t a Nintendo property. As the series progressed, they started to come into their own a little more. FF stayed truer to its original form and remained more closely based in reality for setting and enemies. SoR, on the other hand, grew more and more ridiculous. Though by this time these trilogies and completed, most people had already chosen their console of choice, and it was probably made based on Sonic and Mario more than Haggar and Axel.

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Let's Rock!

Slowly, games became more self-aware. They started to make fun of their earlier days, when they were still gaining health from turkeys found in back-alley garbage cans. With the introduction of 3-D, characters became "more realistic," and the Uncanny Valley began separating them further from our empathic desire to feel fist on flesh like we used to. In Final Fight and Streets of Rage, the brawler was at the top of its game; what happen to us gamers to make us stray from it?

It'd be hard to pin down what brawlers did to make people like them less; it's easier to point out what they didn’t do. When most gamers' tastes were changing with in the current and "next" generations, brawlers were short, repetitive, uninspired, clichéd, and corny. Or at least that’s what reviewers were saying they were after their receptive peak. So it's a real shame that when a company decides to bring this kind of game back and fix the genre's problems (well, not the clichéd and corny parts, but those are welcome to stay) with God Hand that many people are going to over look it, too.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]