Street Smart: a name that conjures images of educational leaflets from the nineties that attempt to warn "the youth" about the dangers of drugs and gangs through the medium of poorly-drawn imitations of graffiti art and rhyming slogans like "don't be a fool, drugs aren't cool!!" Today's game has nothing to do with that, thankfully. It's about the far nobler practise of kicking people's teeth down their throats in order to get rich. From SNK by way of Treco, it's the 1991 Genesis / Megadrive brawler Street Smart!
Look at this guy, so pumped up with hot-blooded fighting energy that his forehead has exploded. You know you're ready for the brutal rigours of street combat once you start the day with a violent aneurysm.
Street Smart, then. Originally an arcade game by SNK, I've instead elected to write about the Megadrive port, which is slightly different than its arcade ancestor. Why? No real reason. I was trying out a few Megadrive games a while ago and I ended up playing more of Street Smart than I intended, which is hopefully a sign that it's not awful. It is nice, every now and then, to play a game that isn't awful, you know?
There's no messing about with Street Smart, and after this snippet of information about your first opponent - it comes as little surprise that Street Smart is based on an arcade game once you see that even your very first challenger has significantly higher stats that you - you're thrown straight into the action. My target is a blonde man who's wearing no shoes but, rather unsportingly, has a pair of knuckle dusters. Not to worry, I'm sure my Karate Man will be able to handle it with his karate. I'm not being facetious, either: his name is given as Karate Man in the game's manual. You don't get to be called Karate Man unless you're pretty damn good at karate.
It's fighting time, and the Megadrive's three-button pad means Street Smart can offer a button each for punch, kick and jump, I know what you're thinking: "hey, that means jumping kicks!" and yes, you can perform a jumping kick. However, as much as it pains me to throw a metaphorical bucket of cold water on your dreams of hopping to victory with your foot outstretched, the jumping kick in this game is next to useless. I don't think I ever managed to land a single jumping kick the whole time I was playing Street Smart, not even when the intersecting positions of the combatant's sprites suggested Karate Man could have rooted out his opponent's earwax with his big toe. The lack of a proper jumping kick means that Street Smart would lose a few points if I gave out numerical judgements at the end of these articles, but I don't, so instead I'll just tell you to stick with your ordinary punches and kicks.
Those attacks are more than capable of handing the Karate Man victory, mind you, especially as Bobby here doesn't have much in his repertoire beyond "walk forwards and punch." You can keep him at bay with the range afforded by your standing kick, maybe give him a quick elbow if he gets too close. Once Bobby decides he's ready to attack, press punch and kick together to make the Karate Man somersault backwards and (hopefully, some of these guys have very long limbs) out of harm's way. That's the basic flow of Street Smart's combat: get a few hits in, then move away, repeat. It certainly works against Bobby, and it shouldn't take you long to defeat him.
After the fight, you're given a chance to spend some bonus points, which will upgrade your stats. I will be putting them all into power, because I can already float like a butterfly and now I need to sting like a bee. The "sting like a bee" part is particularly apt, given that I have to sting about three hundred times before I can kill someone unless they happen to be severely allergic to karate. It might have been prudent to put some of these points in defence, but my own arrogance assures me I will be hitting much more often than getting hit and so I will upgrade my defence later, once I am strong enough to kick through solid steel.
I won a trophy already? Nice. It'll look good on my Karate Mantlepiece, and I'll look forward to explaining to my Karate Son that I won it for battering a man into a coma in the middle of a San Francisco street while a baying crowd urged me on. The lady in the Treco swimsuit is doing a good job of looking genuinely pleased at having to pose with this violent thug. A career as an accomplished actress may lie in her future. Her hair is exploding off her forehead, too. It is the fashion amongst those on the underground street-fighting scene, apparently.
Of course, you can't have street fighting without illicit gambling, so here you go! What's notable about Street Smart's gambling is that you can bet against yourself and throw the fight to win... not money, because you can't buy anything with it, so... points? You can gamble for points. It's a nice idea, but I've never been one to care about high score and I'll be happy if I can just, you know, beat everyone up using karate. So, put it all on Karate Man, and hope that the odds reflect the gulf in stats between me and my opponent!
This is Sam. Hello, Sam. Now get out of my way so I can concentrate on trying to read what it says on those posters in the background. THE LHTATHC? Well, that's no help, is it? While we're looking at the background, let's trying figure out who the parents of these children are, so we can call Social Services and tell them that they brought their kids to an unregulated blood-sport.
Part of my refusal to take Sam seriously is because he mostly attacks with his arse. Ah, the old flying butt press. I'm sorry, friend, you're no Rainbow Mika and the noble and ancient art of karate has a thousand ways of countering your attempts to smother me with your buttocks. The most expedient of these is walking away from you. It is a tactic I'm sure you have had used against you many, many times in your life.
The Treco lady has changed her swimsuit, but unfortunately has not sorted out her hair, which still looks like a tiny pasta explosion. I thought that Karate Man was winking in the previous victory screen, but now I'm starting to suspect he's got a Popeye-like facial deformity. He also looks as though he doesn't have any teeth. Street Smart is not a good advert for the healthful, nurturing power of karate as an exercise regime, is it?
Yeah, nice try, "Mike" but you are quite clearly Santa Claus moonlighting as a pro wrestler. Jolly Old Saint Nick has to do something to occupy his time during the rest of the year, and what he chose to do was crack skulls. Only trouble is he has to catch the Karate Man first, and I'm getting quite good at moving out of the way. The trick is to not get lured into a slugfest. Street Smart's decision to allow the player to move up and down as well and left and right may make it feel more like a side-scrolling beat-em-up than a one-on-one fighter, but there are no combos here, no Final Fight-style flurries of punches that can be executed by repeatedly tapping the attack button, so you can't always pin enemies in place effectively.
You'll be mostly relying on the kick. If you're lucky and you get the timing down, you can hit the enemy multiple times by moving forwards and kicking, although eventually you'll hit the edge of the arena and have to stop. The thing is, you can still move while you're kicking - and this is a big roundhouse kick we're talking about - so Karate Man spends most of each fight sliding around on one foot like a ballerina that's stepped on a rollerskate. It looks... it looks pretty goofy, honestly, but then this is a goofy game and I like goofy things. Case in point: that poster for BIG AMELICA. I never knew Sergeant Slaughter had a twin brother.
The next fight is against a man called Brown, and it's difficult to say anything about him because he's the same as Sam. It's a little worrying that the recycling of characters has started already, although while the crowd is made up of the same people I like that they've been given a beach-appropriate makeover. I think they're the exact same people, too, and they follow the underground fighting tournament around the nation like Grateful Dead fans with better taste in music.
Hey, the Treco lady got her hair cut! It suits you, very nice. Karate Man continues to look like an extremely drunk person who tripped on their way out of a pub and immediately sprang to their feet in an attempt to show everyone that they're not hurt and are totally okay to drive, c'mon Phil, give me my keys back.
My concern at a potential lack of new characters was put to rest by Larry. Larry is certainly... unique. Larry is also, I am convinced, not entirely human. Those long arms adapted for paddling, the abs that look more like gills, the streamlined, beaky (and disturbingly gaunt) face - Larry is a fish-man, a gill-beast, half-human-half-halibut. That's why we're fighting on a boat, Karate Man had to hire a steamer just to reach Larry's natural habitat of the Sargasso Sea.
Being hauled up from the briny deep has played havoc with Larry's senses, as you can see by his reaction to me standing still. Sadly, in Street Smart you don't win if you have more health than your opponent when the timer runs out, otherwise I could have used this to my advantage. I never knew that a fish's vision is based on movement like a T. Rex. Every day's a schoolday and all that.
A two-versus-one match? Scandalous! I expected more honour from the street fighters of the world. What is the point of victory if it cannot be achieved without cheating? Where is the glory in defeating your foe by burying them under an avalanche of shoeless, tank-top-wearing degenerates? I shall be taking my grievances to the Council of Arbitration for Bar-Room Brawls, Street Fights and Gutter Punch-Ups, but not before I have bested Max and Jone... wait, Jone? Not Jones? Okay, whatever, not before I have bested Max and Jone in pugilistic combat! Is it still called pugilism if you're using your feet to perform amateur yet very enthusiastic dentistry on those that would challenge you? I don't know! I'm on a roll here, just go with it!
The unfair match-ups continue in the next fight, wrasslin' Santa's transformation from Father Christmas into Hulk Hogan is almost complete. The key to victory in these two-on-one fights is to put as much distance between you and your opponents as possible and hope that one of them comes at you while the other hangs back, a tactic that I have made rather a hash of in the above screenshot. Sure, I'm about to land a kick in Santa No. 1's bowlful of jelly, but the other one is going for the flying elbow drop and when it connects that will be two chunks of my health bar gone in an instant. Even once you start putting your bonus points into defence, your foes are always much more powerful than the Karate Man and so the hit-and-run tactics become ever more necessary. Street Smart requires a surprising amount of patience on that front, more than you might expect for this kind of game, and while I'm not saying it's a revelatory experience or anything it does make for an interesting change of pace.
I wonder whether Karate Man feels like he's gotten in over his head. He probably wasn't expecting to be fighting a ten-foot-tall golem of pain with murder in its eyes and one arm wrapped in a bin-bag. What's with the bin-bag arm, Tommy? Did I interrupt you taking your dog for a walk and that's how you're going to pick up his mess?
Tommy's not just big, he also has the power to extend his hitboxes into the space that he doesn't physically occupy. He can hit you without hitting you. Whoa, man, that's deep. It'd be more of a problem if this wonky hit detection wasn't shared by every other fighter in the game - I've had time to get used to it by now - but because Tommy hits like a dump-truck that's been dropped from orbit, evasion become a greater priority than ever before.
"Mr. President, I must inform you that there is an illegal street brawl taking place on the White House lawn."
"Well, what are you waiting for? Have the Secret Service drag a chair up to the roof, then call the Army and tell them to send me the best binoculars they have right away."
"Sir, yes, sir!"
Karate Man's final opponent is Mr. K, another extremely large gentleman who I assumed was a boxer until he started kicking me. A kickboxer, then, and also presumably a crime boss. You don't get a name like "Mr. K" without being a crime boss, or maybe a mascot character for a multivitamin supplement.
Something else that points to Mr. K being a crime boss and not just an unusually large gorilla that was shaved and kitted out with boxing gloves is that his stage is a zeppelin. A glass-bottomed zeppelin, no less. It must be a zeppelin, it moves too slowly to be an aeroplane but it's got what looks like engines on the outside so it's not just a huge hot air balloon. Fightin' a giant monster-man on a dirigible. We've come a long way from fighting on the mean streets, Karate Man, but can you overcome your biggest foe yet? Yes, he can, because it turns out that Mr. K is kind of a chump. If you keep kicking and moving forwards, always sliding towards Mr. K using the one-footed technique mentioned earlier, you can boot him from one end of the stage all the way to the other without him retaliating. Wait for Mr. K to move out of the corner a little - weirdly, your opponents can move further horizontally than you can - then jump behind him and repeat the process. The biggest risk is running out of time, which is what happened to me the first time I fought Mr. K, but not to worry: I had an extra life, the timer reset and I kicked and kicked and kicked until victory was mine. I guess Mr. K is short for Mr. Kick Me In The Face Please.
What, you didn't think a life spent gambling on and participating in illegal bare-knuckle fighting was going to end well, did you? It's not really a viable career plan, and Street Smart knows this - the whole game was a lesson about making better life choices, complete with a sarcastic "congratulations!" message. Congratulations, you're alone, homeless and broke. What did you expect?
No, sadly that's not the case, although that would have been amazing. What has happened here is that I bet all my money of myself to win, and I lost a life because I ran out of time. Even though I got straight back up and beat Mr. K, that still counts as a loss in the bookies' eyes, so I ended the game with zero dollars and zero cents.
I went back and did it again, this time making sure that the kick train to Knockout Town left the station on time and fully fuelled. Karate Man has become incredibly wealthy (for some reason he has decided to convert a portion of his wealth into Scrooge McDuck-style gold coins) and now all the ladies want him. It's probably the sunglasses. I am honestly disappointed that there isn't just the one "your lifestyle is terrible, this will only end badly" ending. Apparently there's also a third ending for when you finish the game with some cash, showing that Karate Man has enough money to buy a car but not enough to attract more than one woman and certainly not enough to think about filling a vault with gold coins so he can use it as a swimming pool.
Oh, and one last thing: there's a two-player mode, although unlike the arcade version you can't team up with a friend but instead have to take it in turns. There's a completely different character for player two, though! He's go a different moveset and everything, or at least they look different. They're still just punch, kick and jump. It's strange that you can't choose between them when you're playing in single-player, though.
When I look back at how I've described Street Smart here, I seem to be painting a rather dismal picture. Plenty of cloned enemies, bad hit detection, limited moveset, occasionally sub-headless-chicken levels of AI... and all those things are true, but I still enjoyed Street Smart for reasons I can't adequately explain. The simplicity of the premise helps. It's nice every now and then to play a game that boils down to "hit everyone a lot." I like the graphics, and the gameplay is mostly smooth although hardly outstanding. It's just one of those things, I guess. I think, deep down, I admire the purity of playing as a karate man called Karate Man.