Sega’s position as an arcade icon was firmly established by a series of memorable hits ranging from After Burner to Space Harrier — fast, exciting titles that promised to deliver as much adrenaline as their pixels could provide. In the 80s and well into the 90s, they also jumped into a war with Nintendo when it came to the home console market.
Their first console, the SG-1000, wasn’t that huge of a hit back home in Japan. Nor was the Master System, or even the Mega Drive. But overseas, Sega caught on big time, especially in North America where the Mega Drive — now called the Sega Genesis for its American audience — managed to snatch away roughly half of a market that Nintendo held as a virtual juggernaut thanks to a mix of savvy advertising and licensing.
The Mega Drive was also a big hit in Europe and in Brazil. Sega continued to produce games for the arcade having not completely forgotten their roots there, though not all of the titles they released were quite as amazing as their prior classics. One of those was 1991’s D. D. Crew. D. D. Crew brought together four vigilantes united in one mission — to chase after criminal scum responsible for terrorizing the city. It’s time to clean out another urban slum!
Four-way co-op assigned what character players could be depending on their position on the cab. In three or two-player configurations, players could actually select which of the four they wanted to be. And like any creative beat ’em up, each character had their own particular fighting style combos. There was “Gung Ho”, the martial artist; “Buster” the boxer; “King” the muscle guy;”F.F.” the well rounded, leather jacket wearing fighter.
Now D. D. Crew had really good graphics, especially with the character sprites. Sega’s artists weren’t shy about packing in the details both animation-wise and in the appearance of each fighters and enemies to help the game stand out from the competition. Extra animation frames made many attacks and movements seem more fluid with attention paid to detailing crinkled fabrics, cut physiques, and gritty backdrops. Even the short speech made before each boss fight featured a digital face in a window with voice samples mocking the player.
Yet the music didn’t follow suit thanks to a very small handful of tracks that are recycled every other level along with the boss music. It wouldn’t be so bad if the tracks were actually decent, but they’re an awful, repetitive mashed potato mix of synthesized urban hip hop cut and spliced in short segments that keep looping over and over and over and…you get the picture. It’s bad. Sound effects aren’t that much better.
As nice as the sprites look, the game also recycled the same small batch of enemies in every level. Once you’ve seen punchy, karate gi wearing thugs, big guys with knives, large guys with running attacks, and guys with guns, you’ve seen everyone that the game will throw at you. Even many of the regular enemies don’t do anything other than act as damage sponges for your blows as they come at you, though the martial arts guys did a few moves that made them stand out from the others. Though the gun guys had guns, they didn’t even shoot them. Only the bosses really stand out. But even there, most of the bosses don’t have very many exciting moves or abilities, either. Then again, neither do the characters.
Most of the game will be spent either spamming a jumping kick or the regular attack button for any of the characters, but even here, it’s not the same for each of them. Gung Ho, though, feels broken when he interrupts his own combo with a weird, vertical kick that doesn’t connect, so he’s standing there for a second doing nothing instead of completing a fluid combination like in most every other beat ’em up. King has a neat spinning throw attack for tossing enemies and is just an urban barbarian with Buster and F.F. rounding out the characters that actually fell like regular beat ’em up heroes.
One interesting thing is that bosses will try and block the player’s attacks with realistic blocks and it’s possible to juggle one or two of them with the right attacks since their patterns don’t do anything too insane. Unlike in a few beat ’em ups, you can’t pick up enemies in this game by walking into them. Only after knocking them onto the ground can you do so and throw them for a little extra damage. Pick-ups are few. There’s a knife and big bonuses like MAX which fills our health bar or 1UP for an extra life. Points are measured by how many enemies you take out as opposed to assigning a large value to any of the targets.
There’s not a lot of props to shatter for goodies, either, and some of the levels can simply feel like a numbing slog of repetition. Unlike Capcom’s famous lineup of beat ’em ups along with a few others that use health gauges and names for enemies, D. D. Crew doesn’t use any even for the bosses lending more to the blah monotony of the game. It’s probably not too much of a surprise that D. D. Crew never really made it out of the arcade and into a Sega’s classics collection, but it wouldn’t be the last time that Sega would try and cut a piece of the beat ’em up pie for themselves. They would also try again in 1991 by publishing Westone’s Riot City and raise the bar on presentation effects with Arabian Fight in ’92.
What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that in 1991, Streets of Rage would come out for the Sega Genesis and become a smash hit among players for its fantastic action, characters, music, and graphical fidelity, spawning two more sequels and even a relatively recent unofficial remake by huge fans of the series released for PCs (and which Sega tried to quash). Yet in the same year, Sega also opted to go with Westone’s Riot City for the arcade and save Streets of Rage for the home market.
D. D. Crew had a lot of potential on the surface to really shake up the beat ’em up scene — it was straight from Sega, had great graphics, and…and that was pretty much it. It’s completely puzzling how they could have dropped the ball on a game like this for the arcade yet hit a home run in the same genre for Sega’s console in the same year.
As an urban blight buster, this is one vigilante outing that really needed more than fancy colors to get by in the arcade. That, or a bit more of what made Streets of Rage so much fun at home.