Jaleco might not be as well known as Konami or Capcom when it came to beat ’em ups, especially in 1991 which was a banner year for the genre in the arcade. But that didn’t keep them from rolling out this period piece set in 1939.
64th Street: A Detective Story revolves around a detective agency run by two tough cases, Rick and Allen. Rick’s the grizzled veteran while Allen’s a “reformed delinquent” who Rick trained and has become his partner, Batman style but without the costumes. Or secret identities. Anyway, ready to close up for the night, a man bursts in with an urgent letter with word of a kidnapping and instead of heading home, the pair head out into the city to crack some heads.
The attract mode is surprisingly wordy — in addition to the letter, Allen and Rick discuss a coded message hinting at a huge and mysterious criminal organization over several screens of musing before a demo of the action finally comes up. In between each of the stages, there’s also a wall of text that comes up to massage more detail into the narrative. It’s also not as subtle, or as brief, as what their neighbors, Capcom and Konami, have been doing with their approaches, but you have give Jaleco credit for embracing the idea that a decent story can go along with the action in an arcade.
Both Rick and Allen fight a bit differently, but mostly it’s down to speed. Rick hits harder for more damage and moves a bit slower. Think of him as Final Fight’s Haggar (complete with mustache), or maybe his distant ancestor from the 30’s, but without the cool special spinning arms attack. Allen weighs in with speed — faster punches and slightly faster walk at a predictably lower power punching level which he makes up for with quantity as opposed to brick fisted quality. And if you’re thinking he’s like Guy or Cody, you’re not too far off.
The action was spread out across six stages filled with fragile thugs as Rick and Allen followed a mysterious trail to a kidnapped daughter. The bizarre thing is how anachronistic the thugs looked. They would have been more at home in Final Fight’s Metro City than the late 1930’s with mohawks, jean jackets, and shades. Then again, it does have a steampunk robot boss.
Speaking of bosses, a few of ones in this game can tend to be a bit on the cheap side. Other than when you drop in with a new life after dying, there are no invincibility frames for when you get knocked down and try to get back up. And given some of the attacks that a few of the bosses can do in this game, that means that you can get juggled to death. A few others, like Capcom and Konami both at least give the player some breathing room in this regard — which their bosses also use so as to avoid getting juggled themselves — but 64th Street doesn’t for whatever reason. At the same time, like in Alpha Denshi’s Gang Wars from ’89, the bosses don’t have invincibility frames, either, making it possible to juggle them with the right timing.
And if you have a partner for two player co-op, both of you could sometimes stand at the edge of the screen and spam attacks, killing everything that might be trying to get into the area — even some of the bosses who didn’t really have a huge repertoire of massive damage moves and tended to spam one kind of attack over and over.
The music could get repetitive but it worked with a few punchy themes and the visuals did a solid job with some nice tricks later on to keep things interesting such as being on a moving train cart ramming through a crowd of thugs to watching the city fly by on a blimp. Animation-wise, everything was snappy enough to keep the pacing moving along at a fast clip to match the action – you felt like a reflex hardened fighter in this game. Other than the lack of variety when it came to moves, the explosive results and sounds from pummeling every angry soul that came Rick and Allen’s way was satisfying enough to keep things fun.
Enemies didn’t have too much of a variety but there were a lot of them from big, suspender wearing bad guys that suspiciously looked a bit like the big, bald headed chargers from Final Fight to martial artists sporting a queue ponytail, Chinese style, that may have been the only characters that looked as if they belonged in 1939. The game threw a lot of these thugs at the player and both Rick and Allen could break them apart pretty easily, making you feel like a complete hard case which worked.
You could even throw them at each other or against the backdrop shattering panels and glass in the hopes a health drop (like an apple) or a point bonus (like a pen or a…um…cat). Not only that, but some stages also give you the opportunity to toss them off a moving train or into the water making for some great action and making it clear why the game sometimes piles all of those enemies into one space — it’s time for a little “throw the thug” action. Crates also had food or point prizes inside, too, just like many other beat ’em ups would.
Although Rick or Allen didn’t really have a “super” desperation attack the way that other heroes did in other beat ’em ups, though mashing both the attack and jump button does make them do a strong attack that can do some damage. They also have moves that you could execute depending on your ‘stick and button combo, such as a spiral upper punch if you moved the stick left and right then mashed both punch and jump buttons together.
And like in Double Dragon, players could also hit each other either by accident or on purpose. They could also grapple each other with one player throwing the other at enemies for a powerful attack which was a clever option to have.
Eventually players will fight their way to a blimp where executives of the “Legacy Company”, an organization that hires criminals and wants to turn them into robots, are escaping. After fighting through all of the bosses and their cheap attacks again, it’s time for a final confrontation with a well dressed bad guy and two of those robot fighters. Once defeated, it’s time to rescue our damsel in distress and head home to a sunset.
The game saw distribution in and outside of Japan and apparently it made it out onto iOS thanks to the efforts of retro-studio, DotEmu, a few years ago. While a few of their retro ports are in Apple’s app store like R-Type and the Double Dragon Trilogy, 64th Street isn’t one of them even though it’s still listed on their site as an available title.
64th Street isn’t a terrible beat ’em up. Given the competition at the time, though, it’s also not the kind of beat ’em up that really stands out from inside an increasingly competitive space seeing the likes of The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting the scene and gobbling fan quarters all day long.
It does have a few things going for it — the action is fast and snappy, it loved telling a story, and it used the backdrop for more than scenery by allowing players to throw enemies into it in the hopes of getting a prize or two or to just quickly clear them from the screen. If anything else, it’s a basic workhorse of a beat ’em up that doesn’t do anything too amazing but at the same time, settles for being fairly ordinary as long as you can stand cheap boss attacks. It’s not a bad case file to peruse, even if you might already have a few callouses on your fists from other adventures.