This is it folks, the peak. It doesn’t get better than this. After playing Streets of Rage for the first time on my shitty little emulator, I thought to myself: “Damn. If this is how good the first on is, I wonder what the second one is like?” Let me tell you kids, I was not disappointed. In my opinion, this is the definitive Streets of Rage title. If you’re short on cash, or whatever reason you can only pick up one title from this series, make sure it’s Streets of Rage 2. Today, we’re gonna talk about why.
NOTE: I’ve played these games using a few methods, even including a plug in Sega Genesis emulator (the kind that comes with a bunch of games on it, and also has a cartridge port). But my preferred way is the “Sega Vintage Collection: Streets of Rage”. It’s a clean port, and has a lot of extra features. It’s available on Xbox One (360 backwards compatibility). You can also find each individual game for ¢99 on Steam, though these are likely more direct ports.
NOTE: I had a rule for this article: Play as far as I could with the lives and continues provided. No tricks.
Streets of Rage 2
This time, it’s fancier than a text crawl. This time, we get one of those old school cutscenes with flashy animations and graphics. The opening explains that somehow (it’s never explained to my knowledge) the big bad from last time came back to life, and he has your pal Adam (one of the playable characters from the first game). So now it’s up to Axel, Blaze, and their two new companions Max and Skate to kick some more dicks in. It’s Streets of Rage 2, let’s fucking do this.
You pick Blaze because you’re lonely, and you’re dropped right into the action. Somehow, some fucking way, it’s all better. The music is thumping, fists are cracking skulls, and the game looks fantastic. Oh man the music. I had a few tracks in this game that I thought I didn’t like. But when they got to playing for a moment, they were all amazing. “Fighting in the Street” (the first level music from the original game) will always be iconic, but the increase in quality here is undeniable. There isn’t a single track in this game I don’t like. “Go Straight” and “Under Logic” are my favorites. As you can imagine, the remixes and remakes for the music in this game can be downright stellar, give it a look. This is some of Yuzo Koshiro’s best work.
This game is a fantastic example of limitation breeding innovation. This is running on the same hardware as the last game, but the improvement is night and day. However, one of the biggest contributing factors to why this game looks as good as it does, is also the cause of my single biggest problem with it’s gameplay. There’s less space on the screen. Or more accurately, everything on the screen is bigger. On top of the higher amount of work put into detail in general, the sprites themselves are larger to allow the characters and objects to receive the same treatment. I both love and hate this decision. The sprite work in this is some of the best on the Genesis, and they didn’t waste the newfound pixel count. But if you’re used to the first Streets of Rage (or perhaps regardless), you’ll be feeling constricted. Often times you’ll find enemies attacking from places you can’t see, or losing them on the edges of the screen.
Remember that weapon problem from the last game, the one where you got trapped picking them up? Still a problem, but not as big of one. It’s been alleviated by the fact that you now only drop your weapon upon being knocked down, or grabbing an enemy. In other words: You’re not standing over it after you drop it. However, this game still suffers from the “same button” issue when you’re trying to swing your weapon while standing over another. On the bright side, weapons don’t even break anymore. Or at least if they do, I’ve never seen it happen. Now they only break if you drop them too many times, not from use. On top of that, the knife is useful! Bottle was cut though. The knife has more range, and fast attacks. Still not as much reach as a pipe, bat or sword (did I mention the replaced the bottle with katanas), but more than your fists, which was an issue before. Oh yeah and you can’t fucking throw them by accident. In fact, I don’t think you can throw them at all.
There are a few new additions to combat. For example, you have a lot more moves for each character you can learn. However, the most notable change is to the special attacks. Instead of it being a consumable like it was in the first game that had a single effect, there are now two special attacks for each character that can be used as many times as you want. The main issue is: It consumes some of your health every time. As a result, you’re almost discouraged to ever use it. I appreciate what they were going for, but I might’ve actually preferred a consumable special attack.
Speaking of combat: There’s actually a versus mode in this game (and the next) called “Duel”. So on top of the fun main game with it’s co-op, Streets of Rage 2 also doubles as a sort of fighting game. That was a fantastic deal for the time, it’s basically two games for the price of one. The only other game I recall doing it was Ninja Turtles for the Super Nintendo.
Something I really like about the game, is that levels are actually far more varied in both design and layout. Multifaceted even. You’ll find yourself walking through the street, into a bar, and out into a back alley in the first level alone. I think the name of the first level’s music “Go Straight” was a jab at the previous game’s much more primitive level design. You really were just walking forward with almost no variation.
One last thing: The game was actually kind of easy, at least compared to the first game. Not too easy I don’t think, but I managed to get farther into this one than either of the others. I thought it was just the right amount of challenge. A fun cathartic opening, with engaging difficult latter stages. Some might find it too easy, but I think it’s a great balance. It lets you get sucked in. I did have some issues with a boss or two, namely the one that’s using a jetpack. He’s easily the most annoying. Imagine trying to judge how high up this guy is and aim your jump attacks at him on the 2.5D plane. It’s very frustrating. Thankfully, the game picks right back up afterwards.
This is one of my favorite games of all time. The fact that it’s so old with so few flaws is frankly impressive. The pixel art is some of the best of the generation, the music is fantastic. It’s so unapologetically chessy. It’s colorful and pleasing to look at, and fighting the enemies never really gets old. Combat just generally feels good. There are far, far worse ways to spend your money. This is a game that needs to be a part of anyone’s collection. This is as good as they get, folks.