Streets of Rage was without a shadow of a doubt the best scrolling beat em up available on 16-bit when it came out. I can still remember the first glimpse I caught of its sequel (on Bad Influence! no less) back in 1992 and I haven’t stopped looking at it since. Streets of Rage 2 improves on every facet of the original.
Our man Adam from the first game has been kidnapped by the evil Mr X (noooooooooo!!!) and it’s up to Axel and Blaze to pummel their way through the mean streets to get to him. To assist them we have Axel’s ex-wrestler chum Max Thunder (oooh crikey) and Adam’s little brother Skate. Sceptics will say that this is simply a beefed up version of Streets of Rage. So what if they’re right!
The first thing (apart from how similar to SOR this is) you notice is how much bigger everything is. The character select screen is more colourful and detailed. Our protagonists have bulked up. Axel hasn’t seemed to ditch that white tee and jeans combo though, and Blaze really loves that red number (presumably the bad guys’ blood is easier to wash out). Max, being an ex-wrestler, takes up half the screen. Okay, I’m kidding, maybe about a third. The sprites are big, well animated and impressive for the 16-bit, as impressive as Final Fight on the SNES. However, where the SNES can only cope with three or four on screen sprites, SOR2 sometimes steps this about to about eight with no blur.
The backdrops will look familiar to those who played the first game. It’s fitting in a way that the first level picks up on “the streets” which flows effortlessly into a bar and then the rear alleyway of said bar. All of SOR2’s levels do this, with varying degrees of success (as I’ll go into later). Everything is well detailed and the scrolling feels fluid. The developers haven’t been afraid to use depth either, with some levels scrolling diagonally as well as horizontally which gives a slight 3D effect.
The game looks beautiful. SOR2 is a thing of beauty, a work of art. So how does it play? Well, much like the first one as you’d expect, with the following improvements.
Beating up bad guys has never felt so satisfying on 16-bit. The characters have a few more frames of animation making punches and kicks feel more fluid. My, you can feel it when they connect. Coupled with the excellent sound FX, every blow is a joy, including the new special moves. SOR1 was pretty one dimensional and it was a masterstroke to introduce Street Fighter 2-esque special moves rather than the cop car. Admittedly, wiping out a whole screen of foe with one call to your cop mate was satisfying, but dispatching them with several “Ground Uppers”, fireballs and lariats is just that bit more so. The forward, forward, attack move also uses no energy, meaning you can Grand/Ground Upper all day long! The combo moves and fireballs will diminish your energy but not to any great level.
Melee weapons are just as fun as in the first game. I was (initially) mildly disappointed when I realised the baseball bat had been omitted but the katana blade more than makes up for it. Scything down enemies with either this or the trusty steel pipe is empowering to say the least.
Two player mode is the most fun you will ever have with your pal on a console game (okay, I’m doing NBA Jam a slight disservice here but…). In addition to the co-op story mode, there’s now also a duel mode where you can gleefully pummel each other. Just cleaned up the streets, fancy a rhumble? Don’t mind if I do.
So, bring together the amazing graphics, outstanding gameplay and sound FX and you’ve got a good game. Add what is probably the best soundtrack on a 16-bit game and you’ve got gaming heaven. Yuzo Koshiro did an outstanding job with the first SOR but this blows it away. From the first stage the beats are pumping and get the adrenaline surging. Admittedly, in some later levels (the baseball ground elevator) the pace drops off, but it really has to otherwise you’ll likely have a heart attack. It’s testament to the soundtrack that I’m listening to it right now while writing this.
With all the ups must come the downs, but believe me, they aren’t many. The first qualm (which I know a lot of people have) is that it’s way too short. The game options allow you to toggle the number of lives you have and the difficulty. This adds a few more hours to the game’s general longevity but the sheer playability of it means it won’t take you long to master.
Some of the bosses lack imagination and blatantly rip off other franchises (you know the ones I’m talking about). There’s also way too much regurgitation. I guess by the end of the game you would have beaten up the barman from stage one about four times. While this adds extra challenge, it does seem a bit lazy. And Jet is plain annoying, regardless of what you name him. Those robot things are weird too.
The lift and factory levels don’t improve on those in SOR, especially the lift. One of the best things about SOR was to be able to throw enemies off it. In this, as it goes up against a visible wall and one that isn’t, it feels a tad claustrophobic.
And that’s all the bad things. Really. The extra characters are pretty good, although Skate feels a touch too lightweight for my liking. They also add longevity to what is a short game. But what you have here is the best scrolling beat em up on any 16-bit console, I’m putting it out there. It looks amazing, sounds amazing, is immensely satisfying but just doesn’t last that little bit long enough.
Do yourself a favour and get a copy any which way you can and remember how games should be done.