Streets of Rage is one of those classic Sega series that more or less died off with its respective console. In the same vein as Alex Kidd on the Master System, Golden Axe on the Mega Drive and Shenmue on the Dreamcast (though Shenmue II did get a late revival as an Xbox port), the Streets of Rage is a series often acknowledged by nostalgic fans and often serves as a highlight of numerous ‘Sega Collections’ and compilations in recent years. But sadly, a reinvention of the beloved series has failed to materialise after its original lifespan.
The Streets of Rage series was the recipient of the trilogy treatment, and as with the majority of trilogies, the second outing was the ultimate version. The first Streets of Rage was a decent game, but its presentation, controls and difficulty were yet to be perfected. The third entry in the series, while also providing a solid amd fairly enjoyable experience, tried to add too much to the formula that was perfected in the second game. Yes, without a doubt, Sega’s finest entrant in the side-scrolling series was Streets of Rage 2, arguably one of the greatest beat ‘em ups of all time.
The Real Street Fighters
The gang were tasked with taking down the evil Mr. X. (Yes, that was his actual name.)
For the second outing, the character selection was increased from three, to four. Adam Hunter was cut to make way for two new playable characters, with fan favourites Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding remaining.
Axel – donning a blonde mullet that would make a Wham! era George Michael blush – was the beginner’s choice with decent attack power and a high health count. Blaze, was the obligatory female character and the roster’s all-rounder. Newcomer Skate (real name Eddie Hunter – where have we seen that surname before?), a roller-skating kid who’s big on speed and jumping power, lacked the attack force of the other characters but was a blast to play as. Rounding up the fearsome foursome was Max Thunder, a professional wrestler who played exactly as you’d expect: big, powerful and agonisingly slow.
The gang were tasked with taking down the evil Mr. X. (Yes, that was his actual name.) Mr. X’s army of 90’s thugs were unleashed on the streets, so naturally, it was up to Axel and co. to save the city and Skate’s older brother Adam Hunter. (Aha! What a twist!) The story wasn’t exactly the next Shakespearean romp by any means, merely providing an excuse for you to beat a bunch of thugs senseless. But smacking up thugs was where Streets of Rage 2 excelled.
Off For A Scroll
The game featured eight lengthy stages of unbridled 16-bit brawling, each with a unique backdrop and set of quirky enemies. The scope on offer here was truly impressive, and the game’s visuals hold up well even for a game that’s almost twenty years old.
You weren’t just traversing rage-filled streets, as the title suggested however. In fact, you’d find yourself visiting boisterous beaches, malicious motorways, furious theme parks, pain-in-the-arse pirate ships and a baseball field to name just a few.
The enemies presented definitely lived up to the game’s name. The roster of baddies included denim jacket-wearing thugs, a motorcycle gang taken straight from Mad Max; ninjas, bartenders, kick boxers and dominatrices. Fat guys that spewed fire; overweight boxer; professional wrestlers; and robots to (again) name but a few of your obnoxious opponents. The names of these varied cast of nut jobs and weirdoes wasn’t quite as inventive however, with many of the fist fodder receiving a recycled variant of another’s on-screen tag; you’d see plenty of thugs related to the ‘Signal’ family for example.
Luckily, your selected character was more than capable of single-handedly taking down Mr. X’s seething syndicate. The controls were thankfully simple and intuitive; there’s a button to attack, one to jump and one to use a health draining special attack. The standard attack could be turned into a combo with subsequent button presses, ending with a powerful strike that sends foes flying. You could also perform a jump kick, which was a necessity against some enemies and flying bosses.
In truth, the health-depleting special attacks looked cool, but they were never a necessary considering a full combo dealt about the same amount of damage, if not more – and you got to preserve your much-needed health.
Extra lives were earned at specific point increments and you’d tend to accumulate quite a few in the first few levels if you played well; but, soon enough, lives became harder to obtain as the challenge increased.
Awesomely, Streets Of Rage 2 let you use the environment against your foes. Breaking open objects such as crates or bins would often reveal a weapon. There were a number of weapons to wield including a baseball bat, a steel pipe, a knife and a razor-sharp katana. Each dealt significant damage to enemies, but restricted you to single attacks instead of combos. Weapons could also be thrown at hapless enemies, but you’d be limited to three throws of your weapon of choice. In turn, if you were forced to drop the weapon three times, it’d be gone for good.
One particularly annoying (or hilariously mischievous) feature in Streets of Rage 2 was the game’s friendly fire. Players could inflict damage on their co-op partner in the same manner they would an enemy, dealing just as much damage to boot! An accidentally miss-thrown knife could result in many a real-life brawl, especially if you’re supposed partner suddenly turns rogue and decides to end your assumed, co-op agreement.
Big Bad And Usually Annoying
Streets of Rage 2 was a 16-bit beauty back in the day.
The punishing bosses were another part of what made SoR2 so much fun to play, especially when you were teamed with a buddy. Each boss presented a different kind of challenge; you may have had to look out for counter-attacks or projectiles, or make use of jump kicks to halt an airborne foe. Fighting bosses was often an arduous affair, but luckily, they was normally a health-restoring roast turkey nearby to patch up the most wounded warrior. The question as to why your character could swallow a turkey whole is another debate. The health restoring apple was plausible, but a full-sized turkey including the plate? Hey, that’s video games right?
Streets of Rage 2 was a 16-bit beauty back in the day. Levels oozed with attention to detail, helped by visuals that were among the best of the 16-bit era. Characters had more frames of animation than what was normal at the time, giving every character (including enemies and bosses) a unique feel. The game also featured some voice sampling that was also impressive. Some enemies would laugh if they landed a hit on you, whilst others would yell when they were about to strike. Protagonists also had a few audio samples of their own, with Axel’s “Grand upper!” (or “grasshoppa!”’) becoming somewhat of a meme in recent years.
The Streets Are Alive… With The Sound Of Music
Finally, it would be an absolute crime to talk about Streets of Rage 2 without mentioning the incredible soundtrack. The game’s thumping techno wizardry is courtesy of Yuzo Koshiro, arguably one of the most innovative composers of the 16-bit era. In fact, the music he composed for the Streets of Rage series was considered revolutionary and way ahead of its time, even pre-dating genres that would become popular a few years after their release. Koshiro was even asked to play his Streets of Rage compositions at nightclub gigs!
If you’ve yet to walk the streets of rage, Streets of Rage 2 is readily available, featured on multiple Sega collections and as a stand-alone offering on PSN, XBLA and Steam.
Not only was Streets of Rage 2 one of the best games on the Sega Mega Drive, it’s one of the most memorable titles in Sega’s vast library of excellence.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video retro reflection here.