Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Now here at Antstream Arcade, we’re not ones to condone violence. But sometimes the bad guys just push just a little too much, leaving those law-abiding and normally peaceful citizens no choice but to take to the streets and do something about it.
Streets of Rage, released in 1991 on the Sega Mega Drive, begins the story of Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding and Adam Hunter, rogue police officers somewhat perturbed by the dominance in their city of a certain malicious crime syndicate. Taking the vigilante route, the trio battle through various rundown streets and city areas before coming face to face with the gang’s boss, Mr. X. Upon release, Streets Of Rage was a big success, and it’s a decent, if just-above-average brawler, truth be told. We like Streets Of Rage. It’s fun and entertaining. But we love Streets Of Rage 2, released three years later.
Sega’s famous sequel takes the template laid down by the first adventure, and streamlines and tightens the game play, while refining all the elements that had made the original such a hit. One of the playable stars of that game, Adam Hunter, has got himself kidnapped, and it’s the handiwork of the evil criminal syndicate once more. With the aid of Adam’s brother, Eddie, and a friend of Axel’s, the hyper muscular Max, Blaze and Axel once take to the streets again to rescue their friend and dispatch the evil Mr. X once and for all.
Initially, the major difference between the two adventures is the display. Streets Of Rage’s slightly grungy graphics are gone, replaced by bright neon sprites and shimmering backgrounds. Each level has its own distinctive look: a steel bridge complete with glowing city lights in the background; an abandoned baseball arena; a pirate theme park; and a secret underground arena, complete with a baying horde who look like they’ve just clocked out from the next Mad Max flick. But the real joy in Streets Of Rage 2 is its characters, and the moves at their disposal. Gone is the screeching police car and its ‘smart bomb’ rocket launcher. Now, each individual character has their own range of kicks, jumps, grapples and special attacks. Using a combination of button presses, these can be unleashed at any time, and cleverly, each has a particular use within certain situations.
For example: surrounded by bad guys with seemingly no way of avoiding a few blows? Just tap a button and the hero will perform a sweeping action that takes out everybody around them (including any friendlies!). There’s a drawback however – successfully performing this manoeuvre depletes your health by a small portion. Additionally, each character has a ‘blitz’ move which is executed by quickly tapping the d-pad twice followed by the attack button. It’s not easy to perform, yet effective against powerful enemies and – crucially – doesn’t drain any energy. And that’s another aspect of Streets Of Rage 2 that we love – the enemies.
The chaos of Streets Of Rage 2 is epitomised by the sheer variety and volume of bad guys it chucks at you. A leather-clad hoodlum flicks a knife in the air and cackles evilly; sporting a deadly whip, sometimes electrified, women in impossibly high boots accost the heroes; jet-packed scientists; fire-breathing lumps and tall, muscular kick-boxers. Not to mention the bosses such as roaring wrestler Abadebe, athletic laser-powered robots and the abominable Mr. X himself. Each level introduces more of these nefarious characters, before throwing them all at the player in an intense final-level elevator ride to the top floor of Mr. X’s secret hideout.
But why is Streets Of Rage 2 so popular, loved even, by us? It’s hardly original, essentially a Final Fight or Double Dragon clone, the latter game released six years earlier. The classic pixelated artistic look, fuelled by the reaction to the hyper-realistic games of today is certainly one reason. Released prior to the move into 3D of just a few months later, Streets Of Rage 2 has a style that is undeniably cool. But of course, the proof is in the game play, and this brawler has excitement oozing from every single frame. The characters are a joy to control, dispensing justice to the massed villains with either fist, foot, knife or lead pipe. Hurling opponents against each other, slamming them into the ground and twisting around like a human whirlwind is incredible fun, with every hero having a set of skills and traits that lend Streets Of Rage 2 not only that awesome playability, but also an elusive elongated interest curve that improves even more in two player mode.
Yet one of the finest aspects of Streets Of Rage 2 (and the series in general) is a sometimes underrated one. In addition to the crunching sound effects, the game has one of the best videogame soundtracks ever, as fast-paced tunes and solemn melodies accompany its various levels. The work of composer Yuzo Koshiro, it’s almost a good enough reason on its own to take to those dangerous neon streets of rage and dispense justice yet again to the motley henchmen (and henchwomen) of Mr. X’s criminal gang.