‘Streets of Rage 2’ Retro-review

July 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

[Editors note: pictures speak louder than words and video speaks louder than pictures. For that reason, I have compiled a video preview of one of the levels from Streets of Rage 2 which cycles briefly through each character, giving you some idea of their range of moves. I have also included some annotations of things I thought were worth pointing out.]

Score: 5 out of 5

Sometimes you can only really appreciate the good stuff when put against the bad. I have been playing Streets of Rage 2 sporadically throughout the week, and it’s only now, having watched GiantBomb’s Quick Look of Unbound Saga (a newly released download-only title for the PSP platform), that I’ve come to realise exactly why Streets of Rage 2 was, and still is, the king of 2D beat ‘em ups.

Let’s start off with the story. Adam Hunter, one of the three protagonists from the first game, has been kidnapped by Mr X and, once again, criminal gangs have taken control of the city streets. With a choice of four characters – Axel (an Americanised Ryu), Blaze (an Americanised Chun-Li), Max (Mickey Rourke) and Eddie “Skate” Hunter (pint-sized roller-skater/martial artist and son of Adam Hunter) – you progress through a linear series of levels, fighting your way through the “Streets of Rage”.

(Disclaimer: despite the word “Streets” in the title, levels may also include, but are not limited to, a baseball stadium, a club, the set of Aliens, some generic factory, Cuba, a wrestling stadium, an amusement park and a pirate ship.)

As you might have guessed, Streets of Rage 2 is totally nuts – as in, nothing in it makes any sense at all. And this is predominantly what makes it so fun to play: that it is that dumb and nonsensical. Everything about Streets of Rage 2 is off the LSD scale of wack-ness. All the characters and enemies are barmy, eccentric, colourful caricatures; most, if not all, of the stages are randomly strung together, with seemingly no connection between the end of one and the start of another; and the sound effects are of the satisfyingly chunky variety, the music is hum-inducingly memorable, and the digital voices are undecipherable babble. And there are also these cool little references dotted around levels, such as arcade machines with “Bare Knuckle” written on the side and a boss character who bares a striking resemblance to WWF wrestler “The Ultimate Warrior”. All these elements combine in forming a game so bizarre, so Japanese-y and so weirdly unique, that you can’t help but fall in love with its being so off-the-wall and completely unaware of itself.

So, Streets of Rage 2 looks great and sounds great, but what about the gameplay? Well, despite the archaic template of 2D brawlers at that time, Streets of Rage 2 does a great job in presenting the player with an accessible, tactical combat system. The four playable characters each have their own set of normal attacks, grapples, jumping attacks and special moves. Further, they each have their obvious strengths and weaknesses – for instance, Max is strong but slow and Skate is fast, agile, but weak. What’s also of merit is that some enemies have been designed to be susceptible to certain attacks and combos, and this is what gives Streets of Rage 2’s gameplay a sense of complexity. It’s not Street Fighter 3 or anything, and there are flaws and exploits to be found in the fighting system – I’m not going to deny that – but it is still a fun and rewarding experience to play through from start to finish, and even more so when in two-player co-operative mode.

So, Streets of Rage 2: It’s not perfect, and it can get a little frustrating towards the end, but it’s still an entertaining ride. Even in 2009 you’d be hard-pressed to find a better brawler.

Streets of Rage 2 is available for 400 MSP (£3.40) on Xbox LIVE Arcade and for 800 Wii Points (£5.60) on the virtual console. It is also one of the games featured on the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, available on both the Xbox 360 and PS3, and is probably the better deal if you’re interested in any of the other games on there.

(638 words.)

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