Now we’re getting somewhere. Unlike its dud of a predecessor, Streets of Rage 2 is a game that more than lives up to its glowing reputation. The designers clearly took a long, hard look at the first Streets of Rage, realized it was complete garbage, and did everything in their power to make a sequel that rectified all of the original’s egregious mistakes.
Right from the beginning, the improvements are obvious. Gone are the tiny, fuzzy sprites, replaced by large, well animated characters more to scale with those seen in the Final Fight games. The characters were given enough detail that they actually have personality this time around instead of just feeling like generic ’90s street toughs. The locales, too, are more diverse than the generic cityscapes that largely made up the first game. Now the battles spill across a motorcycle-packed bridge, into an amusement park haunted house, through a baseball stadium, and even onto the deck of a ship. And while the music of the first game was essentially its only redeeming feature, even it has been improved upon, creating one of the most memorable soundtracks on the console.
One of the most effective changes introduced into the game is the insertion of some fundamental differences to the various playable characters. The characters in the first game were essentially, “the black guy,” “the white guy,” and, “the chick,” all of whom were functionally identical despite some slight differences in stats. And though two of those characters return in the sequel, the entire quartet has been tweaked so that playing one versus another is a completely different experience. Hulking wrestler Max Thunder handles totally differently from speedy rollerblade enthusiast and early ’90s cultural artifact, Skate. Plus, instead of everyone having the same screen-clearing special move, each character has a host of unique moves, several of which are executed by Street Fighter II style motion inputs. Finding the character that suits your play style is a much more important factor this time around.
Today there is somewhat of a pervasive attitude that beat-em-ups are the most derivative and generic of videogames, involving simply holding right and pressing the attack button repeatedly until the end of the game. But using the first two Streets of Rage games as examples proves just how wrong that train of thought is. Here you have two games within the very same series that feel like they come from totally different universes. Streets of Rage is stiff, uninteresting, and cheap, while its sequel is a smooth, satisfying experience from start to finish. Both games essentially boil down to walking right and punching guys, but the execution is what makes one borderline unplayable and the other the type of game that’s a blast to whip out when friends are around even twenty years later.
Streets of Rage 2 may not be the best brawler ever, but it’s certainly the best on the Genesis and ranks among the best of the 16-bit generation.
Article by Mike Zeller
GameSpite Journal 12: Streets of Rage 2