Streets of Rage II. Yob culture gone mad.
After the rough and ready antics of the original Streets of Rage, two years later Sega released this sequel in 1993, filled to the brim with hardcore 2D beat ’em up action for its Megadrive console. Not content with doing more of the same Sega doubled the size of the cartridge’s memory adding all new graphics, gameplay elements and an outstanding techno soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro making it one if not THE best 2D scrolling beat ’em ups ever made.
‘red boob tube’
Kicking off with cinematic story scroll and atmospheric music the game tells you that a year has passed since SOR1 and that the city has been at peace following the destruction of Mr. X’s evil syndicate. But when Mr. X returns (seemingly from the dead!) and kidnaps Adam, Axel and Blaze recruit their friend Max and Adam’s brother Skate to rescue him from the syndicate and put Mr. X down for good.
Axel looks much the same as he did before dressed in a stereotypical jeans and t-shirt for fighting with a move set that’s a good balance of speed and power with only his weak jumping restricting him. Blaze still wears her red boob tube and skirt (complete with Chun Li style panty flashes if you have the EU/JAP version) and is a good all rounder with no strengths or weaknesses to speak of. Of the two new characters Max is your big and strong type with awesome power but the speed and jumping ability of a blue whale while ‘Skate’ Hunter is the opposite of Max wearing roller blades and a baseball cap and moving around with lightning speed but if he gets trapped he can’t take the lumps as well as the others.
‘reserved for desperate’
Along with each character’s own statistics they also have different move sets with standard punches, kicks, holds and throws and a new special move system. The police cruiser packing heavy weaponry has gone (just as well, I mean how the hell did the car drive onto the boat AND rocket the deck it in SOR1?) and has been replaced with personal super move that inflicts big damage but drains the characters own health bar making it best reserved for desperate situations or last ditch attacks.
Along with the playable characters every enemy has been given a visual make over with named health bars letting you know how hurt they are. The speed bump goons of the original return but have a far better range of attacks other than just lurking at the screen edge before walking along throwing cheap shots and trying to gang up on you. Now somersaulting ninjas, dancing kick boxers, whip lashing bitches and fire breathing fatties all come for you, many of them packing weaponry and a good line in AI attack patterns.
The attack patterns while good for the time can be learnt and anticipated but the weapons make things harder as they’re much more dangerous in this instalment with daggers, pipes, grenades, stilettos and the deadly katana all of which can be thrown or used in close for effect, well apart from the grenade but that goes without saying right? The trick for defeating 90% of the enemies be it goons or even some bosses is in effective enemy management and simple well timed punches.
The best example is the fire breathing fatties, normally a dangerous foe as when you approach they spew their flaming breath doing big damage and knocking you down (thankfully they can be thrown unlike SOR1 and SOR3) but if you can get a punch in they are momentarily stunned allowing you to punch them again and again. If you time it right you can whittle down their health bar to nothing leaving only the time limit to worry about.
Most will succumb to the timed punch exploit but every game needs a true villain in just like SOR1 that had the twin green clones of Blaze so to does this game has its own cheap enemies whose only purpose is to eat your credits and provoke you into shouting obscenities and throwing your control pad. While not reaching the same frustration levels of SOR1 this game has its own trio of different bosses that all deserve a 1st class ticket to digital hell.
First off is Zamza, a Blanka wannabe who can be a real sod to beat as his attack patterns are limited but all deal major damage that can get you from full health to death with only two hits. Ultimate Warrior stand in Abadede appears at the end of stage 4 and can break free from any grapples or sustained attack forcing you to use hit and dodge tactics as he charges from side to side of the screen trying to knock you down as he goes. Stage 5 is once again set on a boat but the end of stage boss is a huge Victorian style boxer called R. Bear. Standard attacks are pointless as he breaks them with ease and then follows up with a headlock/punch combo that you can’t break, jumping attacks and rushing punches are also used by him leaving the player to once again use hit and dodge attacks whilst avoiding any goons on the screen and trying to not run out of time. Oh and just to really rub it in he comes back renamed as Bear Jr. in the final stage.
Every game has its flaws and for the notoriously ‘cheap’ genre of scrolling 2D beat ’em ups Streets of Rage II is largely free from them as many of them. This can be put down to many of these being created originally as arcade games with huge difficulty spikes to encourage people to keep feeding them their pocket money in a desperate attempt to beat a tough boss or clear a stage. The pacing is far better here than many others including SOR1 where you would face two goons then seven then two again often breaking the flow of the game with easy sections followed by two early game bosses on the same screen.
The presentation is good with large, well drawn sprites full of colour and character be it a bike riding goons or rampaging killer robots. Many of the sound effects are cut and pasted from SOR1 but special mention needs to go to the soundtrack. Written by Yuzo Koshiro it uses rave and techno beats to great effect with stage 4 sounding magnificent and not unlike The Shaman track ‘Move Any Mountain’ including an inspired reprise of the original Streets of Rage theme for the final stage.
Thankfully like SOR1 finding a copy to play isn’t hard with it being on both the Xbox Live Arcade service and Nintendo Virtual Console for download along with the original cartridge that can be found in any good second hand games shop or online games retailer. It can be argued that’s it’s not the best of the genre with games like: Renegade, The Punisher or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles holding a bigger place in people nostalgic memories but for my money it’s the best ever madeâ€¦ well apart from maybe The Shadow but nobody else has ever played that it seems. (…write it and they shall come – Ed).
Next week: Streets of Rage 3 and a rapid decline into western recoding hell usually found in 90’s Nintendo games.