Some games just never get old.
Sure, technology moves on and mechanics change, but certain titles are just so well-made, so fun, and so accessible they still stand up even decades later.
Streets of Rage 2 is one such game.
When the first Streets of Rage hit the market in 1991, it was a response to Capcom’s arcade-hit, Final Fight. Both games went on to become defining titles of the early 90s, and spawned franchises that remain beloved today. Of course, given Streets of Rage’s success, a sequel was inevitable – and in late 1992/early 1993 (depending on whether you lived in the States, Japan, or Europe), it arrived.
Streets of Rage 2 improved on the original in multiple ways, though it did little to dampen its undeniable awesomeness. Almost a quarter of a century on, this little beat-em-up is still an absolute delight to play, and while gaming now gives us much more immersive experiences (we’ve got VR in our own homes now, for crying out loud – a faraway dream when this was first released!), sometimes nothing quite matches the simple thrill of decking a gang-member with an old-fashioned uppercut.
With that in mind, let’s look at 10 reasons we still love Streets of Rage 2 today …
- 1 The Atmospheric Soundtrack
- 2 Lead Pipes (Nuff Said)
- 3 That First Boss Fight in a Rain-Soaked Concrete Yard
- 4 That Lift Hidden in a Baseball Pitch
- 5 Fly-Kicking Enemies Off Their Bikes
- 6 Two New Characters with More Varied Skills
- 7 Addictive Co-Op … with Fun ‘Friendly Fire’
- 8 Unofficial Celebrity Appearances
- 9 A Diverse Mix of Settings
- 10 That Iconic Box Art
The Atmospheric Soundtrack
Streets of Rage 2’s soundtrack is the perfect complement to the action unfolding on-screen, and was rightfully celebrated upon the game’s release,
Composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who’s had a long and successful career, with help from Motohiro Kawashima, Streets of Rage 2’s soundtrack takes key influence from electronic music, with a few other elements mixed in for good measure. While it helps to keep a sense of momentum and excitement from start to finish (just check out the tunes in the second stage), some of the tracks actually feel pretty laid-back, with stage five’s sounds having a particularly relaxed vibe.
As you get into the game’s final stages, the music really helps to build a sense of urgency, building an intense, epic mood. By the time you face Mr. X (and his machine gun, the cheating chump!), the tuneage has pumped you up to give him a merciless beatdown. The music in the game’s introduction, accompanied by that iconic image of Mr. X with his hands over the city, deserves a mention, too.
A solid soundtrack is key to building an atmosphere in games, and Streets of Rage 2’s always hits the spot.
Lead Pipes (Nuff Said)
You had access to a few different weapons in Streets of Rage 2 – knives, swords. But nothing, NOTHING, is quite as perfect as the lead pipe.
Remember the thrill of breaking a box open to find one of those long, white tools of destruction lying on the ground, just calling to you? Of course you do.
Everything about it’s delicious. The sound it makes as it swings through the air. The way it takes bad guys off their feet with a single hit. The added reach it gives you.
Need I say more?
That First Boss Fight in a Rain-Soaked Concrete Yard
Streets of Rage 2’s first stage is the perfect introduction. It throws you onto a long street lined with flickering neon signs, expendable thugs, and cakes lurking under bins. One of the best parts? The boss fight at the end.
After punching, kicking, and jumping your way through streets and a nice little bar, you’re faced with Barbon, a tall, muscular villain in a vest and slacks. Not content to just watch Axel (or whoever you play as) tear up his bar and beat his electro-whip-wielding clientele, Barbon lurks out back with a few cronies.
This fight oozes atmosphere and gritty charm. The falling rain, the techno music, the sense of being closed-in … it’s probably the easiest boss fight in the game, but absolutely one of the most memorable.
That Lift Hidden in a Baseball Pitch
In the fourth stage, you’re sent into a baseball stadium to face one stream of scumbags after another, until you reach an incredibly corpulent chap known as Big-Ben. Said villain has a nasty habit of breathing fire and leaping at you, belly-first, but he’s fairly easy to beat.
Then, when Big-Ben vanishes, the pitcher’s mound drops … and you’re taken on an impossibly-long lift ride for the next part of the stage.
It’s a lift sequence in the great tradition, with enemies dropping onto the screen from above (without sustaining any injuries or exploding in a bloody mess, natch). It’s a terrific few minutes of gameplay, and the switch from horizontal to vertical progression helps to keep things fresh. Lift sections come into play at other points, but none are quite as unexpected or inventive as this.
Fly-Kicking Enemies Off Their Bikes
In Streets of Rage 2, thugs come in all shapes and sizes. They also rock quite a variety of looks – and one of the coolest is the spiky-shouldered, mask-wearing biker.
Clearly inspired by the classic wrestling duo Legion of Doom / The Road Warriors (back when it was still the WWF!), these guys appear in a multitude of colours and have names like Storm and Gale. They show up throughout the game, but you first meet them in stage two, as you cross the bridge.
These dudes tear across the screen on motorbikes with no concerns about running you over. The trick is to jump-kick them off their vehicles (which then explode in spectacular fashion), before beating them into a pulp. It can be tricky to time this right if you’re surrounded by enemies, but kicking Storm, Gale et all off their bikes never gets any less fun.
Two New Characters with More Varied Skills
Streets of Rage 2 brought two of the original’s three heroes back as playable characters (Axel and Blaze), while the third, Adam, became a hostage waiting to be rescued.
Rather than just one new character, we got two: Adam’s little brother Skate, a 90s kid through and through, and Max Thunder, a man so big and tough he couldn’t possibly be called anything else.
This foursome makes for an amazing team, and feels more diverse than the original trio. Axel is a combination of decent strength and average speed, Blaze is weaker but faster, while Skate is incredibly fast yet less powerful. Max, though, is strong as they come – but pretty damn slow.
The character you choose makes an impact on the game’s difficulty and pace – Max might be great for wading through villains, but he moves like he’s just out for a leisurely stroll rather than caught in a life-or-death struggle to liberate his city.
Addictive Co-Op … with Fun ‘Friendly Fire’
Streets of Rage 2 in two-player mode is one hell of a fun, addictive experience – teaming up with a pal to take down one wave of enemies after another is a blast, and keeps you hooked from the first stage to the last.
One particularly great feature in two-player mode is the ability to interact with your partner; you have to think about your placement and actions at all times. Throwing a bad guy across the screen? Be sure not to toss him into your pal. Want to help out by clearing the crowd around them? Go for it – but watch where you swing that lead pipe!
Accidentally grabbing your partner provides a chuckle or two, as well – especially when it looks like they’re about to get intimate in the middle of a brawl …
Unofficial Celebrity Appearances
We’ve already mentioned the bikers’ similarity to the Legion of Doom, but there’s a couple of other ‘cameos’ too.
At the end of the fourth stage, Streets of Rage 2 throws in an awesome boss fight against a flamboyant wrestler in an underground match. The oddly-named Abadede is a big, muscular fighter with an uncanny ability to rob you of several lives within a matter of seconds.
Of course, it’s no secret that the wrestler looks somewhat like The Ultimate Warrior, an old-school WWF / WWE star from the late 80s / early 90s. It was cool to encounter such an iconic-looking character when the game was first released, and now helps to reinforce its 90s’-goodness.
Also, though it’s not technically a ‘celebrity’ appearance, Stage Three’s boss, Zamza, is not totally unlike Street Fighter’s Blanka in his looks and movements (though there’s some Vega in there, too).
A Diverse Mix of Settings
Streets of Rage 2 may start off on a gritty street, but by the end of the game you’ve been through bars, trucks, boats, baseball stadiums, parks, fairground attractions, beaches, automated factories, and, of course, Mr. X’s swanky penthouse pad.
The mix of settings really helps to keep the action feeling fresh, avoiding repetition or boredom, and conveys a real sense of progression: you see your characters journey from the heart of the city to the villain’s stronghold without the need for cut-scenes or other interruptions.
That Iconic Box Art
The first Streets of Rage had gorgeous box art, and the sequel’s cover is just as stunning.
Just look at it! You’ve got our four plucky heroes in a dirty, graffiti-ridden street, taking down a gang of thugs (one unfortunate guy appears to have been swept by Blaze AND elbowed in the face by Max), with a real sense of movement. The dynamism, grittiness, and mix of colour lets you know exactly what you’re in for.
Still, we’ve got to give the Japanese box art a special mention too:
Whoa! Doesn’t this just make you want to play Streets of Rage / Bare Knuckle II even more?!
What’s your favourite thing about Streets of Rage 2? Let us know!