From Altered Beast, to Golden Axe, to Comix Zone, Sega was once deeply invested in the beat-em-up genre. Of all their efforts, none were more highly regarded than the Streets of Rage series. Its success in the nineties carried across three entries on the Genesis.
While the genre has long since fallen out of favour due to its simplicity among many other factors, Streets of Rage isn’t exactly down for the count. We just got the critically-acclaimed Streets of Rage 4, which seems like a great modern take on the genre. Does the 90s fan-fave still hold up?
Despite Axel, Blaze, and Adam’s best efforts to rid the city of crime, Mr. X and his crime syndicate return in full force. Worse yet, they’ve kidnapped Adam. It’s up to you to save him and the city before it’s completely overrun.
Thankfully, two new heroes have stepped up. There’s Max, who is a wrestler by trade. He’s the slowest of the bunch but hits like a truck. Conversely, Skate relies on quick strikes and even faster footwork. One-to-two players can step into the shoes (or skates) of these heroes and smash crime in the face.
One of the genre’s fundamental flaws is that the gameplay is incredibly simplistic. Most of the time, you simply walk from left-to-right, mashing on a singular attack button. At its core, Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t deviate too far from that formula. However, it does have a few neat tricks up its sleeve to extend the game’s replayability.
For starters, the list of available moves is a smidgen longer than the traditional attack and jump buttons in most beat-em-ups. Each character has an attack that allows them to hit enemies standing behind them, which addresses a common issue where it’s difficult to deal with enemies that attack from both ends. You also get access to a handful of special moves, though they cost you a bit of your health with each use.
On top of that, each character plays quite differently. I don’t like the slow and brooding Max, nor could I get into the speedy-but-weak Skate. Blaze felt right up my alley though. In particular, her backwards attack actually hits on both sides, making it an integral crowd control move. Should you want to experience what every character has to offer, that’s at least four plays through the roughly 90-minute campaign.
Having a bit more control in combat compensates for an otherwise straightforward beat-em-up. There are no motorbike sequences or anything like that to break things up. At most, there’s at least one sequence where you’re fighting on a rising platform, but that’s about it.
Where the game really shines is in its music. I’ve heard many praise Yuzo Kashiro and Motohiro Kawashima’s contributions to the franchise and the credit is justified. Straying away from the sounds of video game music of the era, the soundtrack of Streets of Rage 2 is heavily inspired by dance music of the early 90s. Sounding incredibly contemporary for its time, the music still makes you want to get up and dance today.
Streets of Rage 2 may be a bit more straightforward and short on set piece moments than its contemporaries, but its differences make it stand out in meaningful ways. I appreciate the extra moves and varying character designs that give the combat a bit more depth. Also, its soundtrack has aged incredibly well. Even if you’ve played Streets of Rage 4, I can’t imagine having a bad time with this throwback.
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