After a middling first effort, Sega would make some massive improvements with their sequel, making a game that could easily stand up to, and in some ways, even surpass Capcom’s brawler. Especially when you put it up against Final Fight 2, which was more of a rehash of the original game, with the missing features of the original game included. This is the game almost everybody thinks of when they think of the Streets of Rage series, and there are many good reasons for that. Not to mention that it’s quite possibly one of the finest beat-em-ups you’ll find on Sega’s console.
One year after the events of the first game, Mr. X has, as the introductory cutscene phrases it, “come back to life”. It could be that they meant this metaphorically, like a new guy took his place, or maybe they actually mean that he ended up just magically being resurrected, like Castlevania’s Dracula. Who knows. In either case, Mr. X sends out a new wave of minions onto the city. He’s also captured Adam in an attempt to lead Axel and Blaze into a trap. This time, however, is that they’re joined by Max Thunder, Axel’s pro wrestler friend, and Skate, Adam’s kid brother. Yes, the good guys have no qualms about sending a young child out to fight The Syndicate with little more than his bare hands and a pair of roller skates. In all fairness, however, he can kick as much ass as the grown ups, and the idea of a preteen taking a katana to a small country’s worth of gangsters is a little hilarious.
The characters have been made a lot more diverse in terms of moves and abilities, so you’re no longer choosing between which character you want by the color of their shirt. Blaze is the most balanced of the four, with an equal mix of power and speed. Axel leans just a little more towards power than agility, but he’s well rounded enough that he makes a great starter. Skate, on the other hand, doesn’t have quite the damage output as the rest of the characters. As a tradeoff, he’s incredibly fast, and he’s the only character in the game capable of performing a dash by double tapping right or left. This lets him get from one end of the screen to another very quickly, which can be very helpful. Max, on the other hand, is a lot more sluggish, but he has a few moves that can almost take out an entire health bar if he can manage to pull them off. He gets a few more throws than the rest of the characters to make up for his lack of a vault move, including a backbreaker that’s very tough to pull off, but delivers instant, massive damage if you do.
Each character’s move set has also been greatly expanded, giving you a lot more options. All the moves you could perform in the first game, like vaults, back attacks, throws, and team attacks are mostly performed the same way. The only move that hasn’t returned is the cop car, as the guy who was driving it apparently got reassigned. In its place are two special moves that are specific to each character. The first special move is the standard crowd-clearing attack that costs a little health to use, in the tradition of Final Fight. The other move differs between characters, but it’s generally a much more powerful attack that hits things ahead of the character, causing a lot of damage. There’s also a third special, performed by double tapping left or right and then hitting the attack button. This one generally has your character pull off a powerful attack while moving forward at different distances, and you’re free to use this move as much as you want without loss of health.
Some of the weapons from the original game return, although, sadly, the beer bottle is not one of them. You’ll end up finding things like pipes and knives, but there’s also the occasional katana as well. Something interesting is that some characters handle different weapons differently, giving them a bit more strategic value. Blaze gets a two-hit combo with knives, compared to the single stab most characters get, while Max can hit people behind and in front of him while wielding a pipe.
The few really good ideas from the original Streets of Rage are put to much better use here, and it generally leads to a much smoother, faster game that’s much more fun to play. What’s especially nice is that with the extra options all the characters have in their move set, there’s a lot more things you can do with them. It’s even possible to perform combos, given some time and practice. You might want to start off with your Down+B move while you’re airborne, a weak attack that doesn’t knock enemies down. While they’re still stunned from the first hit, you can follow that up with a few hits of your basic combo, and then finish it with your forward special to do some major damage. While something like that isn’t especially hard to pull off, the fact that you can do it at all is a testament on just how much the controls and general feel of the game have improved since the original Streets of Rage.
The enemies have also been majorly overhauled so they’re much more of a challenge. While the issue the previous game had where enemies would slowly circle around you, taking their time before they actually moved in to attack is still here, it’s thankfully much less common this time around. There’s a lot more enemy types to deal with this time around as well, bolstering the ranks of the constant swarm of Galsias and Signals the original game gave you. Not that there won’t be plenty of those, either, and some of them even have new tactics. Some Galsias will dash around the screen with a knife, which you can knock out of their hands by knocking them down. The new enemy types, however, are a lot more interesting, and they tend to have a lot more moves, meaning better tactics will be needed to take them out. Sadly, the jugglers are gone, but in their place are a bunch of fire-breathing fat guys with a really annoying laugh. It evens out.
Probably one of the most interesting additions are the bikers. These guys tend to ride from one end of the screen to the other on their bikes, occasionally tossing grenades at your feet. Usually, one well timed jump kick will be enough to dismount them and kill them, but occasionally you’ll have to fight a few that get up off of the ground and just keep going. Most of the tougher enemies have quite a few moves on them, like the way the ninjas can teleport out of the way of your attacks. It’s a big improvement that help makes the game more challenging, as well as making it so it’s a lot more engaging than the previous game. There’s also quite a few minibosses who tend to have more health than most of the common mooks you’ll fight, like Jack, a mohawked punk who seems to have an endless supply of knives on his person. A nice touch is that enemies are now given names along with a health bar, much like Final Fight, and some of them get silly monikers like ‘U-3’, ‘Buffet’, and ‘Beano’.
The bosses aren’t quite as unfair as some of the fights you’d get in the original game, although there are a couple that can be sticking points. Jet, the boss of Stage 2, for example, is constantly floating, meaning that he can be difficult to hit if you don’t use the right moves on him. Jet has no such problems, however, and he can easily grab you and inflict major damage if you get too close to him, doing a lot of damage. Abadede, the Ultimate Warrior lookalike from the original game, makes a return appearance of kicking the crap out of you, too. Probably the most annoying part about him is that he can break out of your combo whenever he likes with an attack that can really add up damage if he hits you enough with it.
Overall, though, the difficulty’s pretty mild compared to your average beat-em-up. And for most people, that won’t be a problem at all. The difficulty curve is just about perfect, with the early stages being easy enough you’ll gain a few extra lives to fall back on, with the later, more difficult stages will start making you go through them. While the bosses can sometimes get frustrating, the normal difficulty is balanced pretty well and there’s still a couple of tougher difficulties for anybody wanting more of a challenge. There’s a lot of room for skill and improvement, if you can learn how the game and the enemy patterns work, which is always the sign of a really great beat-em-up.
The game’s divided into eight stages, much like the original game. This time around, however, they’ve been made a lot more visually appealing to look at. Playing through the first stage alone shows just how much more effort’s been put into the level design. You start off the first stage in front of a few shops, much like how the original game begun. Eventually, however, you end up on a darkened street, fighting off a Jack that sneaks out of an alley. From there, you head into a bar, complete with tables and chairs to smash. The final segment of the stage takes place at the back alley of the bar, with the rain picking up as you encounter the boss. In the original SOR, that would probably consist of about two or three entire stages.
Quite a few of the other stages are pretty interesting in terms of design, as well, meaning that you’ve got something cool to look at while you’re beating people up. Stage 3 takes place in an amusement park. There’s even an arcade, where you can smash open Bare Knuckle arcade machines for the hidden goodies inside. Bags of money kind of make sense, sure, but then you notice that one of them have a pile of gold bars inside. Even weirder, one of them has an apple inside it. The final segment of this stage puts you inside an alien-themed attraction that looks straight out of the final stages of Contra, complete with a giant alien head as a miniboss. Having all these setpieces to go through makes the game a magnitude more memorable, since every stage is no longer best described with a single word. The only step backwards is that none of the stages have any hazards like the original game, which takes out some of the strategy and variety that the original game offered.
At the end of the final stage, a penthouse on Mr. X’s secret island, Mr. X doesn’t even bother speaking to you after you beat up the last wave of his goons. Instead, he sends out Shiva, a long-haired badass of a martial artist with some nasty moves. Once Shiva goes down, Mr. X uses about the same tactics of running around and spraying his assault rifle all over everything that moves. His range makes him more difficult, but persevere and you’ll rescue Adam from his clutches, No multiple endings this time around, although on the bright side, that means the game won’t troll you back to Stage 6.
Once you’re done with the main game, there’s also a “Duel” mode, where two players can fight each other. This mode is a little more like a traditional fighting game, as it’s only you and the other player to worry about, and the first player to win two rounds is the victor. Each of the arenas you can select from will also have a few weapons laying around that you can use. The problem is, though, a game like this just wasn’t made for one-on-one fighting, and it’s pretty much just a distraction. Especially since any match will basically end if Max can get somebody into a grapple, given how insane his damage output is. Still, it’s fun for a few matches.
The graphics have undergone a major improvement, especially with just how much bigger and more detailed the character sprites are. Most of the character sprites are now as big as the bosses were in the original SOR, and some of this game’s bosses are even bigger. The extra level of polish is easy to see in the levels, as well, and there are a lot of fancy graphical effects if you look closely. If you look under the bridge on the last segment of Stage 2, you’ll actually see the city in the background reflected in the water, complete with a ripple effect. There are a lot of these little touches all over the game, and it’s that little extra effort that really goes a long way.
Much like the previous game, the music is a very big part of what makes it memorable. Yuzo Koshiro’s new soundtrack is in a similar style to the first game, but the new tracks sound great. Some of the highlights would have to be the jazzy tune that plays in the bar on Stage 1, while Stage 8’s track begins with the tune from the intro, before slowly transitioning to the tune from SOR1’s final stage. The sound effects have also been redone so that they sound a lot meatier, instead of the odd sound effects you’d get for punching mooks that made one think of aluminum foil. There’s a lot more digitized speech, mostly used when characters pull off their special moves.
If they gave out awards to games for “Most Improved Sequel”, Streets of Rage 2 would be the first in line. Aside from a few minor issues, this sequel turns what was once just a mediocre Final Fight wannabe to something that was leagues beyond.
The Master System version has that same very off feeling that the port of the first game had, only even more so here. The biggest problem is that the game just moves far, far too quickly, meaning enemies will rocket around the screen, surround you, and stunlock you for all your health before you can react. Enemies are also much more aggressive from the first stage, meaning they’ll bum rush you pretty much as soon as they appear on screen. It’s a shame, too, because if it weren’t for these issues, it’d be a much better port than the original Streets of Rage.
The controls are a lot more responsive, and your own moves generally feel a lot ‘tighter’. The way they handled special moves is pretty strange, though, although it’s forgivable given the lack of buttons. For your first special, you have to hit forward and both buttons at the same time, and for your other move, you have to hit back, forward, and then the two buttons. It’s pretty hard to pull off, especially given how little time you have to react.
There’s also still no co-op mode, for whatever reason, and Max has been removed entirely. On the plus side, there’s a lot of stuff that’s exclusive to this version alone, which gives you some motivation to play through the thing. Some of the stages are entirely new, like one where you fight through a warehouse before ending up on top of a moving train.
The Game Gear version moves at a much more reasonable speed, which makes it a lot easier to actually play. It’s actually pretty fun to play, so much so that it’s probably the best beat-em-up you’ll find on the Game Gear. Not that there’s much competition for the title, but still. The controls still take a bit of time to get used to, especially since the way you pull off special moves is actually reversed for this port. On the plus side, though, your stationary special move is free to use as much as you want.
The only real downsides are the flicker that tends to happen when you get more than two characters on screen at once, and the lack of Max that this version also suffers from. There’s a few exclusive scenes here, as well. These are mostly expansions of the alien attraction in Stage 3, complete with a Predator-like creature as a new boss. This version’s also much shorter, with two less stages, clocking in a little less than a half hour, if you’re quick.
The game was also released on both the MegaTech and MegaPlay arcade hardware. They’re mostly similar to the Genesis version, with a few differences, depending on which hardware you’re running on. The MegaTech version gives you a time limit that has to be extended by inserting more credits, while the MegaPlay version gives you credits for inserting money, like any other arcade game. It’s also a little more difficult in a few ways, like all the extra live pickups being replaced with score items.
Like the first game, Streets of Rage 2 appears on the Japanese version of Sonic Gems Collection, and was also released on the iOS with bad touchscreen controls. It’s also on the Sega Smash Pack Vol. 1 for the Dreamcast, which is an emulated version, with some truly terrible music that sounds like some of the FM channels were replaced with scratchy PSG.
The iOS version plays more or less exactly like the Genesis version, although, as with most smartphone gaming, the touchscreen makes things a lot less precise. The two player mode has also been removed entirely. Which is understandable, given what you’re playing it on, although having some kind of online play feature would have been nice, anyway.
There was originally a release on the XBLA, converted by Backbone, which was just an emulated version with online multiplayer. This has been replaced with a much better version of as part of the Sega Vintage Collection.
The 3DS version, like its predecessor, has some fantastic 3D effects. It also has the “Fists of Death” easy mode similar to the one found in the 3DS version of the first game, plus a “Rage Relay” mode, where you pick which characters you’ll switch to when one of them dies.