Review by Retro
"I think this, one of my top 5 favorite video games of all time, deserves to be my one and only fully sectioned review"
STORY: Only a year has passed since the trio of Adam, Axel, and Blaze overthrew the evil syndicate, Mr. X, making the city's deadly streets peaceful. The fighter who seems like the perennial favorite from the first outing, Adam, has been kidnapped! Mr. X is like a relentless terrorist; he never gives up. As tough as his forces were in the original, they're even tougher now with more pesky enemies that must be dealt with along the winding road to Mr. X's hideout.
GAMEPLAY: The Final Fight series may have propelled this genre that we now know as ''beat 'em ups'' to unfamiliar heights of popularity, but it wasn't the final fight (pun intended), nor was it the best of its kind. This is no one-on-one fighting like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter; this is a game in which you'll walk down streets of rage (pun intended x2) beating up all the punks you see, ridding the world of a lot of mean dirt. Not a single nice civilian is seen in this 2D brawler; each and every person apart from yourself is a ruthless human being that wants to show you how to fight.
Of all the people in the world, only four heroes are brave enough to sacrifice their bodies in order to wreak havoc on anybody and anything the syndicate, Mr. X, sends their way. Axel is your average-sized boxer who has his technique down pat, and he's pretty strong too. Blaze is blazing! She's easily the best looking of the foursome, and she has the most well-rounded stats of them all. Skate is a teenager who can't get enough of kicking ass while on rollerblades, and he just happens to be Adam's little brother. Finally, Max is an overly strong wrestler who looks to be about as muscular as a person could get.
There are eight main levels included in Streets of Rage 2. Each one is divided up into a few different stages. These eight levels will take you through several dangerous environments, such as streets with an amusement park in the background, an empty baseball stadium, ships that bob up and down continuously, jungles that seem to be more overrun with human beings than exotic animals, elevators that don't progress upward until all enemies are defeated, a factory that comes complete with conveyor belts to slow down your progress, and more. Along the way, you will fight many freaky thugs, crafty ninjas, tall ass kickboxers, overweight guys who have a whale of a time spitting flames out of their mouths and using their heavy guts to their advantage, and that's just the beginning of the list of enemies who are full of fighting spirits. At the end of each level, a major boss awaits your peace-loving presence. The bosses can be anything from a seemingly mutated swamp creature that simply moves its head back and forth to do damage, to a towering wrestler with an unbelievable killer punch, to a monster that flies through the sky with a jet pack.
Whether you opt to play by yourself or with a friend in co-operative two-player gameplay, you'll be doing the same thing from start to finish: walking around beating up everybody in sight. A normal flock of spiky-haired freaks and shirtless boxers are approaching you early in the game and you're using Axel as your character. No sweat here; just punch and kick them until they're all dead. Blaze is your chosen fighter and she encounters three lively ninjas that jump and flip across the screen, never stopping to catch their breaths. Blaze could jump kick, sweep, or even suplex them and succeed, but she'd likely have to take a few hits from one ninja while she's beating up another one. For this reason, it'd be best to use her magic fireball that projects a few feet through the air; that way, it could affect all three of these frustrating foes at once if you time it correctly.
Skate is just a kid, so it's no surprise that he's the weakest of them all. An overbearing number of enemies have just closed in on him and they're taking turns punching him in the face. Their blows are being laid on him too quickly for Skate to retaliate with a punch or any other basic kick. Hey, how about using one of his two special moves? A sort of breakdance in which Skate falls low to the ground and then spins his rollerblades around in 360º a few times could knock these bastards back long enough for Skate to get his composure back. Max (my favorite!) is a big guy, to say the least. He may not be much on speed but boy is he strong! You're currently in the factory and you're facing the two metallic robot bosses. They both have more than one full bar of energy, or life. Use Max's strength to your advantage. Body slam and suplex these monsters all over the place, or, even better, use his real powerful moves, such as the backbreaker, to drain the life out of them so fast that they won't know what hit them.
That's what's so great about Streets of Rage 2. Each of the four fighters couldn't be much more different from each other in their builds, strengths, and weaknesses. They can all punch and kick, but each one has his/her own signature moves. Only Skate can perform the awesome backflip kick or literally climb onto an enemy's shoulders and punch him in the back of the head several times; Blaze is the only one who cartwheels or that can use fireballs; Axel uses a unique special move called a dragon punch, in which he rears back and unleashes a fierce punch that has a dragon's face in the form of a flame at the end of his boxing glove; only a wrestler like Max uses techniques such as backbreakers and body slams like it's second nature.
If you find yourself feeling lazier than usual, you can find a weapon lying on the ground and pick it up to use it as your own. Whether it's swords that are so sharp they could delicately cut a tomato in slices, stabbing knives, bombs that you'll want to drop like a hot potato, or lead pipes that make one of the best sound effects in the history of video games, these weapons can give you a nice helping hand. Upon growing tired of letting a weapon do all the work, you can throw it at an enemy as if to say, ''Here, you take it!'' They'll never see it coming, so they'll end up flat on their cracked ass.
Streets of Rage 2 is an awesome one-player game, but you can also play a couple of two-player games. You and a friend can choose to play together in a co-operative game in which you will both go raging through the game at the same time. If you two aren't currently getting along very well, you can opt to battle it out against one another in a one on one duel to the death!
CONTROL: Each fighter has his/her own moves that can be performed by pressing the same button combinations. For example, quickly press right twice and then the B button and Axel will perform a deadly uppercut as he yells ''Grand upper!'', but pressing the same buttons will make Skate charge at his enemies on his rollerblades and then he'll roll up into a ball as he jumps into them like a living cannonball. Pressing B and C simultaneously makes a fighter perform their very own backwards move, which is especially great for approaching backstabbers. Doing this will make Blaze drop to the ground and perform a backwards sweep, whereas Max will do a mule kick in which he'll thrust his elbow backwards and then do a backward kick.
Each character also has their own set of basic punches and/or kicks. While standing close to an adversary, simply press the B button continuously. Blaze will perform a weak punch twice, then one strong punch, and finally a powerful kick (you can pause the game and see her stockings if your timing is on cue ô¿ô). Max's set of punches is easily my favorite. He will karate chop twice with his left (weaker) hand, rear back with his right arm and punch once (now this is awesome; this hook punch has such an amazing follow through that you can possibly land as many as four blows with just this one punch), and then put his hands together and hammer his fists downward as if he's wanting to drive his opponent into the ground.
No matter what you're doing, the moves are always easy to perform, and you won't ever have any trouble doing other things, such as jumping or picking up extra lives, health, or other items. The combinations of moves will take some memorizing on your part (this only takes a few plays, really), but none of them are difficult at all to pull off. You'll be doing a lot of moves like: Hold left and press B after you grab a hold of an enemy, and, jump and press down + B while in the air. Easy stuff.
GRAPHICS: There are a lot of graphical splendors to behold while playing a game of Streets of Rage 2. Unlike the original, the enemies and especially your characters, are HUGE! Their animations stand out like a big evergreen tree amongst a forest of leafless hardwoods. This is evident not only while fighting, but also when you just let your fighter stand in place. Skate moves around in a way that makes you think that he just can't be still; he's ready for some knuckle-busting action! When Max stands in place, he relaxes and flexes his muscles nonstop. And Blaze...she's just plain sexy, for a cartoon.
My favorite asset of all is some of the animated backgrounds. When you reach the stage in which you see a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster in the background, it looks like they're simply lit up. Keep an eye on them as the screen scrolls to the right. Their lights will flash on and off in a lifelike pattern, just like the ones you see in real life amusement parks. I also like the blue ocean in the jungle, the vibrant, colorful neon signs of the opening stage, and how the screen sometimes shakes when you throw an enemy across the screen and they land. There are also some other nice touches, such as a punk playing an arcade game of Bare Knuckle (the Japanese title for this series) before he senses your presence and runs toward you as if begging for an ass-kicking.
SOUNDS & MUSIC: I could be clichéd and just say that the sounds and music are great, but that's not my style; I'd rather focus mainly on the highest points. The sound effects that accompany the various fighting moves seem to fit right in. Whether it's a flying kick, a stabbing knife to the stomach, or a basic jab, a blind person would know that you're fighting somebody. But man, just wait until you pick up a lead pipe and hit somebody with it! If somebody were to ask me, ''What's the best sound effect you've ever heard in a video game?'', that would be the one I'd choose. You're walking along the street in a certain swagger, just feeling like a badass. A baddie shows his foolish face and walks in your direction. Hit him with that pipe and listen to that WHACK!!!! If your swagger was noticeably confident before, it really becomes noticeable now! Yeah, forget feeling like a badass, now you know you're a badass. No other sound effect in any other video game has ever given me a feeling quite like that before.
As great as the sounds are, the soundtrack is literally beyond words. It knows not the meaning of the words, subtle or slow, for the most part. Nearly all the tracks are fast-paced techno tunes with an urban beat. The music in the very first stage perfectly lays out the feeling for the rest of the game. It has an upbeat pace to it that will make you feel like you're playing an easy-going, yet hard-smashing game, and that's exactly what Streets of Rage 2 is! Just by listening to the tunes you can tell what kind of environment you're in. The music that accompanies your venturing to the swamp makes you feel like you're in an area that is quite toned down from areas you've previously been through, and it has that mysterious atmospheric sound to it. Upon playing that stage, you'll find out that that's exactly what that particular area is like. Needless to say, the boss music is appropriately made up of mindlessly fast-paced tunes and beats that adds to the adrenaline flowing through your veins.
When thinking of the best video game soundtracks of all time, there's no doubt whatsoever that Streets of Rage 2's is up there with the best of them, if it's not the absolute best. I like it so much that I actually bought the soundtrack awhile back. When I'm in a great, upbeat mood, you can catch me popping it into my car's CD player and jamming along to it as I cruise down the road, not caring what anybody thinks.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I'm not one that's big on choosing favorites of all time from anything, whether it's movies, songs, video games, etc. But I love Streets of Rage 2 so much that I can say without a hint of a doubt that it's one of my ten favorite video games of all time, and I'll carry that thought with me to my grave. Right now it's one of my five favorites of all time, and I don't see it slipping down any notches in the foreseeable future, if ever. The cuttingly fitting soundtrack, the arcade-quality graphics, the flawless controls, and the downright FUN of playing the game are just a few of the things that can be said of this 16-bit great. There's no such thing as a flawless video game, but Streets of Rage 2 is extremely close. The only flaw (if you can call it that) I've seen is that the game is fairly easy on the normal setting. But you can always change the difficulty setting as you wish.
Perhaps what really adds to the appeal of Streets of Rage 2 is that all four of the characters are fun to use. Sometimes you'll just be in the mood to use Axel's ''Grand upper'' punch over and over again. Sometimes you'll feel more like using Blaze, with her limber attacks and judo instincts. And I could go on and on. I can't stand it when I hear people complain that ''Max is too damn slow'' or ''Skate's fun to use, but he's a weak little fellow.'' Yes, Max is slow, and Skate is very weak, but that just adds to the depth. Managing Max's sluggish speed and Skate's not-so-powerful attacks should be looked at as a challenge. Like anything, practice makes perfect. The more you use them, the more you'll get used to their strengths and weaknesses. I know I'm a much better player when I'm using Max than I am with Blaze.
I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that this is my favorite beat 'em up of all time, and that I'm almost positive that no game of its type will ever surpass it. The nostalgia factor is there for me, and I did grow up with the game, but this isn't one of those titles where nostalgia overshadows what's truly there. It's impossible for a review to put into words how great certain games are, and this is one of them. The most my words can do is to give you a feel of what the game is like. To actually feel what Streets of Rage 2 has to offer, you have to play it for yourself. No matter how many times I go through the game, I just can't get enough! Simply said, it's just that fun. This is definitely the best game in the series.
Streets of Rage 2 learned from the mistakes of Streets of Rage. Streets of Rage was a decent game, and it was great for getting the series started, but it wasn't spectacular by any means; there just seemed to be something missing. This sequel improves upon the original in nearly every way imaginable. There are way more moves, larger and more interesting environments, an even better soundtrack, graphics that are much more appealing, and best of all, it has a lifetime supply of fun included. All of these aspects combine into one to form a hard-hitting monster that can easily call itself one of the best video games of all time.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/22/01, Updated 08/30/04
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