Review by Psycho Penguin
"It won't win any awards for innovation, but it doesn't have to."
There has not exactly been a lack of beat-em-up side scroller games released over the years. Despite the dwindling popularity of the classic genre, the SNES and Genesis had a ton of great ones to choose from. One of the better known (and highly rated) ones was a Genesis game called Streets of Rage 2. Almost everyone I talk to makes it seem like an extraordinarily fun beat-em-up game with tons of innovative features.
I have one question.... why?
Sure, the game is fun. It has a bunch of fun stages and fun side scrolling action. But so does Sonic Blastman 2, and Captain Commando, and all the other great beat-em-ups there. This is not any better than any of those games. Hell, it might even be a little worse due to the lack of challenge of the game. So, this is a mighty fine game. It has everything you need, fun gameplay, lots of enemies,a variety of stages. But, it's nothing special or interesting. Just a nice hour-long romp through another side scrolling game. And if that's what you are looking for, then this is a fine game to pick up.
Story won't exactly win any awards, of course. Mr. X has returned because he can do this sort of thing, and now you have to defeat him again. There's absolutely no plot development until the end, when you finally meet up with the man himself again, and that's just the way it should be.
The thing found in most side scrollers was an ability to choose from a group of well rounded characters, and Streets of Rage 2 is certainly no different. The characters are unique and varied. You get to choose from 3 at the beginning of the game. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to power and speed, and they each have their own special moves. Special moves are lots of fun to pull off in the game, but it is only advised you save them for times of need, because otherwise you will lose energy.
Like I said, the four characters are completely different from each other, and picking the best one for you is the key to success. I always preferred Max, due to the fact he was a wrestler, and he has some of the coolest moves I've ever seen. He does a backbreaker and a spinebuster, and he also knows how to handle the weapons. If you're looking for speed, look no farther than Blaze and Skate, but be prepared for a lack of power. Well, I wouldn't call it a lack of power, but they have less power than Max of course. Axel was the guy I went through my first game with: he's average in all areas and perfect for the beginner.
Streets of Rage 2 will take you to a variety of different locales. I totally flipped when I found myself beating up street punks on a baseball diamond, for instance. However, some of the areas are either unoriginal or seem too out of place for a beat-em-up. The forest was definitely a cool idea (and a strange place, to boot), but what did it have to do with the storyline, and how did I get there all of a sudden? Oh well, I still enjoyed the stages a lot. Plus, the game is LONG, which is certainly a nice feature. There's a lot more areas and levels then you may expect.
The stages were designed cleverly too. Each stage has a certain amount of power ups and weapons at your disposal. You could use everything from knives enemies carry, to pipes on walls, to dispose of your enemies more easily. However, enemies can hit you and then take your weapon away from you, which was definitely a rather innovative and novel idea that I appreciated. The weapons definitely added a nice variety to the typical ''kick-punch-special move'' gameplay found too much in the genre.
The enemies are rather lacking, as you may have come to expect by now. Expect to fight the same enemies over and over again, with very few additions throughout the stages. The enemies are certainly creative, however. You will face everything from ancient Samurai ninjas to big fat flame throwers in your journey to unseat Mr. X. Sadly, there's only a certain amount of groups of enemies, and you'll have to face the same ones a lot, but it's not like this is a new idea in the world of the genre, so I'm easily forgivable in this aspect.
Unfortunately, you won't find much new here to keep you coming back. It's just the same old idea here, so if you are burned out on the genre, Streets of Rage 2 won't be a pleasurable experience. You still just go from stage to stage, beating up enemies in unique ways, and you still have weapons, characters to choose from, and mean bosses to fight. I cannot think of a single innovation Streets of Rage 2 brought to the table. However, it did everything extremely well and managed to be yet another fun side scrolling beat-em-up, so I still loved it, as it's one of my favorite genres. Just don't expect a ton of innovations.
The controls were actually kind of unique, though, as you could control the type of move you wanted to do to the enemy. I haven't seen this done too much, unless in certain games like Sonic Blastman 2. When you grapple onto an enemy, you can press B and a directional button to do a move to them. Each character can perform several different moves, but each have the same kind of attacks. For instance, pressing the B and C buttons simultaneously will let the character do a german suplex like move. So, the game has wrestling-like tendencies to it, which I never fail to appreciate. Picking up items on the ground can prove to be a tricky activity sometimes, but other then that, the controls are golden.
Streets of Rage 2 sure does look nice, too. The backgrounds are VERY well detailed and unique. The variety of stage designs was just stunning. You get everything from a walk in a sunny town to a dark, damp forest to a robot factory. The enemy designs are unique and definitely a sight to behold. There's nothing like seeing a big Japanese guy with a sword waiting to kill you. Everything animates so flawlessly, too. You will barely encounter any slowdown, which is important for a game in this genre. Everything just looks great and flows along perfectly. I loved the graphics and think they were one of the most positive aspects of this entire great game.
The music isn't wonderful or anything, so I fail to see why everyone got so worked up over it, but it certainly gets the job done and is definitely better than average. Each stage at least has a song that fits the area perfectly. Some songs are upbeat, while others are mellow and low-key. It's the unique flavor of the music that probably led most people to love it, and I certainly think the music is above average, but don't expect any terrific music. Fortunately, the sound effects are all pretty good, especially the sound of kicks, punches, and the occassional weapon smash.
You won't find much to come back for, sadly. Most side scrolling beat-em-up's are sadly weak in the replay value department, no matter how fun they are. Streets of Rage 2 is sadly just another addition to the list of games I've enjoyed the hell out of and won't play too much any more. There's no secrets, no real challenge, and no reason to keep coming back (after completing the game on all 3 challenge levels, mind you). It's an enjoyable game while it lasts, but don't expect to be playing this game for weeks on end.
This game can prove to be somewhat of a challenge.... provided you turn it up to the hardest difficulty level. I finally beat them on all 3 levels. The first two challenge levels were so easy, I beat them on my first 2 times through the game. But, the 3rd challenge level has more enemies and harder bosses. Plus, the end of the game gets MAJORLY challenging due to the increasing amounts of enemies and the fact the bosses will get tougher at the end. So, the game does have a decent challenge, but only on the hardest difficulty level.
There you have it, the truth about Streets of Rage 2. It's a terrific game, well polished and has no real weaknesses. It's a fun game with lots of levels, but no new gameplay ideas. Don't expect a reinvention of the wheel here. If you take Streets of Rage 2 for what it really is: the same fun beat-em-up you've played a hundred times before, it's a great game. If you expect innovation, you'll be sorely saddended, because this game has none of that.
Besides, since when did ''innovation'' and ''beat-em-up'' go together?
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/22/03, Updated 06/22/03
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