Sega Vintage Collection: Streets of Rage

Why Streets of Rage 2 is Still the Perfect Game

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It's hard to believe that it's been almost 30 years since Streets of Rage 2 first released, for the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis. I still have a vivid memory of nagging my dad to buy me that magical '16 Meg' cartridge (not that I knew what that meant at the time) from Dixons, then demanding we rush home to play it as soon as humanly possible. The playground hype for Streets of Rage 2 was huge – anyone with a Mega Drive II had a copy of Mega Games 2 with Revenge of Shinobi, Golden Axe, and the original Streets of Rage, and Streets of Rage 2 instantly became another Mega Drive essential. It’s a game I’ve been through in its entirety on countless occasions (seven times in a single day when I was a 10-year old with too much time on his hands).

Even Lizardcube – one of the developers behind Streets of Rage 4 – readily acknowledges that Streets of Rage 2 is “the best one”, and rightly so. But to me, Streets of Rage 2 is more than just the best Streets of Rage, or the best scrolling beat 'em up, for that matter. To me, it's the greatest game, full stop. Streets of Rage 2 is perfect – it's well paced, simplistic but singularly gratifying, still looks great (for a game that's almost three decades old), and clocks in at a length that makes you want to dive right back in to do it all over again. There's no other game I return to as often as SoR 2. To me it's digital comfort food – I know exactly what I'm going to get and it hits the right spot every time, without fail.

I'm not a complete idiot. I know that there are other games out there that are technically superior to Streets of Rage 2, but there's nothing else that simultaneously stokes my nostalgia glands and releases fuzzy endorphins into my brain like SEGA’s face-pummeling classic. Not only is it the purity of the gameplay that I love; it's Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima's inimitable soundtrack that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on-end. There's something primal about it that taps into the lizard part of my grey matter, and you can guarantee that it'll be looping in my head for days, maybe weeks, afterwards.

Streets of Rage 2 was the zenith in a trilogy that could never be surpassed. The third game tried – and failed – to one-up its predecessor with new bells and whistles: a sprint, a quick roll that meant you could dodge up and down the screen, and a steep difficulty level that made for a far sterner challenge. Visually, it tried to do too much. Some levels are a seizure-inducing patchwork of lights and flashy 16-bit effects, while others are gloom-ridden, caked in earthy, urban grime. The soundtrack was an ear-bashing misfire, too, eschewing the easy house synth and techno for… well, I'm not sure what, exactly.

What Streets of Rage 3 did successfully manage, is to highlight how special Streets of Rage 2 really is. Pure lightning in a bottle, there's really no other game that's as tight, punchy (pardon the pun), and completely unadulterated. It didn't need police cars dropping napalm or evil cyborgs. The only thing it was missing is a lift level that enabled you to throw enemies off the edge. That’s a small price to pay for perfection, though. The influence of SoR 2 on Streets of Rage 4 is wholly evident in what we’ve seen of the game thus far – clearly, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games know their scrolling beat ‘em up onions.

And it’s with good reason that Streets of Rage 2 is still held up on a pedestal as an exemplar of scrolling beat ‘em up excellence. The first game might have set the template (and is still great in its own right), but it’s the follow-up that finessed it with the best soundtrack, vibrant visuals, superior animation, varied levels and memorable boss encounters (who could forget Barbon tearing off his vest in the bar’s back alley, Zamza in the theme park’s haunted house, Jet on the bridge under construction, and Shiva in Mr. X’s tower?) Of SEGA’s back catalogue, Sonic the Hedgehog might be the poster boy, and OutRun will forever be a blue-skyed arcade icon, but it’s Streets of Rage 2 that will, for me, be SEGA’s defining Mega Drive moment.

With no small amount of trepidation, I’m preparing myself for Streets of Rage 4. It certainly has big shoes to fill in living up to the legacy of Streets of Rage 2, but with Axel, Blaze, and Adam all returning, and retro sprites from the original games included as unlockables, it’s ticking all of the right boxes. I still can’t quite believe that we’re mere days away from a brand new Streets of Rage game – it’s something I’ve been dreaming of for 26 years (since SoR 3) – but you can safely bet that I’ll be regularly returning to the 1992 entry that will forever hold a special place in my heart.


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Game Info


US May 30, 2012

Backward compatible on Xbox One: Yes
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