Streets of Rage II
Are you talking to me, punk? You think your fiery Mohawk and bone-chiselled abs scare me? Ha! Don’t make me laugh. I know a thing or two about dealing with assholes like you and one of ‘em is this here bare knuckle of mine . . .
On the surface, Streets of Rage II appears to be a complex story-driven beat ’em up following the plight of four hardened knuckle-busting fighters as they hope to take down the crime syndicate boss Mr. X, and rescue an old friend in the process. In reality, this fantastic sequel to an already amazing side-scrolling beat ’em up is all about kicking ass, taking names, and marvelling at how refined an experience it is.
Axel is your typical all-round male lead with a balanced combination of quick jabs and powerful rising uppercuts. Blaze is his female counterpart with slightly less reach and strength, but with increased speed to compensate. These two ex-cops were both playable in the first game (Adam is out seeing as he’s the old friend held captive) and they are joined by two more coincidental fighters whose styles are more at the extremes of the spectrum.
Skate (brother to Adam) is a roller-skating teen with a penchant for spinning tricks and diving manoeuvres. He’s clearly the fastest out of the foursome, but he takes a beating harder than a girl (in this case, Blaze). But then there’s Max. He’s a hunk of muscle who may only have an overhead chop as his basic starter, but with an atomic piledriver and a full-on charging tackle, he’s definitely not one to be messed with. However, he is rather slow.
One of the best things SoRII has going for it is the co-op play. You and a fellow gamer can take to the streets as two of the four fighters available, complementing one another to deliver a potent combination of quick flurries and bone-crunching stunners. On higher difficulty levels you’ll really need to work together as a unit since the large mobs can totally overwhelm you if not. Better share those apples and roasts that restore your health then. Of course, if your partner pisses you off by picking up score-boosting money bags instead of helping you in a jam, you can serve a cold dish by later delivering a flying kick to their face. You can beat up anyone in this game.
And it’s not just punching and kicking either. Apart from a myriad of grappling techniques, you can pick up assorted hand-weapons: knives, katanas and even broken lead pipes. Each character even uses them in different ways which really goes to show how much thought was put into creating an in-depth fighting system. For instance, Blaze can pull off an exclusive two-hit knife thrust combo and Max is the king of pipe-busting with his huge range and leverage. At any time you can even throw them at enemies from afar so as to stop their tackles prematurely while you get back into hand-to-hand combat mode.
While it may seem like just another mashing-type game, there’s a fair amount of strategy involved if you hope to go all the way without having to use a continue credit (which earns you better high scores). Especially at higher difficulty levels; you’ll definitely want some human assistance when it comes to Very Hard mode. Initially you’ll face some moronic goons that punch once every five seconds or more, but soon you’ll have to contend with incessantly sliding punks who may be easily countered by aerial attacks, but should there be a bald bloke behind him, you had better watch out for an uppercut to the groin on your descent.
The boss battles are even more complex scenarios that include a masked villain who dashes and flips all over the place much like a crazed gymnast, a jetpack-flying stunt-man who can charge you down at a moment’s notice whilst staying just out of your reach, and even an intimidating monster of prize-fighter who can counter most of your strings within seconds and break out of any grappling hold you decide to try with just a few flexes of his dense musculature. But as they say: the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the more satisfying it is to pummel them into ground over and over again.
It was inevitable that SoRII would suffer from repetitiveness over time; something that afflicts all scrolling beat ’em ups, unfortunately. But it’s not like real men kick ass all day long, right? While it lasts (over eight rather lengthy levels), you’ll have some good times, especially if you enjoy arcade-style action and more so if you’ve got a friend to help you walk the Streets of Rage. With animated 2D graphics that show a lot of personality, bad guys taunting and all, together with an energising medley of synthesized beats – possibly Yuzo Kushiro’s best work – the look and feel is fantastic, even to this day. Add in a (admittedly not-so hot) duel mode and tons of spunk and you’ve got a timeless classic. I mean, does kicking ass ever get old?