Any real gamer or old school Sega fan boy will fondly remember the original Sega Mega Drive release of this all-time classic, for it is a game that is not just adored the world over, but regarded by many to be the very pinnacle of the brawler genre. By all accounts, it was a release that pushed the hardware on which it ran to its very limits, marking it out as one of the finest looking 16-bit releases, and a game that still holds up well today. A bold claim some might think, but this latest re-release – which is exclusive to Nintendo’s 3DS – proves that the series’ ability to wow audiences more than twenty years after its initial release, it still as potent today as it was then.
Apparently the team at Sega had hoped to make this much loved classic one of the first titles to get the 3D conversion treatment, but were stopped short by one small but very important factor, they thought that it would be impossible. Streets of Rage 2 wasn’t just an evolution of the first game in the series, it was a revolution that severely upped the ante in many different ways, taxing the Mega Drive hardware, and with it, the 3DS too. Emulation is tricky enough as it is, but emulating the Mega Drive is even worse, particularly without a machine of more significant horsepower than Nintendo’s current handheld. With gargantuan sprites, diagonal scrolling and with it all running at a super smooth 60fps, the 3D conversion of Streets of Rage 2 has clearly been a mammoth undertaking for M2, so how does it shape up?
Well, quite simply, it’s stunning. The original classic is represented in all of its glory, with every frame of its beautiful animation intact, every effect, every highly detailed sprite and all of the scrolling, regardless of what direction it heads in. The 3D effect adds an enormous amount of depth to the proceedings as the city lights that once twinkled just beyond the foreground, now stretch far out into the distance, and despite the fact that the 3DS’ top screen packs a resolution of just 800x240, it all looks incredibly sharp too. But of course, for all of its graphical merits (and there are many), arguably the most important facet of the game, is the wonderful Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack.
Strangely, Sega themselves had little influence on the direction of the score with any game in the series, ultimately, they simply left Koshiro to his own devices, and in doing so, allowed him the room he needed to create a soundtrack that was geared more towards the gaming markets out with his native Japan, thanks to the rise of house and club music there. For Streets of Rage 2, he incorporated more elements of techno than he had done previously, this evolution in terms of his compositions was driven by the sounds that he was hearing in the clubs he’d frequent, sounds that he would then try to emulate using very limited resources, a process that would later give birth to the criminally underrated Streets of Rage 3 soundtrack too. With Streets of Rage, Sega created a game to tap into a particular aspect of American and European culture, driving sales of its Mega Drive console there, much in the same way that Psygnosis would influence the impact of the Sony PlayStation with WipeOut several years later. Ultimately then, the brilliant Yuzo Koshiro’s compositions and sound effects were not just essential to the success of all three Streets of Rage games, but to the console that housed them, and so, with that in mind, I imagine that you’ll all be thankful to know that they have all been recreated perfectly here, making this as authentic a port as one could possibly hope for.
Featuring four perfectly honed characters - Axel, Blaze, Max and Skate (or Sammy as he is called in Japan) – players can enjoy entirely unique gaming experiences with each, a major step forward from the original Streets of Rage wherein each of the three protagonists were essentially identical, except for differing handicaps, such as Axel’s lack of reach and Adam’s rather slow pace. In the sequel though, each fighter has a unique move set, including highly specialised attacks that replaced the original’s special move, using these consumes a small portion of the character’s health bar, meaning that they should be employed sparingly, adding to the sequel’s much deeper experience overall. There are a wider selection of weapons, which have also been rebalanced, and every single enemy now has his/her own health bar, higher level foes also feature their own unique moves and abilities too, giving them almost as much personality as the game’s heroes.
Much like the original game, Streets of Rage 2 throws the player onto the crime ravaged streets of an unnamed city, to battle their ways past the myriad collection of goons and bosses all the way up the mastermind behind it all, Mr. X. The basic set-up for this particular venture though, is that, one year after the events of the first game, the crime syndicate has returned and in the process have kidnapped Adam. Enraged by this, former police officers, Axel and Blaze, team up with Adam’s younger brother (Skate) and a professional wrestler (Max) to rescue their friend and finally put an end to Mr. X’s nefarious schemes once and for all. Ultimately, it’s a flimsy narrative, but that’s not even remotely important, it’s simply an excuse to beat up as many weird and wonderful opponents as any videogame could possibly throw at you, which means as a balls-to-the-wall brawler, Streets of Rage 2 still has it where it counts, and that, I’m happy to say, is something that is never going to change.
Launching at a price point under the £5 mark, there really is no excuse for 3DS owners that don’t pick up this vital part of Sega’s history, it was not simply an imperative breakthrough in their development, but a watershed moment in the history of videogames in general. Besides, it still looks great, sounds incredible and it still has the power to astound gamers the world over, so go buy it, now.