It’s still a bit trippy that you can play SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis games on a Nintendo console, but the emulator found on Nintendo Online Membership for the Switch has been a real breath of fresh air for me. I’ve never actually owned a physical Mega Drive at any point in my life (although I did always want one in my younger days), but thanks to the many legal (and reasonably affordable) ways of accessing Mega Drive games digitally, I’ve been able to dive into the game library many a time over the years, with Streets of Rage 2 being my most recent sojourn into SEGA Town.
Released in December 1992 in North America and in January 1993 for the rest of the world, Streets of Rage 2 was both published and developed in-house by SEGA themselves. The SoR games came to life as a response to Capcom’s Final Fight series of games, with SEGA wanting their own trademark side-scrolling beat-em-up for their hardware. Streets of Rage 2 also saw ports to the Game Gear, and that also meant that it hit the Master System in Europe because porting GG games to the MS was embarrassingly easy, and the latter console was still shockingly popular over here. I only played the Mega Drive version for this article though (although if Nintendo wants to add a Master System emulator to the Switch, then I’m THERE for it).
One of the first things I noticed about Streets of Rage 2 is that it has that unmistakable SEGA “feel” to it the moment you boot it up. The graphics, the music and the general ambiance is full of the cool SEGA vibe that those of us from that era remember. SEGA was the fourth gen console that was generally marketed as a more “grown up” and “gritty” machine, and that becomes immediately clear when you enter the first level with the techno-styled soundtrack and moody lighting. Streets of Rage 2 can certainly be bright and colourful when it wants to be, but it’s always happy to embrace darkness and moodiness when the need arises, such as when you brawl your way through dingy nightclubs cracking skulls along the way.
There’s generally a good variety to the stages themselves, seeing you clobber your way through the streets and aforementioned nightclubs before heading into a ship’s hull that rocks whilst you battle and the high rise building where the climactic boss battle takes place. Each stage has its own personality, with the atmosphere never feeling overly try-hard. Streets of Rage 2 is cool and knows it but not enough that it ever starts feeling forced or false. Graphically, Streets of Rage 2 has that timeless quality that the best 2D games of the 16-bit era can have. This is only extenuated by the outstanding soundtrack.
Gameplay-wise, Streets of Rage 2 falls victim to some of the issues other side-scrolling beat-em-ups can suffer from, with the core gameplay loop starting to get a bit repetitive.as well as the unfair difficulty spikes that pop up here and there as a way to elongate the run time. You’ve got an attack, jump and special move button, which you can assign to the pad as you like. Making contact with consecutive attacks will see you put together a punishing combo, and if you can get in close enough to an opponent, you can grab them and fling their hapless hide across the map. Special moves do more damage to opponents but will also sap some of your own health. If you’ve ever played a game in this genre before, then you likely won’t find any real surprises when it comes to the gameplay in Streets of Rage 2.
Sometimes weapons such as lead pipes and swords can be found dotted throughout the stage, and you can use them to your advantage and inflict some pain on the gang members you come up against. I did find a way to cheese things sometimes: by just throwing a punch and pausing ever-so-slightly before throwing another. This will stop you going into a combo and will leave your opponent stunned, meaning that if you get the timing right you can just hammer away, and your opponents won’t have a chance to fight back. It can be very satisfying when you get your timing and attacks right as you can clear the entire screen of enemies just using regular attacks and throws.
I found most of the boss battles to be stiff but fair, the clawed Blanka-like opponents aside. Oh, and Streets of Rage 2 earned my ire by having one of my least favourite tropes in this genre and including a boss rush. Boss rushes are cruel, vile things, and if it were up to me, they’d be outlawed alongside escort missions and flared trousers! Despite the sometimes unfair leap in difficulty though, Streets of Rage 2 is put together exceptionally well, and it’s still imminently playable today, especially alongside a knuckle cracking buddy.