As predicted, jolly old SEGA's onward march into the retro kingdom of the Xbox Live Arcade continues apace, with Streets of Rage 2 representing its fourth Mega Drive/Genesis re-release on the download service since mid July. Having already spewed 31 titles onto the Wii's Virtual Console service in little over nine months, it seems pretty likely that we'll see a lot more over the coming weeks and months. Having said that, Microsoft appears to be cherry picking the best/most famous of the bunch, so perhaps we'll be spared a complete re-run of SEGA's entire 16-bit back catalogue. How about some of your arcade games, eh SEGA?
With that off my chest, let's talk about Streets of Rage 2. Considered by many to be one of the finest side-scrolling brawlers of the 16-bit era, it's a typically brash, uncomplicated and a whole lot of dumb fun for those of you who fancy a relatively untarnished trip down memory lane. Boosted by online co-op play, enhanced (or rather 'smoothed') visuals and the ability to save at any point, it's still a huge amount of fun to punch, kick, stab and whack your way through all eight levels over a course of an hour or so. Yours for 400 points (Ł3.40) , it's worth pointing out that it's vastly better value than the unaltered version available on Wii VC since June 1st, which will set you back 800 points (Ł5.60).
Getting a semi
In traditional style, you first get to select one of the four characters available, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Axel is usually the one everyone goes for, thanks to his all-round abilities and incredibly useful Grand Upper 'semi' special move. This is like a gigantic Dragon Punch that deals enormous damage to anyone in the vicinity, and once you've worked out that double tapping and pressing attack pulls this off, you'll probably spend the entire game doing just that - it's that effective.
In terms of the other characters, there's Blaze with her stab n' slash double knife attack, the agile Skate, with his Billy Whizz sprint manoeuvre and the ever-useful semi special, the cannon-ball jump that literally bowls over enemies in his path. And finally, there's the lumbering oaf, Max, who looks temptingly powerful, but is so slow he constantly gets caught out by the more nimble foes that you face. That said, he does have an excellent slide move that deals damage to a whole line of enemies in one go, so it's not all bad.
All share the same standard attack, jump and 'special' moves, used in pretty much every Sega (and Capcom) brawlers of the era, and it's hardly a game that'll have you rushing to the 'How to Play' section. Streets of Rage 2 might look as simple as they come, but beyond the initial sections, it's not a game that'll just allow you to relentlessly punchpunchpunchpunch your way through it for long. Fairly soon, the streets get crowded out with canny thugs who know their way around a side-scrolling brawler. Yes.
Rage Fury Pro
Soon they start wielding knives and pipes, and even Katana swords - all of which you can boot out of their hands and use yourself, of course. But things start getting a little trickier when Ninjas start spinning across the screen, or whip-cracking punks or bike-riding thugs start trying to run you down and lob grenades at you. It's a tough city, but someone's got to clean it up.
Before long, you'll doubtlessly be surrounded by enemies and need to resort to using your energy-draining special move. In a spectacular fit of fury, enemies go flying as you lash out on all sides, giving you much-needed breathing space to pick them off one by one again. Inevitably, sub-bosses provide even more testing obstacles to progress, often requiring studious use of the semi-special to see them and their gaggle of henchmen off. Using every dirty trick in the book, they charge, slide, leap from above, and generally do whatever they can to sap you of your precious health. Fortunately, the game's fairly generous with health, and as long as you're diligent enough to smash up every item of scenery, you'll get a small boost generally when you need it. Extra points, too, help you gain extra lives, while the game also allows you to continue twice once you're totally spent.
But as always with games of this nature, the real fun is playing it with a buddy, which you can do offline or online. But although playing online with a mate sounds like a good idea in theory, it's very much connection dependent, so be aware that lag's likely to be an issue if, say, you end up connected to someone over the other side of the world who has forgotten to turn off his torrents. Still, if you can get a good, lag-free game going, it's excellent fun teaming up to take down some of the tough bosses, and certainly helps you get a lot further through the game.
In addition to the standard co-op, there's also the rather throwaway versus mode to check out - and this is also a mode you can try out online if you can stand the lag. With such a limited move set, it's hardly troubling Street Fighter 2 for one-on-one beat 'em up thrills, put it that way, but should settle a few arguments about who's the best character at the very least.
In terms of the conversion, it's the usual top-notch, glitch free affair that we've come to expect from Backbone. If the chunky graphics are proving too much to bear on a big HDTV, then the rather excellent smoothing effect proves to be a nice way of fooling the eye a touch. As with Sonic, you might even prefer the effect after a while, though obviously it can't really aid the hilarious non-animation, but that's all part of the enduring charm, isn't it? Failing that, just sit as far away from the screen as possible. That usually helps...
Once again, the achievements provide an extra layer of longevity for the hardcore, but in this case (unless you play on Very Easy) most of the 12 are downright evil, and anyone who can play through the whole game without continuing (on default settings) deserves some sort of medal. Or a Jaffa cake, at least.
So that's Streets of Rage 2, then. Top notch side-scrolling brawler from 1993, and, in many respects almost as much fun now as it was then. For the sake of few quid, this is definitely a worth firing up the trial to check out, and, for the fans, a worthy addition to your Live Arcade collection. But please SEGA, please please resist the urge to dump your entire Mega Drive back catalogue onto XBLA - there aren't that many of your old titles that qualify for classic status.