Go save Adam!

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On the back of the excellent STREETS OF RAGE the follow up, Streets Of Rage II (Bare Knuckle 2 in Japan) was a huge step forward and an even bigger success. The second game is often referred to as the pinnacle of the series as it seemed to improve in every way on what many enjoyed so much originally. The game was released 1 year after the original with a release in 1992, a time gap the story line of the game also makes a relation to. 
To start this article I’m going to issue a SPOILER WARNING for the first game in the series, the following paragraph will ruin the ending of the first game for those who never completed it. It may wish to be avoided by the readers wishing to complete the first game for the story, despite the fact it’s 18 years old, for those reading it, all it does is set the scene for this game. 

The game is set a year after the original in which saw the trio of Adam, Axel and Blaze defeat the evil crime syndicate and their leader Mr X. To celebrate the anniversary of that momentous occasion the trio meet up after having net seen each other for a while, they’d all gone their separate ways. Adam had rejoined the police, Blaze had become a dance teacher and Axel had become a body guard in the intermediary time. The day after Adam’s brother Eddie “Skate” Hunter comes home to see his house ruined and a picture of Adam in chains at the feet of Mr X, who’s crime syndicate had come out of the woodwork and were again taking the streets back. The game then see’s the fearless foursome of freedom fighters (fighting for Adam’s freedom after all) END of SPOILERS.. 
The original pairing of Blaze and Axel both return as playable characters accompanied by two new heroes, “Skate” and Max. Like its predecessor the characters each had their own traits, which became more obvious during this game than the original. In the original one of the complaints was that Axel and Adam were too similar in moves with Blaze’s move set being by far the most unique. The sequel saw a totally new move set, taking the originally limited move set (of around 10 moves) and replacing it with much more complex moves and the Blitz specials. 

In this game the stats were altered from an A or B rating for Power, Jump and speed to a star rating (1-3) where 3 stars equal great and 1 is poor. 
Axel is a good all rounder, with a poor jump, but great technique. He uses a lot of kicks and punches and is the best player for the beginner as he’s fast enough and powerful enough to look after himself. 
Blaze is the only girl from the group and is much like Axel in being an all rounder, with average stats right across the board she doesn’t have a real weakness. Blaze uses quite athletic moves like back flips. 
The first of the new characters is “Skate” who is a teenage on skates (hence the name), who’s the slickster of the group. Skate has top speed and jump stats but the worst stamina (how well he takes a punch) and power. His moves focus mainly on his speed and the fact he’s a light weight teenager. 
The final new character is the wrestler Max who is the direct opposite of Skate, with no speed or jump, he makes up for it with power and stamina both being “maxed” (see the pun) out stats. Max’s style of play is based around heavy hitting and lots of throws, though he cannot vault over an opponent. 
Added to the game (as previously mentioned) were new “blitz” moves replacing the special “police” back up of the previous game, which again added a sense of individuality to each character. The uses of these use up 1/12 of a life bar, but inflict huge damage and can take out a host of enemies in one turn (most notably Max’s “Thunder Tackle” and Skates’ “Double Spin Kick”). This addition to the game was a hugely welcome addition to the previous game, where the police back up seemed relatively “samey” and only depended on which player (1 or 2) you were as opposed to being character specific. 

The game like it’s predecessor is a simple “side” based scrolling “brawler” (word take from the X Box Sega Mega Drive Collection description of the game, as personally I’d describe it as a Beat ’em up). The game is similar to the Final Fight and Golden Axe (also a Sega developed franchise) games, though see’s a huge jump up in overall quality from the original SoR game (which it’s self looked much superior to the original Golden Axe), the games improvements include: 
The normal baddies now each having their own life bars, something that was originally limited to just the end of level bosses. To those reading this review it may not seem like much, but to those who have played the game, they will realise just how brilliant this addition was. 

The game made full use of the bigger cartridge by expanding the original 5 “normal” enemies into a much wider cast of around 13 normal enemies. Going from normal punks in the early levels to giant fat guys (reminiscent of the fire breathing Boss from level 4 of SoR), jet pack using enemies and robots. This in turn gives the game a much wider scope of variety. 
The levels are where the real improvement is though, going from the 1 scene type of the original stages where you started at the beginning of the act and fought the boss at the end. The levels in SoR are broken up into pieces, for example the games opening level starts out on a familiar cityscape similar to the opening two levels of the original. Then the player goes through a bar in the second part of the level proceeding to the back of the bar and the court yard. In the court yard you face the levels boss Barbon (who was the Barman/Barmon of the previous section of the level). 

The also updates the relatively monotone graphics of the previous game, which often made each level look the same through out (for those who don’t know what I mean, play any level and look at the back ground of that level, it’s pretty much the same from start to end). This game shows off much improved graphics especially in the “Amusement park” level where a brilliant fog effect is added. The colours look smoother, brighter and more eye catching, the bad guys look better and of course the good guys look better. 
The weapons of the original are back once again, with the silly pepper taken out, whilst the lead pipe and knife return. The game then adds a ninja knife, the bizarre and almost useless grenades and the excellent Katana sword which is awesome. 

The game also adds a “duel” mode to the main game which sees 2 players face off in a more typical 1 V 1 contest. The fighting system and characters to use are identical to the main game and the mode should be seen as effectively a bonus mode to decide who really is better you or your friend. The game mode was a fun addition that was also seen in Golden Axe, was an enjoyable side attraction, but nothing Capcom (Street Fighter) or Midway (Mortal Kombat) were to be worried about. 
A bizarre note about this is that the fighting mode was technically 3-D with players able to move left and right up and down (the screen) and also able to jump. Although it shouldn’t be confused with true 3D beat ’em ups it did have what Mortal Kombat failed to until MK4 on the N64 in that respect. 
Overall the game the game improves over the original in every way, with it being bigger, harder (no not like that…), prettier, more complex and overall a much more complete game. It is effectively a sequel that mixes only the best bits of the original then adds a host of new ingredients, mixes them to perfection and serves on the beautifully with the best china your family has. The game ends up being a bona fide gaming classic that still stands tall as one of the greatest mixtures of violence and fun, that proves yet further that gaming of the past actually relied on being fun. 
The few flaws of the original (such as graphics and lack of moves) have been rectified wonderfully well with the characters each feeling totally different unlike the previous game where the characters felt quite samey. 

The game does have one big annoyance with me though, that is the box art of the European release which shows the 4 playable characters. It shows Max as being bald, a bit of a weird one but it always confused me as a child so I’m unwilling to let it sit.


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