Streets of Rage 2 - or Bare Knuckle 2 as it is known in Japan - is widely regarded as one of the best side-scrolling fighters ever created, so the fact that its announcement as part of Sega's burgeoning 3D Classics range caused such excitement should come as no great shock. This is one of the defining games of the 16-bit era, and easily one of the most accomplished Mega Drive titles ever produced. It's now available on the Japanese 3DS eShop, and we wasted absolutely no time in downloading it and getting stuck in.
As with all of Sega's other 3D Classics - which have been skilfully ported by emulation experts M2 - 3D Streets of Rage 2 looks and sounds utterly fantastic. It's totally faithful to the original and comes with the added benefit of retrofitted 3D; even with the slider turned up to full, the effect is quite subtle and really enriches the experience, especially on those levels where there are lots of objects scrolling in the foreground. The punchy 2D visuals still look as appealing as they did back in the '90s, with lots of bright primary colours contrasting with dank, dirty urban environments, while Yuzo Koshiro's pumping electronic soundtrack hasn't aged a single bit.
The gameplay is surprisingly timeless, too. Sega really stepped things up with this sequel, adding in a wide range of attack options across the four main characters. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses, and becoming adept with all of them is one of the game's most satisfying challenges. Unlike the original Streets of Rage - in which the three characters had pretty much identical move-sets - the sequel mixes things up by giving each fighter a different arsenal of attacks.
For example, Axel's post-vault move sees him slamming his opponent into the tarmac, while Sammy (AKA Eddie "Skate" Hunter) leaps onto the back of his victim and pummels their cranium with his small but surprisingly devastating fists. Characters now have two special moves - both of which consume a section of your health bar when they successfully connect - as well as another "minor" special which is activated by double-tapping a direction and pressing the attack button.
What sets this 3DS version apart from its forerunner is the the special "Quartet" mode. At the start of the game you pick your main character and then assign a running order to the remaining three. When you lose one of your four lives, you switch to the next character in line. It's a simple feature, but one that maintains variety - you get to make use of the whole cast of fighters, rather than being stuck with the same one for the entire game. There's also a special "Knock Down" mode, where every attack is guaranteed to kill standard grunts.
As with other Sega 3D Classics, save states are included so you can easily pick up where you left off, as well as various screen filters, one of which adds an authentic CRT-style curve to the screen. There's also a local multiplayer mode which replicates what was arguably the 16-bit original's most appealing element - its potential for causing massive, friendship-ruining arguments (why does your co-op partner ALWAYS pick up the chicken when they have full health?). You'll both need a copy of the game to take part in this mode, but that's a minor quibble. Another minor criticism relates more to the hardware than the game; the Circle Pad makes double-tapping a little tricky, which means you'll need to use the D-Pad if you desire more accurate control - and in our opinion, it rests a little too low down on the 3DS' body to be usable for long periods. This is purely a personal preference however, and you may be perfectly fine with the D-Pad.
3D Streets of Rage 2 is yet another amazing remaster by Sega, and should be on every 3DS owner's radar. It launches in North America and Europe this July. Save those pennies.