There was a time when playground arguments didn't revolve around resolutions, framerates or what PewDiePie's favourite toast topping is. In the early '90s it was simple; which is the best: Final Fight or Streets of Rage? Final Fight was, for a time, exclusive to Nintendo and jealous Mega Drive owners glared with envy at their smug SNES-owning friends. This smugness was short lived; shortly afterwards Sega answered back with the original Streets of Rage and thus the classroom war began. Whatever your preference was back in the day, there's no denying that Sega did a decent job at imitating what made Final Fight so appealing. They even went a step further by including a simultaneous two player mode, which the SNES version of Final Fight was notably lacking.
It was a fantastic first entry for the franchise, but little over a year later Sega smashed it out the park once again with a hugely improved sequel. Now available to download from the Nintendo 3DS eShop, 3D Streets of Rage 2 is the latest title to join Sega's 3D Classics range, with development duties once again handled by M2.
In a nutshell, Streets of Rage 2 is a fairly typical side-scrolling beat-'em-up set across eight unique stages. These include dark neon sign-filled streets, ominous looking industrial complexes and even a romp through an amusement park filled with pirate ships and other rides. Occupying these stages are countless waves of bad guys impeding the vigilante quest to rescue your kidnapped buddy, Adam Hunter (from the first Streets of Rage). Adam is being held captive by the mysterious 'Mr. X' so it's down to Axel and Blaze - both returning from the original - to team up with new characters Skate (Adam's brother) and hulking wrestler Max. All four characters have their own unique move-sets and statistics; Max is the typical huge brawler type: slow and powerful, whereas Axel is the all-rounder, Skate is quick yet weak and Blaze sits somewhere in-between.
Three buttons are used to dish out your virtual justice: jump, attack and special. Various combinations of these buttons and/or directional inputs enable a diverse selection of moves with which to tackle most situations effectively. These include reverse attacks and grab moves, plus there's a strong emphasis on utilising combo attacks which should be learned if you want to be successful in your quest.
Each character is also equipped with a set of unique special moves. In the original Streets of Rage, all special attacks were roughly identical: call on a police car to blast the area clear. This suspiciously familiar enforcement vehicle (ESWAT anyone?) is now absent and is replaced by dragon punches, shoulder barges and more. While these new character-specific moves are super-powerful, they should be activated sparingly; every use consumes a part of your life bar. However, there are other 'minor' special moves - such as Axel's iconic Grand Upper - which don't consume life but require more complex button combinations to execute.
If you do happen to find yourself low on precious energy, simply eat some of the apples that are conveniently lying around on the floor or search for whole-cooked chickens inside garbage bins - mmm, delicious. Aside from these useful energy refills, there's a nice variety of weaponry to pick up including knives, drainpipes and super-sharp swords. All of these helpful items will give you an edge over your foes, but bear in mind many of your enemies carry weapons of their own, too.
Sega dramatically upped the ante with Streets of Rage 2; the variety in the enemies spread throughout is much improved. Don't be surprised to be punching robots, taking out Thai boxers or fly-kicking punks from motorcycles. It's an eclectic mix but that somehow works. As is the norm, each stage also has its own unique boss battle, too.
In terms of visuals, the Nintendo 3DS pulls off 3D Streets of Rage 2 with aplomb, with brightly popping colours presented in wonderfully sharp resolution. We'd go as far as to say this is the absolute best that these particular Streets have ever looked. The beautiful visuals similarly look astounding with the stereoscopic 3D switched on; the depth and foreground elements have been masterfully handled; Streets of Rage 2 is one of the best implementations of 3D visuals we've seen yet. For video game joyriders there's also a handy stage select that enables a jump straight into any of the eight stages instantly. This makes it easy to take in the visual feast on offer if you're struggling to make it through to the end.
As well as the implementation of 3D, M2 have once again chucked in a few additional modes. First of these is Rage Relay Mode which allows you to select all four characters from the beginning along with the order you want to use them in. If you lose a life, simply swap to the next character in the line. It's an interesting way to experience every character's different strategies and move-sets in a single play. For players who are finding the going too tough, there's a selectable 'casual mode'. When this mode is active, enemies are knocked-out simply by hitting them to ground. This means you can effectively take out any bosses with a single flying kick. If you'd like to further water down the experience, upon your first completion 'Fists of Death' mode is unlocked (making a return from 3D Streets of Rage). With this activated, a single punch is all you need to KO any enemy, Fist of the North Star-style. It's kind of hilarious, but also takes away the soul of the game a little.
Simultaneous two player fun can be had over a local connection (both players must have the game) but it's well worth the effort as the execution is flawless. Silky smooth and awesome fun, we recommend whole heartedly that you try this out if you can. The single screen player vs player 'duel mode' on the other hand is not really worth bothering with.
As for other features, it's cool being able to swap between the International and Japanese versions of the game, if only to see the title screen change to Bare Knuckle 2. There's the now standard screen option for emulating an old CRT look and feel, plus the ability to save a full replay of your play-through. Sneaky old M2 has also infiltrated the game credits with some hilarious skits; make sure to check them out if only for the WTF moments. You'll see what we mean, trust us.
Finally, what review would be worth its salt if it didn't mention Yuzo Koshiro's (with some compositions by Motohiro Kawashima) famous soundtrack? Catchy techno-synth-beats and punchy sound effects perfectly compliment the action; it's an incredible demonstration of the power of the Mega Drive sound chip when utilised properly. Do yourself a favour and ensure you have the volume up high when playing.
In conclusion, 3D Streets of Rage 2 is a masterclass in its genre. In its day it was one of the most accomplished and fully featured beat-'em-ups available, with great game balance and spot-on pacing. More than twenty years later it's still a joy to pick up and play; even more so with M2's excellent additions. If you're reliving your youth, you'll find this is one game where rose-tinted spectacles haven't pulled the wool over your eyes. It is as good as you remember. If you're coming at this fresh, we envy you; enjoy every second. Streets of Rage 2 is back with a vengeance and it's thoroughly deserving of your time. A true classic.