It's hard to believe that it's been over two years since I put together the Co-Op Beat Em Up Retrospective for the site. I'd be lying if I said a big reason and inspiration for that piece wasn't because of the Streets of Rage series, specifically Streets of Rage 2 on the SEGA Genesis.
The original Streets of Rage did quite well on the system, but it was based on an arcade mentality at the time. And while the original was released on the console, it was the second game that really put depth into the series. Offering a full 8 levels chock full of a variety of settings, characters and bosses, this wasn't a game you could sit down a beat in 20 minutes much like most other beat em ups of the day. It was a game designed for the consoles.
In the game you can choose from four characters - Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding as well as new characters Max Thunder and Eddie "Skate" Hunter. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their own special moves. Axel is your more balanced character while Blaze is a bit faster. Skate is the far end of the spectrum in terms of speed while Max is slow and strong.
The story was a direct sequel to the first as well - players were hunting for Mr X. - taking down his crime syndicate along the way. Mr. X has kidnapped Adam Hunter, Skate's brother - and character from the first game.
So what really made Streets of Rage 2 special for co-op players? Besides the obvious replayability thanks to the variety of characters and how they can work together in co-op, the game felt very interactive. You could break parts of the environment, find food and weapons hidden in trash cans, mail boxes and even under tables.
I was about 13 years old when I played SoR2 for the first time, so the funniest interaction for my friend and I was when we'd use Axel or Max to accidently grab Blaze mid combat. Why was it so funny?
Like I said earlier as well - this is a long game for its time. It would easily take you an hour to play through all 8 levels. Each level had its own distinct look and feel, though the same couldn't be said for most of the enemies. Most were simply palette swaps of others - and they all had the same name. Seriously, how many R. Signal are there? And why are they named after traffic lights?
And this was another odd thing. Every enemy just had a first initial and then a last name. Was street fighting done on proper terms? Is there some unwritten code of the streets? Most levels wrapped up with a ridiculous boss battle, the hardest of which was that damn wrestler on at the end of the Baseball Stadium level.
Streets of Rage 2 has even stood the test of time, with recent releases on PSN, Xbox Live Arcade and even iOS. It's a game I find myself playing through at least once a year with a friend and everytime I see and appreciate something new in it. Even my most recent playthrough of the game I had forgotten just how great the music is for the title, something that was a pretty stand out feature.
So if you've never played Streets of Rage 2, my advice is to go find it on a recent platform - grab a pal - and get to clearing the streets to find Mr. X. Just don't get too close to your friend, you'll never know what you may end up grabbing.