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In May 2007, through the magic of the Wii Virtual Console, a new generation of gamers was blessed with the opportunity to play through what some fans maintain in the single greatest side-scrolling fighting game of all time, Streets of Rage 2. Originally released for the Sega Genesis way back in 1992 as the middle game of what would become a 16-bit trilogy, Streets of Rage 2 (or Bare Knuckle 2, as it is known in Japan), took the beat-'em-up formula originated by its predecessor as well as games like Final Fight and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games and flat out perfected it. What made it so special then, and continues to make it special even in today's video game market? Read on to find out more before you play Streets of Rage 2.
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In the original Streets of Rage, three police officers -- Adam Hunter, Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding -- worked to clean up their neighborhood and take down the mysterious crime lord known simply as "Mr. X". One year later, the trio meets for a reunion, only to find out the next day that Adam had been kidnapped by none other than "Mr. X" and that he intends to regain control of his city. So once again, Alex and Blaze, joined by Adam's little brother "Skate" and another new character named Max Thunder, once again must take down their adversary, rescue Adam and put an end to "Mr. X's" crime syndicate once and for all. Yeah, it's a pretty weak plot, but like any good popcorn flick, it serves mainly as a premise to get into the action, and it serves its purpose well.
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Side-scrolling beat-'em-ups were a dime a dozen back in the Genesis days, but Streets of Rage 2 trumped them all by allowing you to not just punch and kick, but also to pick up and use a variety of weapons and use special moves when in a pinch. Each character had two unique special moves, one which was mildly effective and could be used at any time, and another that did a ton of damage but also drained part of the player's life bar and thus needed to be used sparingly. Furthermore, the game features a vast array of different enemy types, including bikers, kickboxers, whip-wielding villains and so forth -- not to mention some incredible boss fights. Every opponent you fight has a life bar, which is a nice touch, and there are multiple difficulty levels as well. If you've ever played a beat-'em-up like this, know that on the whole, Streets of Rage 2 doesn't really stray too far from the standardized formula for these kinds of games, but it does refine it to near perfection. This is a game you will want to play and beat time and time again, of that I have no doubt.
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Graphics and Sound
Judging this game in comparison to comparable titles from the 16-bit era, the game looks and sounds quite good. Yes, it might not have aged well, and it's nowhere near as flashy as modern-day Xbox 360 or PS3 games. That said, if Streets of Rage 2 was released on the Nintendo DS today, I think most gamers would be satisfied with the character sprites, the environments, the backgrounds, the musical score and the sound effects, and considering this is a downloadable title, I figure that's good enough to award it four stars in this category.
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Old-school fans already know, but everyone else better recognize -- to play Streets of Rage 2 is to play one of the best side-scrolling fighting games of its kind - if not the best. It may be hard to believe or accept that a video game that is more than 15 years old remains the definitive entry in its genre, but in this case (and in my humble opinion) it is absolutely, 100% true. I long for a new Streets of Rage game for current consoles, or an enhanced port of this 16-bit classic or either the DS or PSP. In the meantime, though, this 800 point ($8.00) Virtual Console download is good enough to satisfy my cravings. If you enjoy good old-fashioned combat game, this one comes highly recommended, especially considering that all this gaming goodness can be yours for under $10.00.