As a 9 year old there was only one console I wanted for Christmas. The Mega Drive looked like a stolen Vauxhall Calibra and its games were 10 times faster, louder and more violent than the bulky family-friendly SNES. Nothing represented this better than the flawless scrolling beat-em-up Streets of Rage 2, the sequel to the excellent but not quite perfect OG.
The first level dropped you bang in the middle of the neon-lit, rain sodden streets. Evil megalomaniac Mr X had taken control of the city, backed up by a gang of thugs in double-denim with names nobody has ever been called before or since, like Galsia. It was your mission to beat the f**k out of them.
Enemies would include mohawked punks in lollipop lady jackets, bikers named after various weather conditions, and topless skinheads who looked like David Morales. If you got caught with a pole to the head or a knife in the back you could just eat a roast chicken out the bin and be fine again. There were a lot of them, but these enemies were minor. The real test came when you had to fight a boss.
The bosses were much bigger and harder than the standard fodder. You could usually tell you were in trouble because the music would become darker and more intense, a feeling you’d later experience as an adult walking into a sketchy afterparty on Sunday morning when you should’ve been home 9 hours ago. One of the toughest bosses was R.Bear, a boxer dressed like a 1920s ice cream vendor. He had combos to get out of all your best moves and was undoubtedly the cause of many a controller smashed in frustration.
Composer Yuzo Koshiro had taken inspiration from the UK rave scene to create a soundtrack which stands up to this day as the greatest of its era, maybe any era. Without knowing it we were introduced to the heady delights of house music long before we were old enough to go clubbing. Think SL2, 2 Bad Mice, and especially The Shamen, whose Move Any Mountain was an obvious inspiration for Level 4. You could even go to the options menu and play the tracks on their own, which I did, full volume, on many occasions.
The steady flow of violence at 140bpm continued at various locations which grew more surreal as the levels went on. After starting out on the streets and in a bar, you’d soon find yourself fighting ninjas on a pirate ship, fat men in a factory, and a wrestler (who looked like the Ultimate Warrior but was called ‘Abadede’) in a baseball stadium. Rage was literally everywhere.
Another thing which put Streets of Rage 2 ahead of the competition was that two players could be on the same side, forming bonds that would last for life. Even today I still feel indebted to people I barely know because they once bailed me out with a flying kick to the back of a fat fire breathing man’s head. Stuff like that doesn’t leave you.
And so the final battle neared as you took the fight to the evil Mr X at his global HQ, which looked like a function room of a Premier Inn. All the bosses you’d done in the previous seven levels came back for another go, including the annoying somersaulting thing and robot cyclops. By the time the final showdown with Mr X came you were exhausted and full of adrenaline, drawing on that extra bit of energy that comes from shuffling half a foot closer to the telly. Even being shot in the head at close range with a machine gun couldn’t stop your character getting up and steaming in to the long haired b***ard. The feeling of relief as you saw his bloodied torso crumple to the ground for the last time was indescribable. The end credits rolled. The streets were once again safe.