It just isn't what you remember.
Streets of Rage 2. Geez, what a joke. I know a lot of you nerds out there just love your Streets of Rage, I myself still have my original Genesis cartridge as a relic from the 16-bit console wars, but I have to tell you, it’s not as good as you remember. Don’t believe me? Come along, friends, and by the end, I guarantee I will convince you.
“But the game is a Genesis classic!” you say? Or maybe you’ll try and tell me that “The Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack is flawless!” or “It’s such a great multiplayer experience!”
You are wrong on all counts. All of them. Not only does Streets of Rage 2 not have any multiplayer mode whatsoever, but the music doesn’t sound quite as good as you remember, either. Probably the most criminal offense SoR2 commits is that it makes you think about the interface while you are playing. You’re constantly forced to look down at the “buttons” to make sure that your fingers aren’t slipping off, and the buttons themselves even cover up part of the screen no matter which visual option you choose! Blech!
The Joke’s on YOU! “Jow-tow!”
If I haven’t made it painfully obvious, I am, in fact, reviewing the iOS port of Streets of Rage 2. I wonder how many of you went straight to the comments section and pelted me with fanboy stones before this point in the review. Of course the original SoR2 is friggin’ amazing. It’s arguably the best brawler of the era, maybe even of all time. (Although those who try to argue otherwise come mostly from the mindless Nintendo camp. SNES Final Fight? Really? You do realize that a superior version of Final Fight was available on SEGA CD, right?-Though it still wasn’t as good as Streets of Rage 2. Oh, wait, you’re the people who think that the Super NES version of The Adventures of Batman & Robin is better than the Genesis one, too. Nevermind. There’s no arguing with that flavor of retard sandwich. Damn, this is a pretty long parenthetical aside, amirite?)
What could I possibly say about Streets of Rage 2 that hasn’t already been said? It has great combat controls, it has beautiful large sprites, and the music is some of the best of the generation. Instead, I’m going to outline some of the differences between this very affordable mobile version and how they affect the gameplay. Believe it or not, the changes aren’t all bad.
Like many other classic games ported to iOS, the most significant change to SoR2 is the inclusion of onscreen virtual buttons due to the absence of a controller. This typically leads to several problems, and SoR2 is no exception. For starters, these buttons (and your ill-manicured thumbnails) obscure the image on the screen, which is just plain annoying. At least there is a visual option that slides the buttons to the side outside of the gameplay window, but the buttons still partially obscure the screen.
However, the worst consequence of virtual buttons is that your thumbs will slowly gravitate away from them due to the lack of actual raised surfaces and the tactile feedback they provide in keeping your thumbs in place. This severely affects your ability to successfully execute each character’s special attacks. Even pulling off the simple B+C spin attacks is more of a chore than you might think. This limits the your range of attack options and, by extension, your prospects for advancing through the game. This doesn’t make SoR2 quite as unplayable as other iOS ports (Gunstar Heroes comes to mind) in that the player is never really asked to make too many snap motions in SoR2. The enemies don’t move so quickly that it is difficult to respond, as long as you stick to more basic attacks which can be planned more deliberately. However, this all adds up to an experience where the player is forced to carefully monitor the interface itself and consider their interaction in ways not intended by the original developers, which damages the enjoyability of the game considerably.
Other than the virtual buttons, the look of the game itself is mostly maintained. Yes, the screen is smaller, but the characters still look solid and animate well. As mentioned above, you have the option to shrink the screen size down a bit to minimize the visual interference of the virtual buttons. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been an update which takes advantage of the larger screens of the iPhone 5 and its successors, which is too bad, because the larger screens on these newer models could probably accommodate the virtual buttons on the sidelines and free the screen from your cracked-keratin-covered digits.
Another very important change to the gameplay is the lack of multiplayer. What else can I say? The option simply isn’t there. You have to play through this version in single player. I suppose it may be worth mentioning that playing as the slow, lumbering Max in a single-player game suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.
Fans of the Streets of Rage series laud the games’ soundtracks by Yuzo Koshiro, and rightfully so. The tracks from the original SoR2 are all present in the iOS version, but some of the layers sound a little bit… off. This may be due to the difficulty of emulating Koshiro-san’s employment of the Genesis/Mega Drive sound board, where he employs the FM sound chip in tandem with the PSG (a leftover of the SEGA Master System backwards compatibility).*
It could be that the Genesis emulation software on iOS can’t reproduce all of the layers concurrently, or perhaps it simply does a poor job reproducing the sounds of the PSG, I’m not expert enough to say, but one way or another, the music in the iOS SoR2 seems to sound wonky at times, even cutting some sounds off when your character is attacking. If you’d never heard the soundtrack before, it still sounds good, damn good, but those “in the know” coming to the iOS version will notice the discord, especially if you listen through headphones. But hey, I’ll bet most folks will end up playing the game without the ‘phones, anyway, if the sound is even turned on in the first place (sacrilege!).
Not every change made to SoR2 is for the worse, however. You do have the option to use save states, which is pretty cool. I’ve never found the game to be terribly difficult, but considering most people play mobile games on the go, it’s a good feature to have as you may not have a full half hour to play through the whole game (or three hours, if you’re crawling through it with Max).
As iOS ports of classic games go, Streets of Rage 2 certainly isn’t the worst. The superb aesthetics of the game are 95% there, and the combat can still be enjoyed at times if you stick to your most basic attacks, but with no multiplayer, no recent update to take advantage of newer devices, and the necessity of using virtual buttons really hampers the best brawler of the 16-bit generation (Suck it, Final Fight! I’m calling it!).
Fans of Streets of Rage 2 may find some use for the mobile version. I paid a buck for it, and if you’ve played the game extensively and just want to have a version to plug away at on the go, that’s a pretty low barrier to entry, especially considering there is no 3D Classic version on 3DS (Yet…?). But please, please don’t let this be the first version you experience if you are that rare SEGA fan who hasn’t played the game previously. Get it anywhere else: PSN, XBLA, Steam, Wii Virtual Console, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection or hell, the original cartridge is still out there at a semi-reasonable price as long as you’re not picky about its condition.
So there it is. Streets of Rage 2. It sucks. You convinced?
+ Graphics, sound mostly replicated
+ Save States
+ Options get the virtual buttons out of the way
– No multiplayer
– Music and sound a little off
– No updates to make use of newer, larger screens
– Bad interface make advanced attacks difficult, nearly ruin the experience