One of the most hotly discussed topics in gaming is the touchy subject of quality, to the point where die-hard fans will vehemently defend a title. Regardless of whether or not the game is a runaway success or a quickly forgotten debacle, quality will always be debated for long after the release date.
It's also fair to say that the quality of any game is, by & large, very subjective. Review articles are the mere legible (or, at times, visual) representation of someone's opinion and experience with a title. Scores derived from such critique exist only to provide a general overview to the tone of a review.
Of course, the fallout that can occur when a 'good' game receives a 'bad' score is often the catalyst for the masses to set their sights on shooting the messenger. Complaints of bias or incompetence fill the air when, in fact, all that happened was a simple difference of opinion.
When writing about a game I felt was amazing (or should that be 'aaamaazing') I do so based on the quality
of my experience. The praise I continue to heap upon this title is garnered from the joy I've had playing for countless hours with friends, family and by myself.
Is it the greatest game I've ever played? Not really, as Final Fantasy IX
will always hold a special place in my heart for reasons I've already explained
. Is it the best game in it's genre? Again, not really, as there have been plenty of games that have surpassed it in terms of gameplay.
What we have here is a game that doesn't so much push the envelope foreword as it does repackage existing gameplay elements to provide a solid, fun filled experience. Nestled in between all the current day 'AAA' titles lies a game that still manages to amaze and astound today as it did way back in 1993.
Streets of Rage II
was a game that amazed (sorry, aaamaazed…) me from the moment I first laid eyes on it. After a chance purchase of a gaming magazine (the expensive, old school kind that came packaged with a VHS tape) I instantly knew I had to buy it. I would play the tape over and over again in constant awe of what I was seeing.
Everything about the game, from the fluid graphics to the sheer amount of things happening on-screen left me in stunned silence. Replaying the promotional video allowed me to spot all manner of oddities and intricacies, like throwing enemies into one another to effortlessly cause damage to both. Jumping at the perfect time in order to dodge an electrified whip sent your way by lithe ladies of the night. Or seeing that gigantic wrestler Max walked so slowly, it was actually far quicker to use his dash attack and slide along the floor when moving through non-combative parts of the level.
The gameplay was simple but the experience was euphoric, as I sat there watching all manner of thugs, goons, punks, wretches & kings get annihilated. Fueling the action is a classic tale of revenge. Adam (a character from the first game) has been kidnapped by the nefarious Mr X. As his criminal influence spreads across the city, four friends unite to work towards common goals. Rescuing their mate with a penchant for yellow vests and bringing Mr X one step closer to pixelated death.
As I counted down the days to the game's release, I began to hear faint whisperings of dissent from friends. "Oh, it's just copying Final Fight
!" some would say, while others commented on other aspects like the fact it was on the SEGA Genesis (most people I knew at the time favored Nintendo systems) or that they were nowhere near as enthralled by footage of the game as I was. Once the cartridge was in my hands I was initially quite surprised, not by what the game contained, but what it was devoid of.
One of the cool things missing from Streets of Rage II
is the ability to call for police backup, which was a prominent feature from the first game. SEGA replaced these limited use callouts with new special attacks you could use whenever you want. Though the sight of a bazooka wielding policeman making it rain fire with you, somehow, unscathed was pretty awesome, I think it worked out for the best.
Some of the enemies (particularly the bosses) just don't stay down when they hit the floor. Their powerful attacks and extended health bars made them formidable foes on all but the easiest of difficulty levels.
To remedy this a little, each character had access to two special attacks utilizing the 'A' button on the Genesis controller. The first had a small area of effect; hitting enemies both directly in front and behind to allow some degree of crowd control. The second tended to be a multi-hit attack that only struck those you were facing at the time.
There was also a modicum of strategy involved in proceedings, because using the special attacks actually drained your health slightly. Each time you used a combo attack your character would take some damage whereas the crowd control attacks only punished your health meter if you actually hit someone with it. A simple gameplay mechanic, but one which amplified the tension whenever you found yourself close to death. If the health penalty of using a special attack was enough to kill you, they were stripped from your repertoire until your demise.
While it was much easier to run through the game alone in about an hour or so, the greatest experience Streets of Rage II
offers is the chance to team up with a friend. There are only a handful of changes made to the game when a second player enters the fray - there are a few more enemies and health pickups, for instance - but even this is fraught with intrigue.
Obviously you were both working to the same end, however, an intense level of rivalry and camaraderie remained. Never before or since has a game managed to marry these two elements so seamlessly. Playing a two player session always brought out the best (and worst) in people.
On the surface, you were allies and as such, constantly looking out for each other. Every few screens contained smidgins of micro-management. Do you take the health pickup or leave it for them? How many points does the other player have? Who deserves that extra life hidden behind the truck on stage 2? Does my partner need to step their game up, or am I the one not pulling their weight?
However, the allure of an impressive hi-score meant that, after just a few rounds of Streets of Rage II
, even the greatest of real life tag teams could end up destroyed from the inside out. Banter and bickering amongst teammates sometimes threatened to upstage the on-screen action as players tried to stake their claim for illusive item pickups.
Nostalgia has the funny tendency of making you remember just the good parts and leave out all the rest. Things like glitches, untimely deaths and moments of such frustration that joypads spontaneously gained the capability of flight, will always pale in comparison to the good bits.
Perhaps that much is true, and due to this, a certain amount of tinting can be applied when casting an observing glance on yesteryear. The radiance and luster of a title may start to wane as time goes on, but what remains ever present and untainted, is the quality
of the experience.
In the end, it doesn't even matter how 'good' or 'bad' a game is metacritic-wise. So long as the ratio of positive and negative experiences is skewed towards the former, surely its possible for people to enjoy any title. The reason I find Streets of Rage II
so amazing has surprisingly little to do with the game itself and more to do with the influx of great times I've had and shared over the years.
While there were plenty of other games that featured multiplayer modes, Streets of Rage II
was my first co-operative experience where both players were treated as equals. Prior to this, the second player never seemed to emerge from player one's all encompassing shadow. They were forever consigned to being the tail gunner. The Robin to P1's Batman, so to speak. The Rodney to player one's Del Boy or (perhaps more poignantly, given the era) the Miles Prower to their Sonic The Hedgehog.
For me, this was both liberating and empowering, all at the same time. Teaming up with others originally felt like I was breaking the habit of a lifetime but, truth be told, I eventually began to enjoy co-op play more than the single-player game. The overarching sense of teamwork Streets of Rage II
can create remains unmatched, although recent games like The Warriors
, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
and even Borderlands
definitely get close to it.
Nowadays, games (and to a lesser extent, gamers) have given up on their co-operative nature of the past, in favor of individual acts of valor and distinction. Even the biggest names in multiplayer gaming today are still crawling towards the advocacy of personal accolades like kill/death ratios and killstreaks, as opposed to rewarding the efforts of your team or chosen clan en-masse.
Teamwork, it seems, has become a lot more selfish than it used to be…
And I suppose that is the reason why I find Streets of Rage II
so aaamaazing. Because, it is only when you strip away all that is superficial that you realize what endears. Much of my very early gaming experiences (as you may have already guessed) were spent as the afore mentioned tail gunner, so you can imagine how exciting it was to be considered 'part of the team' for once.
For me, this newfound sense of 'esprit de corps' helped form the foundation of my gaming sentience. It filled the empty spaces of my overtly egocentric mindset, replacing it with a much more selfless attitude.
Looking back at what I've done over the years, I find it impressive such a game could instill so much in such a short space of time. Gently pushing me away from solitude, into the arms of multiplayer.
For that, I remain truly amazed. read