Growing up, I was an only child outside of my four furry dog brothers. Now that I am 25, I have a dog of my own, but it was only just recently that the last of the four dogs I grew up with passed away. As someone who genuinely prefers the company of animals to most people (yeah, I’m one of those guys), the death of a pet is always something that hits me like a hard left hand. I sob, I get angry, I feel dejected and deflated. This time was different. I skipped the anger and the waterworks, and I went straight to feeling depressed. Not only had I lost a member of my family, but it was as if the last vestiges of my childhood were stripped away. In an effort to cope with my feelings of loss and existential worry I dove headfirst into a playthrough of Streets of Rage 2.
Streets of Rage 2 (or as the hip folks on the internet stylize it, SoR2) is the earliest game I distinctly remember falling in love with. I couldn’t have been more than three or four years old when I first popped it into my Genesis Model 2, but even at that tender age I appreciated the aesthetics and streamlined gameplay found within. The sharp neon colors provided a unique visual appearance that screamed “danger” to a young me. SoR2 was the coolest fucking thing I owned, and I knew it.
It is a distinctly 90’s game – a side scrolling beat ‘em up of the highest order. Elegant in design like all beat ‘em ups, the goal is to move your character from the left side of the screen to the right all the while beating the piss out of guys wearing too much denim and girls wearing too few layers.
Admittedly, my fascination with the game started as a run-of-the-mill power fantasy. Community outreach programs be damned, I was a loose cannon ex-cop who was cleaning up the city by way of bar room brawls with guys named Galsia and Y Signal, and pipe fights with dudes named Donovan. The goal of the game is to stop Mr. X and his dastardly crime syndicate’s diabolical plot to plunge the city into chaos through the use of . . . robots and gangbangers? Sure. You’ll also be trying to free Adam, one of the playable characters in the first game, from Mr. X’s island fortress. Look, trust me when I say the story doesn’t matter. It’s all about that sweet catharsis you gain from from whippin’ some pixelated ass with a big ol’ metal pipe. That catharsis is what keeps me coming back long after the power fantasy appeal wore out. That and the bitchin’ tunes.
The original score to SoR2 is what most people think of when they hear the game mentioned – and for good reason. The quasi-house and early techno tracks that accompanied each stage melted and recast my pre-adolescent brain. It was light-years beyond what I thought was possible for a video game (at least until I played Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master a few years later), and it was the standard I would hold most video game soundtracks to while I was growing up. Much has been written about Yuzo Koshiro – specifically his work on SoR2 – so I won’t rehash what has already been said, but I have to make sure my feelings about Koshiro’s work are on some sort of record: it is still a phenomenal soundtrack even when held up to modern scrutiny.
It may have been released in 1992, and I may not have played it until 1995, but I still found myself returning to Streets of Rage 2 at least a handful of times every year of my life since I first played it. My parents bought me a Playstation, and although I loved my PS1, I would often end up digging my Genesis out to play SoR2 (and Shinobi III and the Sonic series, albeit less frequently). By the 5th generation of consoles, I was generally playing Halo and Halo 2, or Final Fantasy X, but the allure of Streets of Rage 2 would often be too strong to defy.
More often than not, I found myself coming back to SoR2 whenever I needed a healthy dose of escapism – an escape to a particular point in my life rather than a role-playing sort of escapism that I would get with something like Fallout. When my dad died when I was 15 I was surrounded by friends and family members that cared deeply about my well-being. I’ll never forget those people and what they did for me. But when everyone was gone, and I was alone with my grief and anger, I could post up in my bedroom with one of my dogs and SoR2. It was my therapy. I mean, I’m extremely maladjusted so I probably should have seen a legitimate counselor, but Streets of Rage 2 was cheaper.
A few years later I’d be living on my own and attending college. Yet again Streets of Rage 2 would be my go to game whenever I’d be feeling lost or alone. A bad break-up? SoR2 (and beer). Missed a deadline on a project? SoR2 (and beer). An argument with a friend? So – yeah, you get the idea. SoR2 – the answer to all your existential worries and personal problems.
So when you’re feeling like time may be moving too fast, or you’re just hankering for a simpler point in your life, the best thing you can do is throw on Streets of Rage 2 and kick some ass to a killer soundtrack. It won’t bring back your dead dog, or provide an outline on where your life should be heading, but it can help bring you back to a more care-free time, if only for an hour. Like a favorite album from yesteryear, a classic game from your childhood can provide a hit of nostalgia that can make dealing with emotionally strenuous situations a bit easier to handle – escapism and whatnot. For you, dear reader, it could be the original Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country, or fuckin’ Bonk! or whatever. For me, that game is Streets of Rage 2, and I am eternally grateful to SoR2’s development team for bringing a true masterpiece into existence.