One thing SEGA has been fairly diligent about over the last few months is churning out emulated versions of many of their Genesis games for the iOS platform. Unlike many companies that have chosen to go with a front end that you can download game “packs” for, SEGA releases each one as its own product. Of course I’m still waiting for some of my absolute favorites (Comix Zone or Mutant League Hockey anyone?), but in the mean time I’ve been pretty happy with a number of their releases. The latest batch is no exception, with two sequels to two of my original favorites – Golden Axe 2 and Streets Of Rage 2. Thankfully they’ve even been tweaking their emulator engine, because Golden Axe 2 runs a LOT better than the first one.
For those of you not familiar with the games, they are both basically 2D side scrolling beat-em-ups. One takes place on the gritty streets of a place not unlike New York City, while the other sends you back to medieval times in a land talk about in tales passed down from generation to generation. Either way you select a lone warrior to take on the ultimate evil, battling plenty of minions along the way. Both have Bluetooth support so that you can play 2 player just like if you were playing on a console. I rather enjoyed both games because this is what I grew up with as a child / teenage gamer. However, for those who might be new to the experience, I think Streets Of Rage 2 has held up much better than Golden Axe 2. If you’re into 10 button combos and 100s of moves, you might find both of them to be a bit of a drag.
The emulator has a virtual d-pad in the lower left corner, and buttons in the right corner. In Streets Of Rage you can configure the buttons, but sadly in Golden Axe 2 you don’t have that luxury. The buttons are pretty safe, but there is quite a few times where the d-pad can get in the way of the action. Once the game starts you have the option of switching views so that there is a border around the game window and the controls don’t obscure it that much. This of course makes the images much smaller, which seems to have more impact in Golden Axe 2 – I find the game somewhat difficult to play in “windowed” mode. For Streets Of Rage 2 it’s not that bad, but I still prefer full screen mode on both games just because it’s easier to see.
Golden Axe 2
This game shows it’s age much more readily of the two. It’s a lot hard to move in close and grab enemies so that you can pound on them and toss them. Even when you are able to accomplish such moves, they aren’t nearly as entertaining as those for Streets Of Rage 2. There are no hidden items to collect or food to pick up to restore your health. The exception to this is books you can pick up to replenish your magic. What I do like is that there is a cut scene at the end of each level where you can pound some spell casters to get food and magic books, and they won’t even fight back. I guess you’d call it a bonus stage. I also like the fact that at various locations you can ride creatures until you’ve been knocked off of them a certain number of times and they run away.
Graphically this is the weaker of the two games as well. The sprites and backgrounds are actually nicely detailed, but the color schemes are pretty drab. Even the cool creatures that you get to ride aren’t very cool looking. The sound effects aren’t a whole lot better. Everything sounds pretty much the same – the grunts and groans are indistinguishable between characters, and it all sounds like they’re fighting with the same weapon. The music actually isn’t bad. It definitely sounds 16-bit, but I was always a fan of that era of music in video games anyway.
Streets Of Rage 2
For being released only a year later than Golden Axe 2, this sequel was so much more entertaining. You could choose from 4 different characters, and the characters really felt different when using them. Each character has two or three different moves that you can execute by getting close to your enemies, depending on whether you’re in front of or behind them. My personal favorite is the skater, who either jumps on his foe’s back and knocks them senseless or grabs them around the neck and swings into their guts with his roller skates.
There are objects on the streets that you can break to reveal gold and bags of money (which don’t do much other than bolster your score) and food that restores varying levels of health depending on what type of food it is. Each character has a special move that takes up health, so you get kind of a two-for-one on restoration when you pick up food. There are also various weapons you can pick up from destroyed objects or when you knock them out of the hands of your opponents. Of course, your opponents can pick up the weapons as well, and once they’ve been knocked out of someone’s hands a certain number of times they disappear. The one thing I really appreciate about this game is the use of life meters so you know roughly how much damage an opponent requires to finish them off.
The visuals in Streets Of Rage 2 are so much more impressive. Instead of dark, drab tones the game uses a lot of brighter colors. It seems a bit odd for a gritty street brawler, but it actually works. The sprites are bigger and more detailed, and the animation is pretty decent, especially when it comes to the protagonists using their special moves. The sound effects are also better, though still not overly great. At least the villains have more diverse grunts and groans, and the fighting doesn’t sound so wimpy. Every weapon pretty much sounds the same, however. The music is pretty decent, again making me remember why I loved 16-bit audio so much. It’s definitely grainy compared to tunes from modern equipment, but there’s still something about it…
I’m not 100% sure of the intended target for these emulated treasures, but I’m guessing it’s more for fans of the original than to garner a whole new crowd of devotees. Still, unless you’re a “complex is better” freak, you might still get some enjoyment out of these titles even if you didn’t experience them in their original splendor. If you’re not familiar with the games, though, I’d suggest picking Streets Of Rage over Golden Axe. As much as a love both series, there’s no question the street brawling franchise is superior to the medieval beat down titles. For those who have tasted these games as they were meant to be, I don’t think you can go wrong either way.