Streets of Rage 2 Original Soundtrack (US) :: Review by Ryan
This soundtrack is groovy. Oh yes. Your eardrums will dance as your fists and feet pummel countless foes into the pavement in this old school beat 'em up for the Sega Genesis. In addition to being one of the best fighting games of its time, Streets of Rage 2 (also known as Bare Knuckle II in Japan) features some of the baddest beats ever to grace a video game soundtrack.
Yuzo Koshiro is the principle soundtrack composer for Streets of Rage 2 with Motohiro Kawashima providing a few tracks. The soundtrack itself features an assortment of highly eclectic musical material from ethereal techno to funk-fusion to the hippest-hop to insane breakbeats to blues infused bar music. All pieces, however, heavily dabble in the style of early 90s underground techno that Koshiro is no stranger to due to his work on The Revenge of Shinobi and Bare Knuckle. It is impressive to consider the fluidity through which Koshiro adapts his music to suit the confines of the specific gaming environment while noting the extremely limited sound capabilities of the Sega Genesis sound drivers.
"Go Straight" is the first stage track. The bass very nearly thumps to the rhythm of shaking fists and furious feet. The mixing in this piece is exceptional considering the limitations of the sound hardware. Koshiro keeps things musically interesting while attempting to get the most out of the limitations of the Genesis sound capabilities; for instance, his use of panning in the left and right speakers is creative and keeps the melodic material briskly moving forward without becoming too repetitive. "In the Bar" is a wonderfully dreamy piece featuring a briskly walking bassline, framed by exquisitely delicious chord choices and wonderful melodic voice leadings. There is a semi-improvisational feel that adds a jazz mystique to the overall character of the piece. This piece grooves incredibly well and loops back to the beginning quite effortlessly.
"Never Return Alive" is quite an apt title as this piece is intense! Fans of the original Bare Knuckle soundtrack will instantly recognize this music as the boss theme and it works wonders in the same purpose here, aiding and abetting in the rise and release of tension, keeping the player engaged and quite nervous! The saw wave drills into your mind and serves as a nice synopative measure to keep the edgy nature of the musical material intact throughout the piece's duration. The harmonies are totally awesome and the dissonance has a very creepy musical effect as well. "Spin on the Bridge" features some absolutely wicked breakbeats! Think of hip hop on crack... that's what this is. I can only imagine how amazing this piece would sound with modern day musical tools but, as it stands, this piece is still absolutely amazing. The percussive ideas are excellent but the musical excellence of this piece is furthered within the buildup of the melody along with the dispersal of harmonic layering at key points to really drive the intensity of the piece to abrasively awesome levels.
"Dreamer" is very appropriate in helping the player to reach a dream-like state within the gaming experience. The electronica arpeggiations that flow so easily in the beginning help to greatly define and bring out the ethereal quality of the piece. The echo effect is a very nice creative touch in regards to the mixing to add to the ethereal tone. While a large majority of the soundtrack is more geared towards breakbeat and progressive techno, there are definite implications of trance being used in this song which strengthen the diversity of the soundtracks cumulative musical style. Stylistically, I would define "Alien Power" piece as trip-hop, but there is also a bit of ethnic drum percussion which adds a different flavour to the mix. Whatever it is, this piece is strange and a bit creepy... which is of course awesome.
I'll conclude by mentioning three more interesting pieces. "Ready Funk" is everything the name implies. It is a piece of music which is a bit repetitive but serves a nice function as a side-stage musical 'break' between the main stage theme sections. "Too Deep" plays when your character gets 'sucked down' into a secret elevator in the middle of a baseball stadium. The opening notes of the piece are amazingly strange and almost bewildering and the piece replicates the basic drum and bass attitude of the late 80's early 90's hip-hop movement. Very effective in a strange context. Finally, there are definite traces of funk within "Slow Moon". The secondary melodic 'call and answer' really keeps the main melody from becoming flat. A very nice orchestration idea occurs where the bass and a large portion of the drums are taken out to allow the melody to thrive and then are brought back into the mix to very good effect.
So that's the jist of it. The soundtrack itself is a hypnotic whirlpool of good tunes and brash beats. One thing I enjoy about this particular soundtrack is the idea that it is in your face at all times. What you will find is a lot of aggressive vibes within the compositions which often trickles between dark and dissonant to extremely dark and dissonant with brash beats serving as supportive columns to what turn out to be highly groovacious musical structures. The melodies are often catchy and easy to listen to. Alongside the action, the music is very fitting. A difficult balance to strike and yet it's pulled off quite well. This might well be a worthy addition to your collection and is now easily available in the Yuzo Koshiro Best Collection Vol. 3.
Overall Score: 8/10