Have You Played... Streets of Rage 2?
Streets of Rage 2 was one of the Sega Mega Drive's most revered games but you can get it on Steam these days. It first came during a period when arcades had a lot of similar beat 'em ups, from those based in cities fighting thugs, to fantasy and futuristic settings. There were licensed games based on cartoons such as The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But none of those can be called the greatest side-scrolling beat 'em up ever created. And them's the facts.
Am I biased? Sure. I first borrowed it from a guy at my primary school, let's call him Jason. I exchanged my copy of Taz-Mania for it. I didn't care too much that my instruction manual for Taz-Mania came back completely wrecked, nor that it was returned far later than I gave Streets of Rage 2 back [It sounds like you cared a lot - Bitterness Ed.]. After all, I'd just played a game that I still fondly remember to this day.
A large part of it is the music from Yuzo Koshiro. Rather than the rock or jingle themed music that dominated games from that era, Streets of Rage 2 was more influenced by the rising dance music, rap, and R&B scenes - perhaps somewhat too closely. Most people associate the fourth stage's music with Shamen's "Move Any Mountain", but there's definitely more than a bit of "Ebeneezer Goode" from the same group. I didn't know until today though that the bit in the lift of the same level uses the backing track from Public Enemy's "Rebel Without A Pause". It's a fascinating rabbit hole to delve into to see just what formed the basis behind many of his classic tracks.
Of course it wouldn't be Streets of Rage without some fisticuffs and the second game built on the foundations of the first wonderfully. Instead of using the special button to summon a random police car with some questionable "riot gear" (it fired a rocket or a gatling gun, wiping out all enemies) the sequel maps that button to a small variety of special moves for each of the four characters. On top of that, the enemies you come across are a roster of goons, bar staff, freaks, sportsmen, and even more than one type of ninja. It's eight multi-part stages of glorious pugilism and while I am really looking forward to seeing how DotEmu handle Streets of Rage 4, it'll take a lot to unseat the king.