Anticipation and expectations can lead to disappointment. This is particularly true when the subject of those emotions is the return of a fondly remembered franchise. Can the final product live up to what you imagine?
Streets of Rage is a franchise well-regarded by many and is one that has not seen a new installment since 1994. 26 years of pent up demand tends to set the bar high.
In 2018, it was announced that a new installment in the series was coming. Developed by DotEmu, Lizardcube (Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap), and Guard Crush Games (Streets of Fury), Streets of Rage 4‘s reveal showed off a bold new art style that had folks skeptical. The benefit of the doubt was given to the game, though, as this team had already shown themselves more than capable of modernizing a classic franchise.
What Is It?
Set 10 years after Streets of Rage 3, this game has you going back to Wood Oak City where a new crime organization has taken hold, and it has designs on bigger and better things. The narrative in a beat-em-up isn’t generally what people pay for, but it is competently written even if it is a simple enough story, which is more than can be said of some of the past games’ localization.
What people really come for is the gameplay, and Streets of Rage 4 certainly has that in spades. Initially you only have access to a handful of modes, but after completing the Story, the rest of the game’s modes become available. These include an Arcade Mode and a Boss Rush mode. The game can be played either solo or with a friend, both offline on the same couch, or online. There are even retro versions of the characters and stages to unlock, as well.
Why Should I Care?
From the very start, it’s clear that this game was put together by a team that loved the prior installments of the franchise. It won’t take long to acclimate to the mechanics and realize that there is quite a bit more going on than you might first think. Many modern beat-em-ups have a real problem with pacing. Either they are too slow, making them feel plodding and ponderous, or they are too fast which makes them feel spastic and out of control. Streets of Rage 4 manages to hit the sweet spot; it’s fast enough to feel intense, but slow enough to not feel too overwhelming. Each installment in the series had this element right, even if the speed of each game was never the same, and none of them ever felt too off-balance. It’s good to see that this continued with Streets of Rage 4.
From a mechanics standpoint, much of what you expect is there. Quick regular attacks, special attacks, grabs, vaulting, weapons, and item pickups are all present and accounted for. New to this game, though, is a stronger attack, performed by holding down the Attack button, as well as the Star Move, an invincible special attack that can do a lot of damage or get you out of tight spots. Unlike in other games in the series, picking up items has its own button, this eliminates accidentally picking up items you didn’t intend to, or swapping a weapon you didn’t mean to.
Each of the characters play differently. Axel and Blaze are the most similar to their previous incarnations, sporting mostly the same moves. Adam, who hasn’t been playable in the series since the first game, feels very nimble and versatile. Cherry, Adam’s daughter, is very quick, yet she isn’t very strong. Floyd, the other newcomer, is a cyborg powerhouse. He has the most stamina and power, but he isn’t particularly agile. Adam and Cherry can dash while Axel, Blaze, and Floyd cannot. The end result of all this is the game feels very different depending on which character you choose.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
There is a lot to this game. On the surface the gameplay feels simplistic, as older beat-em-ups did, but the game soon shows you there’s much more below the surface. It features a fairly robust combo system, including bounce backs, juggles, and other elements that are straight out of fighting games. Once you start to get a feel for the game, you’ll be stringing together long chains of hits and use your opponents as weapons. There are also environmental hazards you can be damaged by, but you can also take advantage of those to deal with enemies.
It’s a challenging game, but it doesn’t feel unfair. One thing that is worth pointing out is that the enemy AI will do its best to stay out of your horizontal plane, much like you want to do when dealing with multiple opponents. They won’t just play keep-away, but they’re not going to be punching bags, either. You’ll need to either get them to attack you by positioning yourself in their attack zone, or just go after them.
In terms of presentation, Streets of Rage 4 is rock solid. The game’s hand-drawn art style gives it a cool look, and brings to mind another Sega classic that really ought to see a revival, Comix Zone.
The audio is really something else, too. The soundtrack is headed up by Olivier Deriviere, whose past works include Remember Me and A Plague Tale: Innocence. He is joined by former series composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima as well as several other guest artists. The resulting soundtrack spans several genres from rock to jazz to dance and everything in-between. It is still, however, very much a Streets of Rage soundtrack. It’s memorable, energetic, and you’ll likely want to buy it to listen to outside of the game. What’s also really cool is how the game mixes from one track to another. As you move from scene to scene, the music is mixed seamlessly from one song to the next, like a DJ queuing up the next record as the last one is coming to an end. There is also the option to enable a retro soundtrack, if that’s what you prefer. On top of that, the game’s sound effects are very well done. Strikes sound impactful yet still realistic, while the inclusion of recognizable sound effects will bring a smile to the faces of series veterans.
If you’re a fan of the old Streets of Rage games, you’ll enjoy this one. A lot. It takes the formula that was set forth in the older games and refines it, expands it, and in some instances, turns it on its head. This is a good example of what can happen when respect, passion, and heritage co-mingle.
Streets of Rage 4 had a lot to live up to, and it delivered.