Since childhood, I’ve always had a fondness for arcade-style brawlers like Double Dragon, Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are playing Streets of Rage on my Genesis. I remember renting Streets of Rage 3 and nearly beating it, I reached the final boss fight playing as Dr. Zan but ran out of continues before having to return the game the next morning. Anyone who has played these type of games can tell you the experience is greater having a friend or sibling to play co-op with you. Streets of Rage 3 was released in 1994, the next several years would see a couple of attempts to create a sequel get canceled and fans wondered if they would ever see another Streets of Rage game. This past Thursday, the long-awaited Streets of Rage 4 was released after being officialy announced in August of 2018. Following up on last week’s post about another classic beat ’em up – Capcom’s Knights of the Round, I wanted to write up a brief summary of some of my thoughts about the game.
Streets of Rage 4 in-game storyline takes place ten years since the end of Streets of Rage 3(though released 26 years later in real-life). The villainous Mr. X has since been defeated, but his children, known as the Y Twins have taken over their father’s criminal empire in Wood Oak City. Blaze Fielding, one of the main protagonists in all three previous games as well as general badass, gets wind of the new crime syndicate operating in the city and places a call to former ally Axel Stone to once again begin cleaning up the streets. Axel and Blaze are also accompanied by Cherry Hunter, daughter to Adam Hunter – playable character in prior games as well as SoR4 and an assistant to Dr. Zan named Floyd, who represents the strong, but slow character in the game.
The game begins with four playable characters, along with Adam Hunter who joins the game as a playable character after a few levels. There’s also an additional twelve unlockable characters to use once you reach enough points; every playable character in the previous three games is available to use, each in their 16-bit, pixelated glory. The only exception to this is Roo, the boxing glove-wearing marsupial is not unlockable, though they do appear in the background of one of the levels…as a bartender. Ah, the 90’s…picking up turkeys found in garbage cans, and kangaroos with boxing gloves beating the crap out of people with names like Condor, Honey, and Y. Signal.
Back to basics
Fans of the genre will know exactly what to expect in Streets of Rage 4 – moving from the left side of the screen to the right while brawling with anyone who dares get in your way. The simple premise exemplifies what players love about beat ’em ups, they’re easy to pick up and play, but rarely ever considered EASY games. It was an accomplishment to see a game like Final Fight or Streets of Rage to the end without running out of continues(or quarters), even with a buddy fighting alongside you.
The developers at Dotemu knew they need not revolutionize the genre with a beloved series like Streets of Rage, but merely refine what players love about the games. The combat feels just as you would remember SoR2 on the Sega Genesis, perhaps with an even smoother feel and response this time around. Streets of Rage 4 perfectly encapsulates the tone and feel of a series that hasn’t seen a sequel in over 20 years.
Rather than simply trying to replicate the 16-bit graphics of the previous Streets of Rage games, all of the characters and animations in SoR4 are hand-drawn. This being the biggest difference to prior games as they all otherwise feature tight gameplay and a great soundtrack. Speaking of great soundtracks, the in-game music is phenomenal and features tracks from Olivier Deriviere with original composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima contributing as well. You know those soundtracks that you find yourself wanting to listen to when you’re not even playing the game? Streets of Rage 4 is definitely among those. The synth-heavy compositions feel like a modernized version of those heard in late 80’s/early 90’s movies and I love it.
Streets of Rage 4 features number of different game modes in addition to the main story. There’s a boss rush mode as well as a battle mode which sounds eerily reminiscent to the 1v1 game modes in Double Dragon. Those wishing to experience the game as closely as possible to playing it on a Sega Genesis can play Arcade Mode which challenges players to complete all 12 stages in one sitting with a set number of continues. You can even turn on the retro soundtrack from the very start of the game. There aren’t a great number of modern conveniences other than the game autosaving after each level and online co-op. I haven’t tried out the game in co-op yet, but the ability to play 4 player online co-op sounds intriguing.
For everything that there is to love about old-school beat ’em ups in Streets of Rage 4, the familiar annoyances also exist. Many times it feels as if enemies will simply dance around you as you are unable to move as quickly and the sometimes frustrating trademark of your attacks not connecting because you aren’t precisely on the same plane of background/foreground remains. I did become a bit frustrated at times when enemies are able to attack you diagonally when it’s near impossible for you to do the same. Once I remembered to start using the directional double-tap to actually move faster than a slow, plodding walk the game became slightly less frustrating. Also, in nearly every beat ’em up game you have the ability to perform a special attack which can deal damage to multiple enemies at once. This comes at a cost, as it takes a small portion of your health bar every time you use it, however, I really appreciated the fact that you are given a few moments to land a few basic attacks to regain any potential health lost from using a special attack.
Streets of Rage 4 is an example of a sequel to a popular franchise knowing exactly what its player base desired from it and delivering. Everything that you loved about previous games is present, along with just about everything that frustrated you. SoR4 doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but is content to provide more of what works. Beat ’em ups tend to be dismissed as just a bunch of button mashing, which at worst, is true of many of them. Streets of Rage 4 is not a deep game by any means, but its beauty is in the simple, yet silky smooth gameplay, stylish animations and absolutely fantastic soundtrack. Longtime fans of the series will be more than satisfied with the simple fun provided by SoR4 and for those unsure about spending the $25, it was a Day 1 Xbox Game Pass release, which is pretty awesome. I know many others out there who would love to see other classic Sega games like Golden Axe get the same treatment…
Did you pick up Streets of Rage 4? What did you think about it? Let me know. Thanks for reading!