Release date: April 30, 2020
Developer: Dotemu / Lizardcube / Guard Crush Games
It’s been almost thirty years since the last original entry in the Streets of Rage franchise, but Streets of Rage 4 comes back larger than life with a fresh coat of paint alongside that addictive and incredibly satisfying beat-em-up gameplay that made it such a big hit for SEGA back in the 1990s, rivaling the likes of Double Dragon and Final Fight. Streets of Rage has been a household name still to this day despite the lack of a new entry thanks to myriad ports and being included in a wide array of collections, but finally having a new entry – and it having been done in the way it is – is such a great way to bring a beloved franchise to the modern day in a big bold way. With intuitive controls, gorgeous detailed stages, a soundtrack that mixes an 80’s electronic vibe with retro feels, a breathtaking art style, and fluid fun combat, Streets of Rage 4 says hello to 2020 in the best way possible, giving fans old and new alike plenty to enjoy in a package that doesn’t feel bloated or shallow but always wants you craving more.
Much like the arcade games of its time, the story is more so complementary to the gameplay and doesn’t take away from the overall experience in trying to steer your attention from what’s truly important, which is the fighting itself, as well as the high score for those that want it. Brief cutscenes are told in the way of static yet dynamic images as you go from boss to boss and stage to stage following the four protagonists, Cherry, Axel, Blaze, and Froyd, taking down a crime syndicate, known as the Y Syndicate, in stunning backdrops, faithful dialogue, and unique styles for each character to fight the way you want to fight. The combat is stylish and the way each character lays the beatdown on every passing thug is as satisfying as it is simple, with controls mostly limited to a basic attack and special input. Directional buttons and intentional delays can help vary the way a character chooses to attack, but for those that don’t want to think too much and just want to fight, Streets of Rage 4 is more than happy to make sure you’re still getting a satisfying and rewarding experience.
Streets of Rage 4 to some may not seem like it has much to offer, and while its two-hour story will probably deter others from paying its price of entry, throughout its twelve stages the game has some of the most unique layouts the series has ever seen and plenty of replay value well after Story Mode. The Story Mode is mandatory, but once you’ve completed it you’ll have immediate access to the other modes like Arcade, Boss Rush, and Stage Select, which help further give Streets of Rage 4 that at-home cabinet flavor. Battle is already unlocked from the start where you can play with a second local player or connect online to face another in a stage of your choice.
Streets of Rage 4 can get very challenging, so if you’re not a seasoned player or jumping in for the first time, it can feel a bit overwhelming with tons of enemies running around all corners out for your head. This is especially so in boss fights where you’ll have to quickly learn their patterns and make use of evasive maneuvers and the few types of food available in the environment to heal yourself up accordingly. But each boss encapsulates the stage in a great way, really giving that climax feel once you’ve reached the end in a rewarding way.
In addition to your attacks and specials, you’ll be able to utilize super techniques unique to each character, and these are only available in a limited amount per stage. If you feel like things are getting rough, then that’s when it’s a good time to use them, as well as adding extra combo multipliers for big damage and points. Uses are limited, but mini-bosses and occasional areas will offer an extra to help you reach the end of the stage.
Regardless of what difficulty you’re on, if things are still really tough then you can always apply modifiers after you’ve lost all of you lives. Usually they’ll offer extra super moves and lives but at the cost of a severely decreased score. Grabbing 50K points at the end of the stage could be brought down to a measly 5,000, and for those looking at high scores and achievements on other platforms, this probably won’t be an ideal way to help you get through the stage. However, it is a nice addition to make things accessible for those less savvy.
Outside of the clear passion put into Streets of Rage 4 from a design perspective, the game runs great on both TV and handheld mode, offering crisp visuals and a steady frame rate to make sure not a single punch, jump, or dropkick is lost in movement. Some areas can get crowded, and while you won’t see anything like, say, a Musou/Warriors-branded title, it still remains stable regardless of all the weapons, destructible assets, and other environmental details at play, making it a treat for the eyes and just non-stop fun where momentum is never lost until you’ve run out of lives and just have to start the entire stage over again. That’s usually a bummer, but more than often than not you’ve learned what went wrong and are able to tackle it in one go afterwards. Stages never feel too short or too long, so even with only twelve of them, it’s a joy to run through whether alone or with a friend knowing you’ll never chug along regardless of all the crazy beatdowns and weapons being thrown.
Ever since I was a kid, Streets of Rage has always been a go-to game for me whenever I wanted a quick but fun time tackling stages and beating up random NPCs whether I was with friends or just alone and excited to play. Every time the game’s been ported I’ve picked it up and given it another run through. It’s one of those guilty pleasures that no matter where you are it’s the perfect game to just pick up and play, and now with Streets of Rage 4 giving us a proper sequel it feels amazing to see it get a much deserved modern day treatment, though the pixel art of the originals still holds up well today. From its stellar soundtrack, vibrant colors, and animated stages, Streets of Rage 4 proves age is nothing but a number as it feels, looks, and plays better than ever, and I can only hope we won’t have to wait nearly another three decades before we also get a potential follow up to one of the all-time greats of the beat-em-up genre.
Streets of Rage 4 is a return to form and shows that the brawler’s prowess since its arcade days have not waned despite the years of being dormant. With its beautiful, colorful new art direction and charismatic characters, varied and memorable enemies, unique bosses that have just as much flare as the protagonists themselves, and music that channels the 80’s with such panache, this easily makes it one of the best beat ’em ups to come out in years. Long-time fans of the series will be pleased while giving plenty to love for those today that may have not had the chance to grow up with the illustrious series. Fluid controls, multiple game modes, a satisfying story and so much more make this a package worth picking up with tons of replay value playing alone and with others, locally and online, and it never feels bloated. Streets of Rage 4, much like the series in general, will undoubtedly continue to inspire future games within the genre, and I’m beyond excited to see what’s in store for the future of the series while revitalizing the beat ’em up and arcade genres.
Review copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.