Title: Streets of Rage 4
Developer: Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, Lizardcube
Genre: Beat ’em up, Brawler
Available on: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: Streets of Rage 4
Release Date: April 30, 2020
There was a time when beat ’em up games like Streets of Rage 4 were one of the cornerstones of gaming. The very existence of a parody of the genre like Battletoads is a sign of their popularity in the 1990s. Over time they fell out of style in favor of other types of games. Recent entries from the Indie Game scene have returned the genre to a level of popularity where producing full sequels to, instead of simple re-releases of, the classics actually makes business sense. In this environment, Sega has decided to create a modern sequel to one of the genre’s foundational works.
Classic Beat ’em Up Action
In a genre as firmly defined as the beat ’em up it’s the details of each individual game that set them apart. Streets of Rage 4 is going for a gently updated version of the fighting from the first Streets of Rage. There’s no blocking, there’s no dodging, and enemies can knock player characters out of most moves. It’s not so much that the best defense is a good offense, it’s more than the only defense is offense. The combo system has been fleshed out, and special moves have been modified. In previous Streets of Rage games, specials cost a bit of health when used, and in the new game that health costs can be earned back by dealing damage. Juggling has been added to the combat system as well, which makes multiplayer more interesting. Instead of merely covering for each other, players can now set each other up for juggles.
Player movement is another place where Streets of Rage 4 sticks to the old fashioned way. More modern brawlers often give players a quick way to move from background to foreground and vice versa. At the very least, jumping can be done on either axis of movement. In Streets of Rage 4, as in early classic brawlers, the only way to move closer or farther from the screen is by walking.
All this makes for a game where players must be as skilled at positioning their character as they are at pulling off combos. Those combos are the real star of the combat. The satisfaction of clearing a screen full of enemies without breaking a combo streak is almost unmatched in gaming. In this regard, the combat system is fantastic. The game doesn’t so much punish button mashing as well-timed reward combos. Enemies don’t really swarm a player who’s mashed their way into a corner, not on normal difficulty anyway. On the other hand, players who time their moves well and carefully avoid getting hit will be rewarded with a high end of level rankings and points.
One significant change that Streets of Rage 4 makes from the classic Streets of Rage games is the amount of differentiation between the characters. In the classic games, the characters’ attack speed, walking speed, and moves are all slightly different, but the character sprites are all roughly the same size. In Streets of Rage 4, only two of the player character sprites are about the same size. The old differences in attack speed, walking speed, and special moves are still there only more so. The three core returning characters, Blaze, Axel, and Adam, are all variations on the theme of a balanced fighting style. The new characters available from the start of the game, Cherry and Floyd, are more extreme ends of the speed versus power spectrum of brawlers. Overall, the selection has something for every kind of player, but they play similarly enough that switching between them is still feasible.
The biggest step forward in this iteration of the Street of Rage series is in visual aesthetic. While previous games looked good for the time, this game is right up there with the best looking 2D games around. This shows up the most in the stage backgrounds, which are very detailed in both the foreground play area but also the deeper backgrounds. The color pallet is great as well. It does an excellent job of mixing the primary colors of the early games with more neons and pastels, making for a much more vibrant style. Characters are all smoothly animated with a lot of personality, which is vital in any action game.
One aspect of the visuals in Streets of Rage 4 that is more mixed is the character designs. The player character and enemy sprites are all well-drawn and animated, but some of the design choices may be off-putting. Most of the sprites for women characters are sexualized in a way that the male sprites aren’t, and there’s some queer coding going on with some of the enemy sprites. Most of this is a factor of how faithful the production of Streets of Rage 4 is to the earlier games. Those games were released in the early 1990s. Updating old designs and trying to make new designs that fit in with those older ones brings into focus how much taste has changed since 1991 when the first Streets of Rage came out. None of the designs rise to the level of being offensive, and there are certainly worse offenders out there on this front, but it is noticeable.
While some gains are made in the visuals, the audio doesn’t quite improve on the past Streets of Rage. Early Streets of Rage games have truly classic soundtracks that had a huge influence on video game music in general, so comparing that soundtrack to a modern one isn’t quite fair. The music in Streets of Rage 4 isn’t bad by any measure; it’s just not a masterpiece. Again, not necessarily a fair comparison, but the game’s title is what it is, so it’s the natural comparison to be made.
Cheesy Action Movie Story
Streets of Rage 4 attempts to pick up where the story of the earlier games left off ten years later. The old heroes are on the outs with the authorities of the games metropolis, Wood Oak City, when the children of the previous game’s villain have rebuilt their father’s criminal syndicate. Naturally, the only way to defeat them is to go on a vigilante rampage through the titular streets. Overall the story as a campy romp that works best if you don’t sweat the details too much. It does lean heavily on mind control tropes, which is a bit dull, but it’s fine otherwise. There are also a lot of fun references and easter eggs throughout the game to past games and the cheesy action movies of the late 1980s and 1990s that inspired the beat ’em up genre.
Verdict: Streets of Rage 4 does a great job of updating the classic beat ’em up genre of the 1990s to modern times while being faithful to the source material. A worthy challenge in single-player and a blast with friends.
- Old School Action
- Great Visuals
- Fun Co-op
- Old fashioned combat restrictions
- Dated character design