In 2020 video games have seemed to drop the beat-’em-up sub-genre replaced by more thrilling, faster, and electrifying action titles. So, when I heard that Streets of Rage 4 was coming, I was shocked and happy. After 26 years, Streets of Rage 4 is released and is a faithful revival of the classic arcade beat-’em-ups.
The way the game looks and feels, you could tell the developers created Streets of Rage 4 with affection for the older titles, and this fourth iteration is a balance of throwback and modern. Most of the time, the plot is wafer-thin and corny, but it’s beautifully presented in a comic book panel style. When firing up the story, you’ll see that familiar opening crawl and instantly feel at home. The presentation of the game is modern and vibrant, and there are lots of nods to the original three titles that came before, from character cameos and familiar locations. The game is filled with plenty of references, and fans of the series will relish picking the game bit-by-bit to find them.
Notwithstanding the frequent glimpses in the past, the game looks nothing like the previous entries. The comic book style comes to life — firm black outlines and pop art colours breaths life into the game, combined with slick animation and rock-solid performance, it looks fabulous. There’s a debate to be made that it looks too different from its predecessors, but we welcome the bold change. It may not reverberate the same grimy feel and atmosphere of the classic Genesis beat-’em-ups, but it builds a new style that fits a modern landscape.
The gameplay is exactly as you expect. Moving your way to the right and pummelling anyone who stands in your way, you’ll instantly be taken back into the nineties, and it feels so good. The gameplay stays rather the same; you instantly recover health lost from doing a special by keeping up the offensive, granted you aren’t hit in the interim, and a combo counter motivates you to keep your streak going. Other than that, you can more or less compare how it plays to the second title in the series, Streets of Rage 2. It’s old-fashioned, but it feels satisfying to play, and the cast of characters are all lots of fun to use, and they all feel distinct.
Screenshots: Dotemu Franchise
But, there are one or two annoyances. Sometimes it can be challenging to assess if you’re lined up with opponents. Also, with limited defensive options, enemies can easily obstruct your attacks, and you can’t always cancel out of animations. And oddly enough, there are occasional spots where the baddies can get to that you can’t. Ultimately, though, the skills at your disposal are enough to deal with the barrage of enemies, and it’s rather hard not to enjoy yourself. And then you remember the repetitious nature of beat-’em-ups. You’ll continuously be pressing the (□) Square button a lot through the crime-ridden streets of Wood Oak City, and you can only repeat stages so many times before the burnout sets in. The fun is there, absolutely, but with little depth and a short story, it’s not going to last forever.
The game features 12 stages, and they are at least memorable and imaginative. Some of the settings are familiar, but each level offers up some excellent set-pieces and dangers that give them all a unique feel. The difficulty curve through the plot is generally good, but there are some discrepancies; the levels probably shouldn’t be more troublesome than the boss at the end.
You can play with another player in co-op locally or online, which immediately ups the fun factor. The online mode is restricted to only two players, but at-home crimefighters can go up to four, which can be insane at times but is certainly something new for the series. The Arcade mode challenges you to complete the entire story with no continues, while Boss Rush mode puts you against all the best adversaries one after the other. Finally, Battle mode has returned for some fun, one-on-one fights, which is a nice option to the main event. The extra modes do help alleviate the repetition to an extent, and it’s always nice to have tougher challenges as an option.
Also, when you’re playing, a lifetime score bar accumulates all the points you earn, and you’ll unlock retro characters at certain thresholds. There are 12 pixelated vigilantes to collect, bringing almost all of the original trilogy’s playable cast into the new game. They’ve been modernized to fit this newfangled engine and play them just as you remember. I’m not a big fan of the harsh clash between the 16-bit sprites and the sleek new art style, but it’s a fun addition regardless. Retro music is accessible from the beginning, and the player can enable them at any time. The new music sets the stage and feels on-brand with the iconic beats of the series. But the quality is somewhat inconsistent. Nevertheless, there are some notable tracks to discover, and I love the dynamic shifts the audio makes as you advance through a stage.
Streets of Rage 4 makes a noble attempt to bring the classic franchise into the new age. What we got was a stunning beat-’em-up that perhaps was a little too loyal to the original games, but it is a thrill to play, especially if you have someone to play with. The charm might wear off after a while due to its repetitive nature, but it’s a tremendous amount of fun while it lasts.
Streets of Rage 4 gets…