Streets of Rage 4, developed by DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games, is the latest entry in the eponymous Streets of Rage series, and the first since 1994. You take the role of police officers Axel and Blaze, Cherry, the daughter of one of their former cohorts, and Floyd, a former assistant to an old villain. The story can be tackled individually or via local or online co-op, and there are a bevy of unlockables to motivate continued face-smashing, including difficulty levels, new playable characters, and additional game modes.
All of you may be thinking… is this a tired rehash of an obsolete genre? Is button mashing through level after level of enemies still fun? I can say, with certainty, yes. It absolutely is.
Streets of Rage is a truly legendary series, which first hit the Sega Genesis in 1991 and subsequently spawned two amazing sequels. It’s a classic beat-em-up game in the style of Double Dragon or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but imbued with all of the attitude and grit of the 90’s. The city oozes with style, neon, and crime. The transcendent soundtracks thump and drive you through the games, one of the hallmarks of the series.
In preparation for the launch of Streets of Rage 4, I revisited the second and third entries in the series. Streets of Rage 2 is widely considered to be one of best beat-em-ups ever made, right up there with Turtles in Time on the Super Nintendo. It hasn’t lost anything to age. The game is still viscerally satisfying and addictive, especially when played co-op.
For the third game, I pulled out Bare Knuckle 3, the Japanese release of the third game in series. This is considered by most people to be the superior version in terms of balance and isn’t plagued by some censorship choices made for the US Genesis release. Again, this is a fantastic game that has held up beautifully. The downside to the enduring legacy of 2 and 3 is clear, however: can Streets of Rage 4 live up to its pedigree?
First, let’s take a look at the graphics. Thankfully, the developers chose to forego the uber-trendy modern pixel art look for a gorgeous art style that takes cues from many hand drawn aesthetics. There is a retro-mode for the visuals… but… it falls really flat. The scan-lines look good, but the pixelation is inconsistent, and not a true recreation like in Dragon’s Trap (a previous release by DotEmu). It’s novel, but I’d avoid it and appreciate the gorgeous intended art.
The backgrounds are detailed, with incredible dynamic lighting and effects rarely seen in this genre. Objects and characters show ambient light, puddles reflect the world, smoke and fog partially obscures the scenes, and rain slicks the ground. The special moves light up the action, and each attack impacts with visible force.
Streets of Rage 4 is a gorgeous game, with varied environments, a ton of unique enemies, and pleasing visual effects. We could not have asked for a better modern take on the art style of the original trilogy.
One of the key tenets of a beat-em-up is the feel of the controls. Can you emotionally feel the weight of your attacks via a combination of animation, sound effects, and response? In the case of Streets of Rage 4, absolutely. Each strike feels weighty, and even your basic attack is extremely satisfying.
The developers included several mainstay special move combos in the controls from the original games, which is awesome to see. Pressing forward twice while attacking will engage your special move, unique to each character. There is also a power move, which drains a little health but can be used as crowd control, and your basic jump and attack.
A very welcome update comes in the form of the boss battles. No longer are they merely damage sponges with one special move, the bosses in Streets of Rage 4 are a real challenge, and require some definite strategy.
What I’ve been enjoying most in the game are the new additions to the physics. You can hit enemies while they’re in the air. If you throw one enemy into another, the second is damaged and knocked down. The same goes for the breakable objects. Everything that isn’t part of the background set interacts in a very realistic way, and it’s a fantastic addition.
Of note, I also enjoyed the concept that when you run across police officers, they will not only fight with you, but the gang members as well, and the street thugs will attack you and the officers without hesitation. It really draws you into the setting, and lends that much more authenticity to the experience.
Personally, this was where I was worried Streets of Rage 4 wasn’t going to keep up with the original games. Music is integral to my gaming experience, and a bad soundtrack can make or break an otherwise great game for me. This is even more important when examining the beat-em-up genre, as the music helps keep the player engaged and coming back again and again.
The inimitable Yuzo Koshiro composed or directed the compositions of the original games, and his style is unmistakable. Streets of Rage 4’s music was capably written by Olivier Deriviere, with input from Koshiro and other Japanese composers of note. While it is a departure from the chiptunes of the Genesis, the new score is excellent and supplements the new visuals in just the right way.
As an option, in the aural equivalent of Dragon’s Trap’s alternate visual style, you can select a retro soundtrack to accompany Streets of Rage 4, made up of all the tunes you know and love from the original trilogy. It’s a fun and welcome feature that I plan to enjoy on subsequent plays and co-op sessions.
I’d like to end this review by thanking the developers and publishers of Streets of Rage 4: DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games. It’s not easy to take over the reigns of a legendary series, and the passion, fan-service, and refinement put into this release is evident in spades. They balanced just the right amount of innovation with refinement, but still kept the original feel of the series within reach, with both the vibe and gameplay. I know not everyone will agree, but that is the mark of a truly good sequel, in my opinion. Move forward, but be mindful of the past. So grab a friend, load this modern classic up, and bring the rage to the street. The magic is still there.
Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.
Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.
Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!
Plays: All of them games. Seriously.