Overview

Get ready for a little retro-fueled bare-knuckle action as Streets of Rage 4 finally hits the ummm… streets!  Developed by Lizardcube, Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, and also published by Dotemu, Streets of Rage 4 is a classic side scrolling brawler/beat-em-up renewed for a new era.   Streets of Rage 4 is currently available for PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Switch.  Lovers of the classic franchise will not be disappointed, nor will any old school gamer.

 

Gameplay

I can sum up Streets of Rage 4 in two words, BARE KNUCKLE!  Seriously, this formulaic gem from the 80s/90s is back for one more round and I couldn’t be happier.  Staying true to its form, the fourth entry to the series hits right where it should.  Set in a familiar framework, you’ll control classic and new heroes as you attempt to clean up the streets, 80s cop style.

Combat

Using martial arts, weapons, and even flung enemies themselves is crucial to success here.   I was immediately floored by the balance in Streets of Rage 4 (SOR4), particularly across the different difficulty settings.   It has been fine tuned to as close to perfection as possible.   Initially, some enemies or aspects may seem unfair, but the more you play and begin to learn what each enemy is weak and strong to in terms of approach, it all begins to come together nicely.  This is a stark contrast to earlier titles in the series which could at times be brutally punish you for a single frame of bad movement or one button press too many.

Combat in SOR4 is far more fair, though any true fan of the series will have to get used to a few differences before you start chasing high scores.   Performing combos and juggles are now the the bread and butter, and they can be mixed up well with other movements. These can be accomplished with a single button press and you can probably beat the game on normal just doing these with enough dedication.

Where SOR4 shines however, is mix ups and variations similar to any 2D fighting game.   You can hold the attack button to perform a charge and release style attack.   Canceling mid-combo with a back attack to catch enemies behind you is also possible.  Special attacks can also be mixed in and offer a few frames of invulnerability to help when your position is bad or you are overwhelmed.  Special attacks take away temporary hit points, which can be recovered by damaging enemies without getting hit yourself.

Jump attacks are still prevalent for closing space and gaining priority over certain opponents.  Some enemies however will not only see it coming, but punish you hard for your attempts.  Grabs and throws work the same way as well, often being crucial to defeating certain enemies.  I’m looking at you, guy who fights like Takuma from King of Fighters (cough)!  Taking advantages of tossing enemies into each other and by throwing them into environmental hazards can often play to your advantage.

Blitz attacks are still in for most characters, but only certain ones can actually dash or run.  Weapons are more plentiful than ever and will often be used in almost every encounter.  Making use of these to avoid taking hits is crucial as you progress further in the game.  And of course star attacks are back in, but vary wildly between characters as to how they perform.  One may summon the classic cop car artillery assault, while another will simply be a litany of punches thrown at your enemies.  Either way, these resources are limited and contribute to your score if they remain unused at the end of the stage.

New to the series is the combo and juggle driven scoreboard.  All of the aspects above tie in to create an emphasis on continuing combos.   To chase the board, you’ll need to get as many hits in during the counter period as possible without being hit.   If you get hit, or too much time passes, the meter is reset.  If you remain undamaged, you are awarded a bonus, but if you get hit the combo breaks and you receive no bonus.   It is important to note however, that you do not need to focus on this aspect to enjoy the game, which is a well designed move in my opinion.

Streets of Rage 4 gives you 5 difficulties to tackle the game with.   Easy, Normal, Hard, Hardest, and Mania.   The biggest difference you’ll find in these modes is the number of enemies fought and lives, but there are other aspects which will creep out and pop you in the face if you get too careless.

Characters

Streets of Rage 4 features a whopping 17 characters to play as.   Each of these characters are unlocked by simply playing the game.   There are no crazy requirements other than just playing and having fun.   Since all but one are locked behind a cumulative score tally, it pays to chase higher scores.

Classics Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding are available right from the start.  They join newcomers Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia.  Cherry is the daughter Adam Hunter from Streets of Rage 1 and is the most agile and fluid of the opening crew.   Floyd is the game’s resident powerhouse with a superior reach and the ability to grab more than one person at a time.  Adam Hunter is also available after clearing through the game to a certain point.

The full cadre of brawlers from each Streets of Rage installation is also available to unlock via the lifetime scoring system.  Missing the mechanics from a specific title?  The developers have you covered! Get your vertical rolls and run command back if that’s your jam.  Just know that some things like the temp HP depletion on things like specials are universal, so no cool down timer for you.

As a great final bonus to top off the character roster, the impressive Shiva is now available to play.  Any true Streets of Rage fan will remember him vividly and the development team did a great job to bring him into the game in all of his Streets of Rage 3 glory.   As far as I know, there are no more characters planned for release, but it would be nice to see some of the other characters brought into the realm of player control in the future.  Certain characters, such as Estel, even seem primed for it.

Stages

There are twelve levels in total, each with their own gorgeous design.   Any old school fan of beat-em-ups will immediately wonder if there’s an elevator level.   Rest easy, they got you covered.   Aside from one unique entry, the stages feature a fairly straightforward layout with the usual hazards.   Pits, barrels, and other dangers will be littered around most stages to add a touch of complexity to your movement and spacing.  These can of course all be used to your advantage as the enemies will also be susceptible to them.

Additional Modes

The development team made some changes to the primary mechanic of the game by centering it around story mode.   Story mode allows you to quit and pick your game up again on the stage you left off last.  You’re given three save slots for this and people can drop in or out in between stages.  Story mode is where you will also enjoy the plot of the game and will probably get most of your character unlocks.  Your difficulty will determine the amount of lives you have and once defeated, you can retry the stage over again in an unlimited fashion.

Stage Select mode allows score chasers to cut right to the action and simply pick a stage, character, and difficulty to try score/trophy/achievements.   Want the old school experience instead?  You get one life, no continues, and no saving, in Arcade Mode.  The challenge there is to complete the game in one go on one life.

Boss Rush is a welcome addition, allowing you challenge all of the bosses in SOR4 in tandem.   Health pickups will be available at certain intervals and weapons will be scattered about to help with the fight.  Battle is straight PVP and great for when you want to Grand Upper your first born for all the pain he’s caused you during quarantine.  The Extra mode is also available which features much of the game’s artwork and design.

Multiplayer

The best part about Streets of Rage has always been the multiplayer aspect.  There’s nothing like couch co-op on a beat-em-up to spur on laughter, yelling, and overall fun.  The design team applied multiplayer to all of these game modes and modernized it by adding an online capacity as well.  My personal experience remained true, while it was easier to tackle personal challenges solo, multiplayer modes were still more fun.

Story Synopsis

Mr. X is gone…yes for real this time!  He did however, leave his progeny behind to continue his legacy.   Mr. and Mrs. Y stand in as the franchise’s latest antagonists by forming a new crime syndicate.   Roughly 10 years later, our favorite vigilantes/cops set out to combat crime once again on the…Streets of Rage!

The story in Streets of Rage is short and sweet.   It’s told between stages after each boss kill and there aren’t really any hidden elements to find.  You can however, find out more about the playable characters through their biography pages in the Extra menu.

Controls

Buttery smooth controls await you in SOR4!   I never had a single moment where I was mad at the controls for not responding appropriately.  In fact, it was probably one of the most responsive and polished control sets I’ve ever seen in a game in the genre.  It really synced well with the new fluid animations and those two aspects working together made for a very enjoyable experience.  This is very important given the new emphasis on combo-driven gameplay.

For those who need fine tuning, you do have options.  Legacy controls are available for those wanting a classic experience.  Full input remapping and vibration levels are also available to those so inclined.  The HUD, along with certain integrative aspects of the game is also adjustable via the options menu.

Graphics

So one of the major beefs I always end up having is when there’s a remake, or remaster, reimagining, or (insert your edition here) and they add something so minute to the graphics that 99% of the gaming population doesn’t even notice/care, even when they pretend to.  That is absolutely not the case with Streets of Rage 4.  This right here, is the leap that most modern platformers should strive to attain.  2D should never be associated with low quality, and the art team here has done wonderfully to make a quality representation of how a modern 2D action game should look.

Lush animations, quality images, and vibrant effects make up every character, whether friend or foe.  Many times, I stopped to smell the roses both to appreciate the legacy of bring certain characteristics of enemies forward with new art while leaving the details in that made them so memorable in the first place.  Every bit of color and contrast used makes every object or sprite pop with importance.  The saturation on some parts felt like fragments of a neon 80s dream.  I’d go so far as to say the art team has set a benchmark for future endeavors in the genre and maybe even for a few others.

Sound

Streets of Rage 4 wants you to feel every punch, throw, and special move making contact and they do a damn good job making sure that you do.  Rather than just boast of the quality of the effects and give examples, which are all great, I’d rather touch on the integrative aspects instead.

Sound, screen shake, vibration, and graphics all work in sync here making every impact count, but making harder impacts feel perfect.  On my first play-through I noticed many of these things but was still wrapped up in my nostalgia.  After over a dozen runs however, I really began to appreciate the craftsmanship of the design team working together rather than separately.

The best part is that older moves and yells will feel just how they felt in their respective game.  Picking SOR 1 Axel sounds like he’s ripped straight from the Genesis.  They make no attempt to reshuffle the legacy characters and leave them exactly as they should be.

Music

So, when I first heard Streets of Rage 4 was going to be a reality, the first though in my head was they better not screw up the music and Yuzo Koshiro better be involved.  Not only did that come to pass, but one of my favorite composers, Oliver Deriviere would be in the lead with a host of other composers.  Olivier is know for being integrative in development when it comes to music and for his dedication to atmosphere when it comes to the relation between the tone of the story and the music.

Essentially, no one could have really asked for more.  The music in Streets of Rage 4 is engrossing and era appropriate.  It is purely derivative of the late 80s/early 90s dance and club scene.  Yuzo Koshiro was always heralded as being ahead of his time and was a large source of inspiration for many electronic artists today.  With Streets of Rage 4, that legacy continues.

Whether the beat is smooth and jazzy, gritty, or just plain action packed, this soundtrack hits the right place at the right time.  Each stage felt like it had its own musical conference on what was right for it.  There are even adaptive and dynamic elements to the music that I used to think would be standard fare by this point despite being conceived a decade and change ago.  These elements seem to only be used by a handful of composers and I’m glad they made it into SOR4.

As a pretty unexpected bonus, there is an option for a retro soundtrack.  This option features many old classics and was fun to relive.  Do yourself a favor though, make sure you enjoy the Streets of Rage 4 OST in its entirety first.

Disclaimer:   Initially, I even found myself wanting more bass, only to realize I was wrong and it was balanced just the way it should have been.   Always admit when you’re wrong.

 

Summary

At the end of the day, Streets of Rage 4 cuts through as a well honed blade.  Each and every one of the mechanics work together to bring a beloved franchise back to life in new ways while honoring the foundations of the medium.  I often get excited to hear of IPs being brought back only to lose interest a few hours after playing them.  Thankfully these guys restored my belief that a game can be brought back without being boring, destroying the legacy, or milking the customer base.  It’s restoration and innovation done right.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever had such an easy and hard to write summary at the same time.  Due to that I’ll be as pragmatic as possible: This right here, is how you bring a franchise back people! This, is how you bring a franchise back with respect while moving forward. This, is how you treat gamers who have loved a particular work of art for around 30 years.   And this, is hopefully, how you find a winning team to continue doing it.   It was built with equal parts of love and respect.  My hat is truly off to everyone involved!

 

Rating

I am an objective-styled reviewer who tends to complete games to provide a more in depth and factual reporting of the titles I write about.  I spent roughly 37 hours playing, over half of which were spent in multiplayer.  Our Alpha Nerds Guild uses a terrible-bad-good-great-amazing rating system, and within that system this game easily falls within the Amazing category rated both on its own merits, and against other titles in the genre.  Congratulations all!

 

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