Streets of Rage is one of the most memorable series of games from the Mega Drive/Genesis era, it brought almost arcade-quality beat-em-up action into the household without the need for credits and a pocket full of quarters (or 20p coins here in the UK). The original trilogy launched in 1991, 1992, and 1994 respectively, before fading out of the limelight, only to return within countless SEGA classic compilations and third-party handheld emulation devices. But now, 26 years later in 2020, Streets of Rage 4 has finally released!
Unlike the majority of games, Streets of Rage 4 wasn’t developed by one or two teams, there are a whole bunch of them. First, acting as the publisher and one of the developers we have DOTEMU who love their retro games, modernising them for current platforms and updating their mechanics and visuals. Then we have Guard Crush Games whose previous release five years ago was Streets of Fury, a game heavily influenced by Streets of Rage, and Lizard Cube, the team who also recently brought Wonder Boy into the 21st century with Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Finally, Seaven Studio helped port the game to the Switch and PS4, and BlitWorks ported the Xbox One version – both of which are well known for their console porting over the years.
So, is this a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, or have they all worked together to combine their strengths and put out a masterpiece? Let’s find out…
Streets of Rage 4 is set ten years after the events which happened within the third game, although prior knowledge isn’t required as it tells you everything you need to know in order to get up to speed on things. With Mr. X out of the picture, the city was thought to be finally at peace, the crime levels had lowered and there was no sign of any criminal overlords. However, fueled by their desire for revenge and anger over what happened to their father, Mr. X’s children, the Y Twins, have come together and built up a new crime syndicate that is now causing havoc on the streets of Wood Oak City.
Unable to just stand by and watch their city become overrun by these two criminals, Blaze Fielding gets the support of Axel Stone, Adam Hunter, Cherry Hunter (Adam’s Daughter), and Floyd Iraia, a new crime-fighting team with one mission – bring peace to the city once more.
Although the game itself isn’t very long – as you’ll easily complete a full playthrough in less than two hours – you’re urged and encouraged to replay the game over and over again in order to unlock new classic characters and earn more trophies.
Streets of Rage 4 is very similar to the original games, only it’s much more refined and mechanically advanced than anything we’ve seen in the franchise previously (obviously). The combat is very fluid, heavy, impactful, and fun, as you’d expect, the game even sees the return of special attacks and the infamous reverse punch or kick. However, there is a new mechanic, one which is a little strange. If you use your stronger attack (Triangle on the PS4), you’ll hurt yourself each time – which we’ve seen before – but, if you follow this with a regular attack, you’ll get the health you lost returned to you. However, should you get hit before restoring this energy, you’ll lose it and have no way to heal without eating food.
I personally like this mechanic as I recall the stronger moves in the previous games simply eating away at your health with no method to quickly recover. It meant I opted to use my alternative attacks much more this time around.
You also have access to special moves which you can trigger with Circle as long as you’ve picked up the stars scattered around the stage. Although these are great for getting you out of a pickle and saving your life, they are worth 500 points each once you complete the stage – so, sometimes you have to weigh up if you should use them or not. What I love is, once you’ve unlocked the Streets of Rage 1, 2 and 3 characters (which are their original pixel-art models), their special moves are also the original ones – so Axel calls on a cop to pull up and fire a bazooka at the enemies on screen.
Another thing I found interesting about the original characters you unlock is that they also have the original move-set. So, whereas Streets of Rage 4 characters have a normal, strong, and special attack, Streets of Rage 1 characters only have an attack and their special attack – no strong one. Although it does stupidly map the special to Triangle and not Circle, so I constantly pushed it by accident and wasted a star!
How does it feel
The multitude of developers have done an amazing job with Streets of Rage 4, it feels very much like a direct sequel to the original games (I’m very thankful they didn’t go down the 2.5d or 3d route) and the mechanics are almost perfect in my opinion. Digital Foundry did an interesting video the other day which shows how the enemies had been programmed to think on the fly and adjust their advance based upon your position and what the AI thinks you’re going to do next, which is much better than then simply walking towards you every time. Instead, enemies will try and circle around you, they’ll huddle with others, collect weapons, stay back, and I even had a few catch things which I threw at them!
Personally, I thought some of the enemies were a bit cheap and OP though. There’s a fire-breathing fatty (from the original games) who simply runs in a diagonal line whilst breathing fire at you. I found it almost impossible to kill him without being hit myself due to his powerful attack. After a few playthroughs, I know his pattern and can pull off an almost damage-free kill of him, but the first few times he kicked my arse. Similarly, the bosses are very difficult, electrifying the floor before you can move out of the way (as you walk very slowly), shooting all over making it almost bullet-hell-like, or summoning goons who will attack you from behind whilst they slap you around themselves.
But, I never found anything too hard, it all felt solid and fun to play, although I do wish you could move a little faster – the whole city is going to shit and all you can do is walk at a leisurely pace unless you have a character who can roll to safety. But, if comparing Streets of Rage 4 to earlier games in the series – it was the same in those as well. So, I can’t really fault it for keeping the same speed, but I kinda wish there was a dash or run button.
My biggest complaint has to be the difficulty of the game – this is a personal opinion. Streets of Rage 4 is incredibly hard, brutal, unforgiving, and a bastard at times. Depending on what difficulty level you pick, you get a set amount of lives per stage. Each time you progress, they are refilled automatically. However, unlike retro games which give you lives and continues, allowing you to carry on playing mid-stage by redeeming a continue to restore your lives, this game doesn’t do that. If you lose all your lives near the end of a stage, you go back to the very beginning of it should you wish to try again.
This may not sound like much but it’s very frustrating. When playing on ‘normal’, I would continuously get killed by various bosses, forcing me to replay the entire stage again rather than simply continuing where I died. I can’t recall if this is how the original trilogy dealt with continues, but I know games like Golden Axe let you carry on from where you fell.
The difficulty also bleeds into the trophies, making this a game I know I’ll never get the platinum for. Complete a stage without taking ANY damage – seriously? I can barely walk across the screen without something hitting me! It also wants you to complete the Arcade Mode on Hard (this is a permadeath mode that requires you to complete the game without ever being allowed to ‘continue’). There’s also a trophy for completing a stage on Mania difficulty – at least that one is only one stage and not all of them – and one for getting an S on all stages in Hard or above (I think I have one S on easy)!
I imagine there’s a lot of people out there who will easily achieve these trophies over time, but I’ve thrown in the towel to even try and get a few of them now, I’m just playing the game without looking at them anymore.
If you want to challenge yourself, the game unlocks the Boss Rush once you’ve completed the main story for the first time. This mode, as you’d expect, places you against each of the bosses one after another. Your task is to last as long as you can without dying. I won’t lie – I found this mode extremely hard due to the special attacks the bosses have and my lack of reacting quickly enough in order to dodge them!
The Arcade Mode, which I mentioned above, also unlocks as soon as you’ve completed the game, offering you a chance to complete the entire game without being able to ‘continue’.
Multiplayer – If you don’t want to face off against the Y Twins on your own, you can bring along three of your friends offline or one other buddy online. That’s right, for some reason you can only play with up to four people if you’re all on the same PS4. I’ve not personally tried out ether mode but I’ve heard it’s a bit easier with a buddy – although it has friendly fire so you can smack your friend (just like in the originals).
Alternatively, if all you want to do is kick the crap out of another player, rather than the enemy AI, you can enter the Battle Mode. This is a multiplayer mode that lets you face off against each other in one of eight arenas. You can either have a free-for-all as everyone fends for themselves, or you can work together in groups and beat up the others. Again, this is also limited to four people locally and two online.
Once the game is over, there are another two things that fully unlock, these are:
Stage select. The game grades you as you complete a stage, the stage select shows you the difficulty, stage, and grade you got. So, if you’re going for the trophy that requires all stages at an S on Hard or higher, you can easily replay them from here and see your progress without playing the entire game over and over again. Also, every time you complete a stage the game shows where you are on the Worldwide leaderboard, so you can keep replaying a stage to try to become number one.
The Extra Menu. This is a feature that all games should have if they’re a new sequel to an older game, a collection of games, or a retro re-release/remaster/remake. Here you can see concept art, final models, and the various stages of development for the characters, stages, and enemies. It even has a few gallery images which you can screenshot and use as wallpapers if you wish (I’ve used a few in this review). What I like is you can look at the protagonist profiles, like Axel, and see all four versions of the character model next to each other, seeing how it’s evolved over time.
Also, all versions of the game let you pick between the newly created soundtrack or music from the original trilogy – another cool feature that these types of games should all have. However, should you have the PS4, PC or Switch version, you can also adjust various options such as Shadow Blob, Environmental and Background Details, the quality of the Overlay Details, and various Post Effects such as Bloom, Retro, or Retro CRT. These options are missing form the Xbox One and Windows 10 Store (Xbox GamePass) Editions. I’ve put an image of the four visual effects above.
Streets of Rage 4 is freaking gorgeous. As I said previously, Digital Foundry has put out a technical video on the game which looks into all the various effects and how the developers created them – it’s a great video. But, as a first impression from when I played it, I was blown away as I was expecting your standard 2D beat-em-up which we’ve seen a lot this generation. But no, there’s dynamic lighting, correctly fading shadows, ambient lights which alter the colour being cast, lots of particle effects, parallax scrolling, various artistic styles in the hand-drawn backgrounds, defined but not out of place characters, etc…
It’s like you’re playing a comic book, everything is animated beautifully and the impact of your attacks (and when you get smacked about) look glorious. Not to mention, even if you play as one of the original characters in their pixel-art style, they also have the dynamic shadows, lighting, ambient glow from lights behind them, and all the other visual effects which are present on the new character models. It really is a beautiful game to look at.
I think the best part about Streets of Rage 4 though has to be its rock-solid framerates. It’s a locked 60fps on all platforms, including the Switch. This helps the combat and action run super smooth, just like the original games. So, no matter which platform you pick it up on, it’s going to look and play awesome, with only a few visual effects omitted from the UWP version.
If you like the soundtrack for Streets of Rage 4, you can buy it on Bandcamp HERE or stream it from a number of platforms HERE. Also, if you’re more into physical over digital, Limited Run Games are also selling a bunch of different editions of the game (and some controllers and soundtracks) HERE.
Streets of Rage 4 is the perfect sequel, it builds upon the original trilogy whilst modernising it without alienating fans. Visually the game is gorgeous, all hand-drawn with brilliant lighting effects, visual styles, character designs, and original pixel-art protagonists and special moves. The music is just as good as I remember it, allowing you to alternate between the new music or classic tunes, this really is the perfect homage to the infamous Mega Drive games. Although not a very long game, you’ll get hours of entertainment out of Streets of Rage 4 thanks to the satisfying combat and progression-based rewards.
Streets Of Rage 4£19.99
- - Very nostalgic, it's essentially just like the original games only much prettier and more advanced
- - Brilliant soundtrack and the ability to play old and new tunes
- - Despite being a short game, lots of replayability with progression rewards and leader boards
- - Solid 60fps on all platforms
- - Brings back various characters from previous titles as well as the Battle Mode and a bunch of unlockable concept art
- - Very difficult and unforgiving on harder levels due to the way it handles 'continues'
- - The Xbox and Windows 10 Store versions (UWP/GamePass) seem to be missing a few visual options
- - Although similar to past games, I feel the characters move a little too slow, making dodging quite hard at times