It’s been 16 years since the last Streets of Rage release and since that time the scrolling beat ’em up genre has been left behind in the previous Millenium, until now. Streets of Rage is back with the 4th iteration of the game and it’s back with modern graphics, great music and that familiar feel. The following is my review of Streets of Rage 4.
Scrolling beat em ups hold some of my fondest memories in gaming from the early days in the arcades on Eastbourne and Brighton Pier. Back in the day when arcades had graphics way beyond what a home console was capable of, I used to spend hours playing Final Fight, The Simspons and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles arcade games… some of the best scrolling beat em ups of their day. I was lucky in that a friend of mine’s Dad used to repair arcade machines, so I’d go round his house and in his garage, he’d have arcade machines, where you didn’t need to put in money, you’d simply select how many lives you wanted and we’d sit there for hours playing Neo Geo and Capcom classic titles.
Wind forward a few years and the original Streets of Rage trilogy came out on the Megadrive. These weren’t quite the perfect arcade recreation, but it was the first time you could have impressive graphics at home and was a huge leap from what we’d been used to with NES graphics. Streets of Rage 2 sticks in my mind the most – with it’s over the top characters, colourful and vibrant designs and great music.
The Streets of Rage series didn’t make it out of the ’90s and the genre has since died out, with games becoming more complex, engaging and fun. Streets of Rage 4 comes onto the scene in 2020 looking to inject new life into the genre, but dealing heavily in the currency of nostalgia. I wish I could have a look at the game through the eyes of someone who never played these games back in the 90s to see if they truly hold up today.
Streets of Rage 4 is a fan-made homage to the original series, much like other game series that have been brought back recently. Nostalgia is doing well right now with other big 90’s series doing well in 2020. Streets of Rage 4 is quite unique though as it tackles a style of game that’s faded away almost completely in the triple-A space.
The gameplay of Streets of Rage 4 stays largely the same as previous incarnations of the series, however, the graphics have had a complete overhaul by developer Liazrdcube. They are the ones who took on another 90’s classic previously with Wonderboy, a game that Game Gear fans will remember. The artwork is cell-shaded, colourful and looks like a comic book that you can control – it really brings the action to life. There’s the option to turn on the retro filter, allowing you to experience the updated game in full 16-bit glory, which if you have the nostalgia for the 90’s games then I’d definitely recommend this mode.
When you first start the game you have four characters to choose from. Axel, Blaze, Cherry and Floyd. Axel is your all-rounded, Floyd is bigger and moves a little slower whereas Blaze and Cherry are more nimble. Each character has a standard punch or kicks attack, holds and suplexes as well as a special attack. Be wary of the special attack though as it’ll drain some energy. Once you build up enough energy there’s a super attack. There are some nice attacks which you can chain together and the damage numbers and combos are reflected on the screen which is nice.
Attacks certainly are true to the original form of Streets of Rage. This is both good and bad. It feels authentic for sure, however, it can get a little button mashy and repetitive. The combo system is the saving grace of the battle system with the ability to juggle enemies in the air, more so with some characters than others. Out of the original characters I probably had the most fun with Cherry as combos include a lunge with her jumping forward and pounding her opponents with a follow-up punch that sends tingles down your spine. The developers definitely have injected plenty of fun and feels into the game.
There some nice systems in the game to keep you entertained and coming back for more including unlockable features such as characters, graphical styles and other game modes. There are a leaderboard and grading system to let you know instantly how you did. There’s a story mode, which isn’t too long (roughly in the region of a few hours). Once you have finished the story you unlock other game modes such as Stage Select, Arcade, Boss Rush and Battle mode.
As well as the graphical upgrades the soundtrack is awesome too. Some of the original composers are back including Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima to produce fantastic pieces of music to accompany the action. Lizardcube worked with Guard Crush – another studio who have dipped their toes into the scrolling beat em up genre before with Streets of Fury. Guard Crush has taken the good elements from the past and updated them to feel modern, applying a nice layer of polish on what could have been a below-average game.
Streets of Rage 4 can be played through in single-player mode, however, the classic co-op mode is back. This time there’s online matchmaking allowing you to team up with other fans and this is a great addition. Playing back in the day with another player on arcades was great fun and that was brought into the living room with console gaming, so this addition of online co-op play is great and pretty straight forward.
Overall, Streets of Rage 4 is a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Scrolling beat em ups have almost disappeared completely from gaming, so this is a nice reminder of those times. Whether it stands up on its own is another story against many other great titles that are vying for your time these days. I had fun with it, I played it on Xbox Game Pass on PC as part of my monthly subscription there. I was thinking when I was playing it, I don’t know if I’d be happy if I paid full price for the game as I don’t think it’ll have too much longevity for me. For fans of the genre, this is most likely the best it’s going to get on modern consoles and a wonderful trip down memory lane.
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