Note: Review copy supplied by IndigoPearl
Title: Streets of Rage 4
Studio: Lizard Cube / Guard Crush
Published By: DotEmu
System: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Genre: Scrolling Beat ‘Em Up
Released: April 30th, 2020
Amongst the best beat’em up series ever created, jammin’ ‘90s beats and over the top street beating, the iconic series Streets of Rage comes back with a masterful tribute to and revitalization of the classic action fans adore.
One of SEGA’s most popular series in the 1990s, Streets of Rage was a real powerhouse of the scrolling beat ‘em up genre. While it’s generally thought that Streets of Rage 2 was the best and Streets of Rage 3 was the worst, all three games certainly had their fans, and it always seemed strange that a fourth entry never appeared on either Saturn or Dreamcast. There are rumours that a game was in the works, but that the then head of SEGA of America canned it as he hadn’t heard of the series, mind you.
The main point though is that the series settled into a run of retro collection releases until Lizard Cube, Guard Crush, and DotEmu came along. When they announced that they were collectively working on a new entry in the series, it was met with much excitement. After all, Lizard Cube and DotEmu worked on the excellent Wonder Boy III: The Dragons’ Trap remake and Guard Crush had previously worked on the green-screen scrolling fighter Streets of Fury. Now that the game is available on PS4, Steam, Switch, and Xbox One though, is it actually any good? Let’s have a look.
Visually, there’s quite a shift between the old titles and this one, taking the graphics from pixels to a more cartoon style. The change is similar in tone to how Wonder Boy III was altered for the remake, and much like with that title, this was done with a lot of care. It all looks like how I’d picture a Ulysses 31 era anime would look with a modern smoothness to the animation.
What makes it work so well though is that everything from characters to backdrops is clearly part of the same universe as the originals. It all looks like a Streets of Rage game, even with the different art style. Even better, the returning characters have changed in line with the timeline, with Axel, in particular, being visibly older now but still obviously the same. That’s a wonderful balancing act to achieve in both regards.
There are lots of other cool little visual things going on too though. I loved the way the lighting works, with flashing lights hitting the right points on the characters. Then, there were the little easter eggs, like seeing Roo, the hidden boxing kangaroo character from Streets of Rage 3 making a cameo behind a bar or Estelle using the Streets of Rage 1 special moves during her boss battles. The thing that impressed me most though was the attention to detail in the way the characters use weapons. Each one swings weapons differently, with the movement fitting in line with their size. That was a nice touch.
Both Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima have returned to do the music too, and it really shows. The tracks are modern in quality, but the feel is very retro. You could honestly hear a lot of it fitting nicely with any of the previous games. The voice acting too is absolutely fine. Not necessarily standout, but this isn’t a high on story game that requires a massive script, so that’s not unexpected.
What we do get story-wise is good though. This time around, the team is facing off with the children of the normal antagonist Mr. X. Mr. and Ms. Y pop up as the puppet asters pulling all the strings, finally building to a big battle against both. Where this rises above the Mega Drive classics in that regard is in the quality of the cut scenes. These are all very comic book in style and do just enough to make you feel like there’s an advancing story without overstaying their welcome between battles. It was nice seeing the cast interact with some classic characters like Shiva too.
From a gameplay standpoint, this is exactly what you’d expect in many ways. The general layout of how it works is definitely a throwback, albeit a lovingly crafted one. You have your simple control system, walk right – or occasionally stand in a lift – and fight swarms of enemies until you reach the boss. This adds a few new wrinkles to the formula though, with some juggling combos and new unblockable Star Moves that can be deployed in a limited number. The character’s stats also play a much bigger feeling role than in previous games. By that I mean t doesn’t just take longer to beat enemies with particular characters, but rather they are actually at disadvantages. Take the shield carrying Murphy for example; with Axel or Floyd, you can smash through the shield with ease, but with Blaze or Cherry, you’re gonna want to keep moving to avoid being hit while you wear it down.
The boss fights too have had a slight overhaul. The usual requirement to watch for patterns still applies, but it feels more varied than it did in the older games, with pretty much every boss taking on multiple cycles. That final boss too was an absolute blast.
In terms of faults, I would say that the ending felt a little bare-bones compared to the cut scenes. There are some nice shots throughout the credits letting you know the cast are up to in the aftermath of it all, but it’s nothing as complete as the between level scenes. The most common complaint about the genre – repetition – may well pop up for you too. There are more than enough different enemies to make it visually varied, and there are some nice gimmicks in levels to mix it up, but the core gameplay remains the same throughout the levels. If you’re a fan of the genre though, this won’t bother you as much.
The game may also frustrate on higher difficulty levels if you’re not used to the pace of it all. Even on easy mode, you can sometimes find yourself swarmed with enemies and no way to effectively deal with all of them. It certainly adds to the fun, but if you’re easily frustrated, I’d recommend starting on the lower difficulty settings to get used to things. If nothing else, it’ll help to get to grips with the harder to avoid attacks.
Overall, this one impressed me a lot. A lot of the appeal is rooted in nostalgia, of course, but it’s a perfectly playable game regardless, whether in single or multiplayer. The story is simply fun, the gameplay is strong, and it’s aesthetically beautiful. On top of that, there are a whole bunch of unlockable retro characters and secret levels to aid in replayability. In all, Streets of Rage 4 is a lovingly crafted throwback with enough style to be more than a nostalgia release. In short, the wait for a new official sequel was well worth it. This one gets a 4.5 out of 5 from me.