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The first three Streets of Rage games are 16-bit beat’em ups that released for the Genesis in the 90s. They centered on vigilantes taking the law into their own hands in an effort to bring down a criminal organization known as The Syndicate. After Streets of Rage 3, we wouldn’t see another official game for twenty six years. Developed by Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games and published by Dotemu, Streets of Rage 4 was released for PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in April, 2020. For this review, we played the PC version.
Ten years after the events of Streets of Rage 3, the city is taken over by a new criminal organization led by the Y twins who are the children of the infamous Mr. X, leader of The Syndicate in the previous games. Their plan is to brainwash the city with music. Our familiar heroes Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding set out to take down the twins and their organization with their own brand of vigilante justice. Joining them are Adam Hunter’s daughter Cherry and Dr. Zan’s cybernetically enhanced apprentice Floyd Iraia.
Streets of Rage 4 includes multiple difficulty modes and supports up to four players locally two players online. There are multiple game modes and the Story and Battle modes are unlocked from the get-go. You’ll have to unlock Arcade and Boss Rush. In the Arcade mode, you get one credit to finish the entire story in one sitting and you can’t save. When you first fire up the game you can choose to play as any of the four heroes but can unlock others. Each character has their own unique move set and the gameplay should feel very familiar if you’re a veteran of the series. At the end of every stage, you’re scored based on your performance and your score is applied to your lifetime score. Once you reach certain lifetime scores, you’ll unlock classic sprite-based characters from the previous games. You start each stage with two lives and can acquire more by reaching certain scores. If you lose all of your lives, you have the option to retry with different assist options like how many lives and stars you want to come back with and most of them do affect your score.
Each character can walk, jump, and attack enemies. You can punch, kick, perform jump kicks, back attacks, blitz moves, combos, and grab and throw enemies. You can even juggle enemies. Each character can perform a unique special attack that inflicts a lot of damage at the cost of health but can regain the lost health by attacking enemies without being hit. Every character can also perform a unique star move. A star move is a powerful attack that consumes a star. Stars can be acquired as pickups in the stages and you do get bonus points if you finish a stage with one or more. You can break out of grabs but you can’t really defend yourself. You still can’t block and you also can’t roll to evade attacks which was a mechanic introduced in Streets of Rage 3. It’s very disappointing because we thought it was one of the greatest additions to that game. In Streets of Rage 4, enemies can move faster than you and attack you from different planes and considering how challenging the gameplay can be, being able to roll would have been nice.
I do want to mention three of the best features in the game. The first is the “pick up item” action is tied to its own button. The second is you can disable friendly hits so if playing with others, you won’t attack each other. And the third is that once enemies are on the playing field, they can’t walk or be knocked off-screen. If they do appear to go off-screen, that means the playing field is larger than what you’re seeing and you can simply walk over to where they are and the game will scroll along with you. It’s wonderful.
Not only can you beat thugs up with punches and kicks but you can also use and throw weapons. Also, weapons will bounce off foes and you can catch them in mid-air. They can be found in the stages and will be dropped by enemies and will break after a while. Classic weapons like the knife, pipe, grenade, bat, and bottle return. New to the arsenal is a cleaver, spear, taser, pool cue, nightstick, mace, boomerang, and golden chicken, among many others. In addition to weapons are other pickups like stars as mentioned earlier and most pickups are found by breaking something. Food replenishes health and money rewards you with extra points. One neat feature in Streets of Rage 4 is being able to change the type of food from the options menu.
We played through the game on Normal and it puts up a good fight. It’s a challenging game. And by challenging, I mean it’s challenging to beat a stage without losing all your lives assuming your starting with the normal two lives and not with the assistance of extras. Practice is required and the game is easier with multiple players. While the gameplay is challenging, your story mode progress is saved so you can continue from whatever stage you made it to and there is a Stage Select menu where you can replay any already completed stages and try for better scores. The game does include “Fighting Tips” which give you some advice on how to play but it doesn’t tell you everything. As mentioned earlier enemies can move faster than you and attack you from different planes. They can also unleash powerful non-interruptible attacks. They blink before unleashing one and that’s the indication that you should stay away. I do want to mention that I had a much easier time getting through the game when playing as any of the retro characters.
Achieving high scores or simply completing a stage without losing all your lives is going to be a trial and error process. It will require the memorization of the stages, enemy behavior, and knowing when to attack, when to stay away, and where to move and when. Being able to roll would have come in handy because some encounters do feel cheap and its easy to get overwhelmed especially if playing solo. It can be hard to avoid taking damage because of how many enemies you’re usually up against and many of them require different approaches. You’re invincible while performing your special attack and because you can regain the lost health from using it, it can be a huge help. However, it’s also risky because if you take a hit before regaining all of it, the remainder is lost. Bosses can also feel cheap and perform attacks that feel almost impossible to avoid. When they lose enough health, they normally enter a new phase and are more dangerous and many bosses are accompanied by other enemies. It all boils down to practice and memorization.
Many of the foes from the previous games return along with several new ones and they’re all named. You’ll fight thugs, cops, cyborgs, assassin agents, bikers, and every stage ends with a boss. In some areas you’ll encounter cops and thugs fighting each other. It’s pretty cool. Enemies will punch, kick, grab and throw you, and they can pick up and use weapons. Some can even catch the ones you throw. Some foes can block, certain ones can breathe fire, others can lob grenades and elemental bottles, and shield cops will activate an energy shield that can deflect attacks. Weapons are prevalent throughout the whole game and can make things easier and throwing them is a good way to hit enemies from long range or keep them at bay. You can’t always rely on weapons so learning how to perform combos and juggle enemies and using the environment to your advantage are very important. Performing combos and juggling foes not only inflicts significant damage but it’s also a way to rack up big points. Enemies can break your combos and interrupt most of your attacks so timing is key.
Streets of Rage 4 features twelve stages and each one contains multiple areas. You’ll kick ass on the streets, in a clubhouse or bar, on a cargo ship, on top of a train, and in a police precinct. There are breakable objects scattered around that house goodies in each stage and if you use the taser on the arcade machines in certain stages, you’ll be brought to areas in stages from previous games. There are hazards to avoid like toxic liquid, electricity, wrecking balls, and exploding barrels, among others. However, these can be used to your advantage and enemies are usually stupid enough to walk into environmental hazards and it’s fun throwing them down holes and off ledges. If you pay attention to the environments and backgrounds, you’ll notice nods to previous games and even other franchises including Sonic and Shinobi.
Streets of Rage 4 is presented in a colorful hand-drawn style and features detailed character designs and environments and smooth animations. You’ll see graffiti, beautiful cityscapes, NPCs fighting each other, rats running around, and debris scattered everywhere. Each strike and blow provides good visual feedback and powerful attacks will result in the screen shaking. The music is phenomenal and multiple artists contributed to the soundtrack including Yuzo Koshiro who did the music for the first three games. The soundtrack contains a mix of new and classic tunes and my favorite new song is easily “On Fire”. The game does let you toggle on the retro soundtrack which is full of songs from the classic games. Characters will grunt, groan, and shout when performing specific moves, and the sounds of hits landing is satisfying. On the technical side, we encountered no issues.
We really enjoyed our time with Streets of Rage 4. It pays homage to the classic games and puts up a decent fight. Mastering the game will take time and it can be more enjoyable when you have other to people to play with. The gameplay is balanced well enough thanks to a cool combo system and risky but rewarding special system. Even on the Normal difficulty, the encounters are challenging but food items are usually not hard to come by and are normally found in areas where tough battles or boss battles take place, so the gameplay feels fair. The mechanics grew on me and I began to appreciate them more as I started getting the hang of things. Although, I’m torn on if I like this or Streets of Rage 3’s mechanics more. Being able to play as all the retro characters is neat but, honestly, we would have preferred more characters in the new art style. Ultimately, our issues with the game are minor. The new mechanics help make the tried-and-true beat’em up gameplay feel fresh. Streets of Rage 4 is a great game that’s pleasing on the eyes and ears, can be enjoyed solo or with others, and has plenty of replay value.
We think Streets of Rage 4 is a great series comeback and would absolutely recommend it. It looks great, it sounds great, and it plays great. It’s an excellent modern take on the classic Streets of Rage formula. If you’re looking for a quality beat’em up with fun and challenging gameplay, definitely check out Streets of Rage 4.