It has been a long wait. Exactly 26 years since we last saw a Streets of Rage title, and the wait has delivered a worthy sequel in 2020. Developed by DotEmu, Guard Crush Games, and Lizardcube, Streets of Rage 4 is an unapologetically faithful resurrection of the classic arcade beat-’em-up. Think side-scrolling action, weapons and food pick-ups, and enemies and objects to destroy – this is straightforward fun without any elaborate dressing.
All you need to understand for the plot of Streets of Rage 4 is that the bad guys are trying to take control of Wood Oak City. The offsprings of series villain Mr X, aptly named Mr and Ms Y, have used their power and influence to corrupt our beloved city, and it is up to your crew of vigilantes to take it back.
Returning to Streets of Rage 4 are the iconic mugs of Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, our pair of ex-cops still raging after decades on the streets. Alongside new additions Cherry Hunter, daughter of Adam Hunter, and cybernetic powerhouse Floyd Iraia, they bring order to the streets with the use of good, old violence.
Both Axel and Blaze feel right at home for veterans returning to the series – Axel is a balanced fighter, while Blaze favours speed over power. They do not really stand out, and are perfect for when you have no preference whatsoever.
However, Floyd is slow but powerful, packing a literal punch with every attack. Cherry is the swiftest of them all, and can zoom around the screen dealing damage with her guitar-based moves. There is a nice balance when it comes to the roster, and you will discover your favourite play style with each of the fighters.
Just like any other entry in the series, Streets of Rage 4 gives each character an assortment of punches and kicks. Of course, special moves are now part of your arsenal.
Be it the defensive special that renders you invulnerable for a few frames, or the oftentimes flashy and damaging offensive specials, it takes a bite out of your health to perform them. However, the risk and reward nature of it makes every fight in Streets of Rage 4 an exciting one.
If you are able to avoid damage and string together some combos, the lost health can be
regained. Essentially, if you are good enough, you can bring the hurt while staying healthy throughout the entire game. It is an interesting metagame for sure, and adds another layer of strategy to the brawling in Streets of Rage 4.
That said, when things get too hectic, you can always rely on your Star Moves. These are even more awesome special moves that do plenty of damage to most foes unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. Floyd’s beam attack is a spectacle, while Axel’s flaming uppercut is as hot as it looks.
The caveat is that they require Stars to pull off. Players start each level with one Star, and these can be accumulated as you explore the levels and find these hidden treasures. It usually makes sense to save them for the bosses, or not use them at all if you are chasing a high score, but having the freedom to do so is always a blessing.
As if fists and legs are not enough, the enemies in Streets of Rage 4 are prone to wielding weapons. The extended range and damage of pipes, bats, and an assortment of tools can be annoying, and even more so when thrown at you from afar.
Thankfully, the game gives you the ability to catch weapons in mid-air. Turn the tables on your foes and get them back, you can even do so as your own thrown projectile bounces off the skull of an enemy, giving you another chance to tear them a new one.
And you will need all the help you can get. With returning foes and new enemies added into the mix, there is plenty of nostalgia thrown into the mix. Expect to see different coloured variations of the same type of enemy, but the variety of villains keeps things relatively fresh.
This extends to the bosses of the 12 levels as well. They are all a challenge, requiring you to learn their patterns and moves. They do repeat towards the end, albeit with more numbers, but you will be well-prepared by then.
Unfortunately, it is not all smooth sailing when it comes to combat. There are certain situations that can wreck even the best-laid plans. The hit boxes of enemies need some getting used to, while an unsavoury combination of enemy combos and explosives can trap you in a cycle of pain with no respite. Steering clear of grenades is very important in Streets of Rage 4.
At least the levels are a sight to behold. Aside from those taking place on the streets, Streets of Rage 4 brings players into other locales that are interesting and fun to marvel at. From the many homages to the series’ past to the unmistakable nods to modern games, the level design of this new entry is great but not groundbreaking.
What is outstanding, however, is the art direction and soundtrack that bring Streets of Rage 4 to life like never before. The comic book-like visuals are gorgeous, allowing each character on-screen to stand out. Coupled with the beautiful levels brought to life, the colour and the fidelity at which the old is brought into the new are testaments to the dedication of the studios.
The same can be said of the stellar soundtrack as well. Be it the modern hits or even the throwback retro tunes, they accentuate the action very well and keeps the adrenaline pumping as you take the fight to the Y Syndicate.
Speaking of retro, Streets of Rage 4 has its fair share of secrets and customisation. From the soundtrack to old CRT filters, it can truly recreate a feeling of older times. As you progress through the game, you will also earn points that go towards unlocking retro characters from the three games prior.
They are not pure reskins either, each come with their own set of moves and quirks that will make you play differently. One example is the Streets of Rage 1 fighters, who eschew special moves for the classic police airstrike instead.
Besides the main story mode, Streets of Rage 4 also packs in a Boss Rush mode, an Arcade mode that gives you a limited life count, and the Battle Mode that can let friends compete to see who is the better fighter. Playing with someone else competitively or in co-op is always fun, and the game’s five difficulty levels offer a challenge for everybody.
There is no doubt that Streets of Rage 4 relies heavily on nostalgia to explain many of its design choices. It is a pure enjoyment of the classic formula of a side-scrolling beat-’em-up with not much innovation thrown in. While it should be applauded for sticking to its guns and reviving a genre long forgotten, it also does not do quite enough for a 2020 title.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Tradition over innovation, Streets of Rage 4 is still a fun time to be had alone or with friends.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 10/10
Value - 8/10