It feels like forever since I last looked at the Streets of Rage-series, and I would like to think that a lot has changed since then. My reviews for them are odd and from a time I was still trying to find my voice. While I do not know whether I have found it, I hope at least I have improved from my severely humble beginnings. I did not expect a Streets of Rage 4 back when I covered the original trilogy, but what a surprise it was when Dotemu alongside Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games, decided to make it. Even with River City Girls fresh in mind and that the beat’em up genre has a ton of titles to choose from, I am just gonna jump the gun here and say that you need to get this title. Preferably alongside RCG.
Just a buddy cop story, and ain’t nothing wrong with that!
“Ten years have passed since the fall of Mr. X and his Syndicate. The city has been at peace… until now. A new crime empire has arisen, corrupting everything good in the city. It is rumoured to be led by Mr. X’s own children: the Y Twins. Former detectives Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding join forces with their old friend’s daughter, Cherry Hunter, along with Floyd Iraia, an apprentice of the brilliant Dr. Zan. Together, these four vigilantes stand against the Y Syndicate on… The Streets of Rage.”
This intro is already a sign of what to come. Streets of Rage 4 provides far from a deep story or even one you need to pay attention to. However, it succeeds because of how simple it is and just wanting the player to have a good time. You will meet corrupt police-officers, old friends taking on the fight, and witness how and why your team travels from one place to another. It is all solid and while events mean more to fans, it is still a great story-mode for anyone who just wants a colourful action-title. It does not want to be a grand story, and shows so with easy to digest comic-book style cutscenes and characters, with the action being at the forefront.
There is nothing wrong with keeping a setup simple, as long as it can still contain personality, and Streets of Rage 4 knows this. You will meet up with the old and beat-down Axel, Ester who truly believes she is working for the law, and more colourful characters, with all having as much screen time as needed. Really, it gives enough to not go overboard and instead become an entertaining action-flick for all the right reasons, with the lovely 90s style that contains a world to be drawn in by.
Story Score: 10/10
Why you sometimes just need a solid update
Streets of Rage 4 lives up to its name by simply being a further extension to the already wonderful established mechanics set by the second game, fixing what was broken in the third, and paying respect to every title in this Genesis trilogy. However, this is more than just a remake of sorts. Streets of Rage 4 is going the extra mile in every aspect to make this the best in the series, and of its kind.
Taking a page from the previous titles, all characters have a simple 4-button combo, jump-attacks can grab enemies to throw or punch, pick up healing-items, money for points or tools to fight with, like poles, knives or grenades. A wonderful improvement is how picking up items is dedicated to its own button and if you do not want to double-tap in one direction to do a blitz-move, you can also dedicate that to one button. Even the ability to quickly hit back is done better with simpler inputs, leaving a lot of focus to the action and instead of how to perform a move, when.
All the characters have their strengths, weaknesses and unique special-attacks to make them engaging, but none are overpowered or unappealing thanks to the vast moveset and unique playstyles. While all have a unique blitz-attack by double-tapping left or right, they also have their own form of special-moves in the form of an all around-attack, side-attack and an all new air attack, that all costs some health on use. However, their strength is worth it as they can either deal tons of damage or give the character a breather. Even this has been upgraded with an interesting risk vs reward system, since you can now gain health back by doing combos without getting hurt.
Combine this with a clever charge-attack for a hard-hitting punch if you wanna be defensive, easy to grab thrown items while still in midair, and overall simply fantastic controls to take a hold of the action, you are always prepared for fights to take on. This is important as well, as you are even further rewarded with points by constantly keeping combos up. Points actually matter here as besides for extra materials, you can gain extra lives through this. This can surely be done by finding extra-life icons in the stages, but they are few and far between, so racking up combos and doing well, will be worth your time.
Another form of equaliser you will get even includes the Star-attacks, which are found throughout the stages and you start with one after each death. These are hard-hitting attacks that will be your saving grace without using health and act as a screen-nuke. It might seem like you get a lot to your arsenal and moveset, but the fact is that you are going to need every single one of them. This game will throw plenty of varied enemies at you, forcing you to fight diversely, be ready for any incoming attacks and how the fiends act. Jumping basket-ball players, throw-happy punks, huge tank-blobs, all are defeated easier through different methods, but since you will be meeting with all of them at once and in quantity, there will be a lot to take in.
However, this is where I believe Streets of Rage 4 gives a fantastic attention to good difficulty! It always lets the player learn about the new opponents in a more relaxed environment, before throwing you in huge fights against plenty of different enemies. With tons of weapons, massive amounts of combos, and varied enemies, there is a lot to take in, but never too much due to the game’s simple nature and easy to learn controls. Not even the familiar one-stun punch works here, since the enemies will take on a mix of both defensive and offensive approaches, making it important to read their moves and always be prepared, but also act fast so they do not get the upper hand.
The developers thought of everything and really went above and beyond with every idea. Even co-op is miles better with up to 4 players, a no friendly hit option, and the ability to change character after each stage. The stages themselves can include clever variety in design, such as traps that can affect anyone, secrets for bonus levels and pits for an easy kill. Lastly, all the bosses are enthralling to fight against with clear animations to highlight what attack they are going to use, different fighting-style and they present a strong challenge.
I could go on with wonderful details in this game, like how enemies fall down upon a player respawning for a breather, or that details in the characters stats are shown with how Floyd being such a tank that he can barely jump. In the end, this is the perfect Friday-night rental and throughout its 2 hour journey, I was at a loss for words. How this uses a modified engine of the Streets of Fury game, is beyond me.
Gameplay Score: 10/10
A hint of the 1990s in a 2020 coat
I will forever treasure how much focus the 90s had on colours as it is showcased in this sequel. With plenty of diverse areas in a vibrant city, be it the light-coated Chinatown with temples, the rundown train-station with graffiti everywhere, an art-gallery with interesting displays, or the motorbike-bar ran by a familiar kangaroo, there are so many details everywhere to admire, it is hard to not just stop and look at the scenery. Everything was done with a hand drawn artstyle (including the beautiful comic-book style cutscenes) and none of the areas look the same. Making a single city so diverse and colourful is not easy, but Streets of Rage 4 shows how far creativity and passion can go! Really, do take a look at the background, as there might be some subtle details that can fly by while you are pummelling the enemies.
Speaking of which, the character-designs are just as amazing in detail. Fiends are well made and there is enough variety to not be bothered by the slight colour-reuse as they convey so many attacks and designs. In fact, the enemies can contain between 300-400 frames of animation. The bossfights especially uses these impressive animations to make fights exhilarating, with varied attacks and hard-hitting super-moves that causes huge explosions.
Even more impressive is your cast of characters. Everyone is wonderfully designed, with the old cast-members having gotten a fantastic modernised look, such as Blaze’s muscular design with her old attire being slightly changed, and the new characters are just as a lovely mix of old and new, like Cherry with dreads and a guitar for a weapon. The playable characters can contain about 1000 frames of animations, due to simply how vast sets of moves and attacks they have. Every single hit feels satisfying by the visuals alone, thanks to the sheer impressive and smooth moves mixed with huge explosive attacks that are unique to each character. You can even change what food-items you want for restoring health, which is a fun detail alone.
Adding to the carnage and chaos, is the magnificent sound effects of hard-hitting punches, slicing weapons, or just hearing the explosions covering the screen. All are unique, rough and sound wonderful, which they should in a beat’em up! Even the character shouts of special-moves sounds amazing, or the grunts of pain when you for example throw your opponents down to the ground. Sounds can really make or break the action, and here, it empowers it.
Then we have the soundtrack, which is nothing short of brilliance. Olivier Deriviere worked on the main-theme, while seven other composers wrote one theme for each of the bossfights. All songs are fantastic forms of jazz, techno or even rock, with beautiful attention to their beats. This is a fitting tribute to the so-called “Genesis Twang” that fits all of these genres, and makes for a rhythmic soundtrack perfect for the beat down, but never too intense to not be relaxing listens. It is all glorious with amazing focus on instruments highlighting, variety and length. Overall, the music is simply amazing and adds to the already enthralling atmosphere. There is even the option to switch to the soundtrack from Streets of Rage 2, but with how good the remade soundtrack is, including remixes of songs by Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, it is hard to not be pleased. I really want this as a record!
Presentation Score: 10/10
Nostalgia at its finest
While the points are nice assets for showcasing your skills, they do more than just give lives or give grades at the end of stages. Filling up enough, will lead to unlocking original versions of past characters, like Axel from the first Streets of Rage, Dr. Zan from Streets of Rage 3 and so on. All versions play like they originally did, making it fun to try out stages with a different setup and mechanics, and it all works wonders! It is neither easier nor harder, simply different because the damage-output and fighting-style reflects the original title they came from, while keeping the enemies still fierce. Glory to 16-bit nostalgia!
Alongside this is a lovely art-gallery that really showcases the developers work, a fun boss-rush mode that is a neat challenge, a traditional arcade-setup with limited lives, a stage select, and 5 difficulties to tackle. With friends, there is of course always the option for up to 4 players, even in a fun battle-mode that works better thanks to the vast amount of moves, creative stages and team-setup. If couch-gaming is not possible, you can even go online to play, and it is easy to play any mode with friends or random players. Needless to say, this will never leave my Switch, PS4 or PC unit! Yes, I wanted this game on everything…
Extra Score: 10/10
I honestly have nothing to fault this title over and really hope this review does not seem like blind love, as Streets of Rage 4 is a fantastic title that shows how far simply upgrading from already a masterpiece, can yield magnificent results. With exciting beat-down, perfect difficulty, multiplayer-options galore, amazing hand-drawn visuals, even better soundtrack and reasons to go back for long or short beat-downs, I will just say that this is definitely one of my favourite games of 2020. Possibly this decade.