In the early nineties, a plethora of side-scrolling brawlers hit both the arcade and home-console scene. Complete with a gritty atmosphere, awesome soundtracks and excellent balance, one franchise stood toe to toe with the best. 26 years later can Streets of Rage 4 still brawl with the ‘big boys’?
Coming to us from DotEmu and Lizardcube, with some assistance from Guard Crush, Streets of Rage 4 has some pretty big boots to fill — fans have been looking to Sega for a true sequel for almost three decades. It’s good then that Sega chose to trust the franchise with a group that has already proven that they not only understand the original games but also what really attached fans to the Street of Rage series in the first place. Coming fresh off the nostalgic high that was Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, LizardCube have not only delivered an addition to the series; but one the fans will look back on extremely fondly as a standout entry.
From the moment the title screen pops to the second you enter the first stage, it’s immediately recognisable as Streets of Rage. The streets themselves have had a lick of paint in the graphics department, with updated high-resolution artwork and animation for everything, gone are the pixelated 16bit enemies of earlier iterations. The animations are butter smooth and the added idle animations breathe more life into the characters than you first realise. The lighting also now bounces off characters and is specific to the source so if you are drenched in neon expect to glow.
It’s a great touch from the developers that some of that classic nostalgia still shines through in many instances, such as the Apple or Star pickups. You have the opportunity to play as the legacy character versions (crackly voices and all) as well as fight some familiar faces in their original designs and levels if you search hard enough. Standing in the first level outside the Pine Pot from the first game with the retro soundtrack enabled brings back floods of memories of couch co-op with friends.
If it isn’t broken then don’t fix it. Rather than try to update the series too much with complex special attacks and too many context (or directionally) sensitive attack inputs, Street of Rage 4 adds a few new attacks to each character’s repertoire. The special and secret inputs introduced in Streets of Rage 2 (Grand Upper!) come as standard but have been bolstered by an air-based special to increase your offensive capability. Although some animations have changed and some moves act slightly differently, the bare bones have stayed intact; especially for series stalwarts Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding.
The new characters — in Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia — each have their own strengths and weaknesses but it’s good to see that none of the balance is lost. If you have power you are likely not gonna be fast (and vice versa) but match the right characters together and you can compensate for something the other lacks. New enemies add a certain flair you love to hate (Dylan) but none of the charms of the original enemies are lacking (Donovan’s Uppercut included). The new boss enemies have some great designs and add a lot to the game.
The story continues on from Street of Rage 3. Faces both familiar and new make their entrance throughout its 60–90-minute playtime (on Normal). This entry does depart from the classic credit-based gameplay of lives and continues and opts instead for a stock of lives that are replenished at the end of a level. Get defeated however and you have to restart that level. You do have some opportunity to earn more lives by hitting predetermined scores, but that relies on your ability to not only defeat your adversaries but chain attacks into combos stylishly.
Streets of Rage 4 adds a small window of ‘air juggling’ to combat in addition to a short-fused combo streak counter. Build a high enough combo and the points earned are multiplied, but get hit and the chain will break, resetting the counter to zero. A risk vs reward method for special attacks (not Star Moves) also returns from Streets of Rage 2/3 albeit slightly modified. In previous entries the special attacks were linked to a gauge that once full was used for a special attack, if the gauge was partially full or empty then instead the character sacrificed some of their own life to carry out the move. Streets of Rage 4 removes the gauge completely but that life used can be regained if normal attacks connect with enemies before you get hit again. Stun-locking enemies has also been removed (SoR2) adding further balance.
Street of Rage 4 is built for the long game with most of what it offers players getting unlocked through what it terms “Lifetime Score”, a cumulative number across all modes, replays and online that collates as you finish a level. Reach a set value and unlock something nice, keep playing and unlock even more. It wouldn’t be surprising if some of the boss characters appeared as playable in the near future as they have an almost complete moveset in contrast to standard enemies.
Streets of Rage 4 relies on its quality to draw you back time and time again. Its mix of retro brawler gameplay, updated graphics, amazing new (and retro) soundtrack and new enemies coupled with the balance the series is famous for. It will have players replaying it for years to come and reminiscing fondly as one of the better entries in a timeless series.