By Justin Guillou / June 29th, 2020
|Title||Streets of Rage 4|
|Developer||DotEmu, Guardcrush Games, Lizardcube|
|Release Date||April 30th, 2020|
|Platform||Nintendo Switch, PS4, PC, Xbox One|
We really live in the era of unexpected sequels. I guess after the release of Shenmue III, I really shouldn’t be surprised to see an old franchise resurface in the modern era. Streets of Rage 4 is the long overdue sequel to the classic trilogy of beat ’em ups originally seen on the Sega Genesis. My initial impressions of the game was very positive when I tried the demo and I am pleased to report that this sequel, while not perfect, does deliver some of the fun we’ve come to expect from the series.
Streets of Rage 4 takes place 10 years after the the defeat of MR. X in Streets of Rage 3. His children, known as the Y Twins, have created a new crime syndicate and plot to take over Wood Oak City by brainwashing the people through hypnotic music. Blaze Fielding learns of this and reunites with her old partners to stop the twins’ evil plans. From the outset you can play as series mainstays Blaze and Axel. Joining them are two new characters: their old Partner Adam Hunter’s daughter, Cherry, and Floyd, one of Dr. Zan’s apprentices. The story mode features 12 long levels filled with punks and bosses for you to fight. Your characters have one main attack button, a button to pick up items or weapons, a back attack maneuver, a special move button and a star move which often serves as a screen clearing attack. The special move button is the most interesting of your moves.
There are three types of specials that can be performed: A defensive special which can push enemies away and grant you some invincibility frames, an offensive special which is a more powerful move that also generally moves your character forward and an air special which can be used to set up some combos. Usually in beat ’em ups, when a special is performed, your character will lose some health. Streets of Rage 4 is no different however there’s a twist. Every time you use a special, instead of losing your health immediately, a part of your lifebar will change color. If an enemy damages you while this is happening, you will lose all of that health regardless of how damaging their attack would have been under normal circumstances. However, if you manage to attack enemies and obstacles without taking damage, that highlighted portion of your lifebar will get smaller and smaller eventually bringing your health back to normal. Essentially this means you can use your specials as many times as you want, as long as you can continue the combo and avoid taking any damage. This is actually a really clever mechanic that encourages you to be smart with your specials and try your best to play carefully.
Despite this really interesting mechanic, I couldn’t help but feel the characters they give you aren’t really well equipped to take on what the game throws at you, especially in some of the later levels. Axel in particular felt incredibly under-powered in comparison to the other characters. Streets of Rage 3 introduced many mechanics including but not limited to running for all characters, the ability to level up specials and sidestep/rolling. All of that has been removed from the characters here making the later levels incredibly challenging for all the wrong reasons. Enemies start off easy but soon move much faster, have a lot more health and can activate moves with Super Armor at the drop of a dime. The Super Armor situation is something that has been discussed in message boards as something some players found annoying. It can be understandable for bosses to have Super Armor as those are encounters that tend to require the player to play more defensively. However many normal enemies in the later levels suddenly have moves with Super Armor they can activate almost immediately and you have no reliable way of countering them even if you were to use the defensive specials. There were multiple situations where I found myself wondering “How was it possible for me to avoid that attack?”. It seems Lizardcube are aware of this and are looking to release a patch that balances this a bit better.
One thing that is really nice, though, is that the points you score in a stage can be used to unlock some secret characters, including Adam Hunter, who has not been playable since the first Streets of Rage. Of the Streets of Rage 4 characters he was my favorite to play as since his attacks had a lot of range and he has a very useful dash move, allowing me to quickly get from one side of the screen to another and was an effective way of dodging some annoying attacks. In addition to him, you can unlock many (but not all) of the playable characters from Streets of Rage 1-3, complete with all of the mechanics from their respective games. This actually includes characters that were playable in Streets of Rage 4 by default. So you can actually play as Axel from Streets of Rage 3 in all his pixelated glory along with his moveset and mechanics from that game. As you can expect, the “older” versions of these characters are far more powerful and effective against the enemy waves than the new ones.
The character sprites are big and highly expressive in every frame of animation. If you’ve played and enjoyed the look and style of Lizardcube’s WonderBoy: The Dragon’s Trap remake, you will know what to expect here. Some people may feel like the new sprites don’t hold a candle to the pixel art of yesteryear, but personally I think this type of animation stands out a lot more and feels like a true evolution of 2D spritework. The backgrounds and levels also look great and you really get a sense for what kind of place Wood Oak City is. It’s a crazy crime ridden place with all sorts of corruption going on. In some cases the enemies will fight each other, making it feel like a real free-for-all at times. Of course there are plenty of easter eggs and nods to the old games and many of the old enemies and bosses return looking sharper than ever. I genuinely smiled seeing bosses like Barbon return and his fight was a lot of fun. However I was a bit disappointed that characters like Skate don’t show up in the story mode at all unless you pick one of the “retro” characters. It would have been really nice to have seen how he looks in the Streets of Rage 4 art style. Also oddly enough Max and Shiva both appear as bosses, but neither are playable in their Streets of Rage 4 variants. I feel like that was a huge missed opportunity here and would have done wonders to add yet more variety to the game. The story mode will take you about 1-2 hours to complete across the 12 levels. That sounds short but for a 2D beat ’em up like this, that’s rather lengthy. Thankfully you can save and take breaks. Also In story mode you are given a fixed amount of lives each level based on the difficulty, regardless of how many lives you end a level with. However Arcade mode lets you play the games with the same pool of lives just like in the older games.
One of the most fondly remembered aspects of Streets of Rage is the music. In the past, Yuzo Koshiro has graced us with three classic soundtracks that truly stand the test of time. And while Koshiro did return to compose a couple tracks, Olivier Deriviere would take charge and compose many of the tunes you will be listening to. His tracks definitely feel different and more modern in comparison to the very “90s” feel of Koshiro’s old music, however it works and fits the game’s overall vibe. In addition to Deriviere several other composers joined him to contribute tracks including Harumi Fujita (Mega Man 3) and Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts and Xenoblade Chronicles). So the end result is a soundtrack that, while offering a different feel than before, can stand on its own and provide a wider variety of music than the previous games.
For $24.99 Streets of Rage 4 is a good game, but it can really benefit from better balance between the characters and some of the levels. There is a good amount of replay value thanks to the unlockable characters, additional difficulties, a boss rush mode and online play. You can fight with each other in the story or Arcade mode or fight against each other in battle mode. In any case, if you are a fan of 2D beat ’em ups, this is one worth checking out.
Review copy provided by the publisher
dotemuGuardcrush GamesLizardcubeStreets of Rage 4