Over twenty five years later, we finally have a fourth game in the Streets of Rage series, and in one of those rare occasions, the game turned out absolutely fantastic.
The brawler genre has been lacking lately, especially in the “retro reboot” department. And when Streets of Rage 4 was finally announced, the game immediately had a cloud of desperation hanging over it. Even when the first trailer came out, I was both excited, but also a bit put off. The graphics looked more like a flash game and less like a full comeback of a renowned brawler. As I saw more of the game through screenshots and trailers, the more I didn’t want to see it, more because I just wanted to play it myself and less for fear of not liking it.
After a few delays, in early 2020 the game finally had a release date set and quickly came out a couple weeks later. I started it up and was immediately reminded of the fact that this is, without a doubt… Streets of Rage, the grandfather of top tier brawlers. I’ve always held this series as something special and this game is totally worthy of carrying the Streets of Rage name and a numbered sequel.
The story is a continuation of the other games, as it keeps characters and continuity. Ten years have passed, Axel and Blaze are still around, enjoying life free of Mr. X, the protagonist from the original games. Now his kids, the Y twins are making trouble, and it’s up to the gang to clean up the streets once again. Axel, sporting a beard and showing off a more larger style, and Blaze who looks more like a in-between 80’s and 90’s undercover cop posing as a mall going lady of the night, is joined by their ex-partner Adam’s younger daughter Cherry and Mr. Zan’s apprentice Floyd. Cherry is a young teen girl who sports a guitar and is lightning quick. Floyd is on the other end of the spectrum, gigantic and slow as molasses, but makes up for it in sheer strength.
The first stage starts off very similar to both Streets of Rage 1 and 2, walking down a dingy city street with thugs trying to take you out, and not for dinner and a movie. It’s all very much too easy and quite lite, and most of the enemies are the same as the other games, which is one of those things that I really wish would be used less frequently. Luckily the game does throw pallete swaps of enemies at you later, but seeing the same characters, and names in the same font was just a little jarring as it felt like the game was playing it a little too safe, and hedging on nostalgia too much at some points.
The first couple levels are something that didn’t stand out too much to me while playing it the first time. But on subsequent playthroughs, the levels do grow on you. However, just getting into the game, and starting out, it did feel like a welcome back of sorts. Everything seemed warm and inviting, similar levels, similar enemies just gussied up a bit… it was nice.
Then, once I became a bit more familiar with the game, during the third level, the game ramps up on both difficulty, and variety. Thugs now are much smarter, using some cleaver AI to flank you and at certain times, triple or quadruple team you. It could all become very overwhelming quickly, but some new moves are at your disposal. The special move that drains a part of your life meter is still there, so is the double tap forward attack (Axel’s Grand-pa-pa move, yes I know it’s actually the “Grand Upper” but the original sound made it sound like he was saying Grand-Pa-pa, so I’ll always stick with that). But there is also a new star move that is like a new super special move that only is activated by using one of your stars that you can find hidden throughout the levels, and which are hard to come by. Also a new aerial attack as well as a backwards hit technique is always available to you, which makes it much easier to deal with double teaming enemies, or that occasional enemy who tries to sneak up behind you. A life draining special attack is back as well, but this time adds in the feature of being able to regain it, if you are able to attack enemies and not get hit, which adds a new amount of finesse when playing. Although I will miss the fact that they didn’t bring back the meter that built up over time from Streets of Rage 3.
There were many times during the 12 stages that I found myself just smiling beyond belief at how well they pulled this game off. And it’s all the small little things that make this game go from just a competent retro reboot sequel to something spectacular. Things like being able to change the power up icons, changing the apple to a pizza, or the comically full turkey in a trashcan to a salad. Or being able to use and throw weapons, but not just throw them, but also have them bounce off opponents and be able to catch the weapon again in the air, and continue into a combo, doing the same thing over and over again.
Speaking of combos, the combat system takes cues from hack and slashers and puts in a really nice combo system that allows you to pull off really elaborate combos, switching between many attacks and also being able to juggle enemies. There is now an invisible wall on the side of the screen now, that causes enemies to not fly off past the edges of screens, resulting in you not having to wait around for what seems like minutes for an enemy to attack you from the void. Instead, the enemies are now confined to the single screen and can be bounced off and air juggled. Nothing feels as satisfying as being able to take down ten enemies in a row and racking up a massive amount of points that leads to an extra life. But the enemies have also got some things to trip you up as well. Enemies can break your combos, and there are tech breaks too, that allow you to get out of moves without taking damage, or landing on your feet after being pushed back by a baddie.
The game’s default normal difficulty wasn’t too hard, but playing with another person is always the way to go in these types of games, and multiplies the enjoyable experience. Some of the game can lead to a bit of frustration as sometimes the bosses or enemies gang up on you and won’t allow you to get that health pickup right when you need it.
I don’t have much negative to say about the game, as I think it’s exactly what I wanted out of a new Streets of Rage game. Beautiful visuals, tweaks to the gameplay that bring it into the modern generation, bouts of nostalgia for the fans, while changing it up enough to make it new and exciting, and… the music.
The music of Streets of Rage is infamous. It’s one of those games that has a soundtrack that is regarded as some of the best in the business, and rightly so. Yuzo Koshiro is one of my favorite composers and for good reason. Streets of Rage 2 has some of my personal top favorites. And when word got out that the soundtrack was going to be multiple composers, I was bummed, but Yuzo still was brought on to do some tracks as well. The first few tracks that I heard weren’t amazing, but as the game went on, it kept getting better and better, and I soon found myself bobbing my head to the beat as I played and excited to hear the new soundtrack over the retro soundtrack that can be enabled in the audio menu.
Streets of Rage 4 is not just a solid follow up to a fantastic series, but one that a lot of developers should look at, and take notes on how to bring back a beloved series.