Twenty-six years is a long time between iterations of a game, and bringing a franchise back after so long isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. Thankfully, Streets of Rage 4, a side-scrolling beat’em up where players fight off waves of enemies using an array of attacks, is successful in reviving its retro vibe for modern times. Developed by Lizardcube, Dotemu, and Guard Crush Games, Streets of Rage 4 takes place 10 years after the events of Streets of Rage 3 with Axel and Blaze returning to the forefront to take down the children of Mr. X, the previous antagonist in the series. It’s up to you to make the streets safe again.
Streets of Rage 4 is a triumph, and a big reason it works is because of how true to the previous games it is, pulling the best pieces from its past and bringing them to modern times. The game was obviously influenced by SoR2 and SoR3, so the moment-to-moment gameplay felt familiar to me as someone who’s experienced with the franchise. This familiarity was not only seen, but heard throughout the soundtrack as I progressed through each stage. The developers brought back two original musicians from the previous games, Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, which helped capture that retro vibe I remember so fondly.
In another welcome blast from the past, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I could unlock past playable characters in their respective 16-bit forms from the previous three titles. If I have one concern, the 16-bit graphics seemed out of place, even if I did enjoy playing as Skate from SoR2. It’s a minor concern, and I still hope more characters will be brought back in the future.
Combat in Streets of Rage 4, while accessible in its basic form, leaves room for players to pull off more complicated and powerful attacks. As you begin, one button is used for a basic attack and another button is used for a jump. An aerial attack can be used if you press the attack button while in the jump.
Basic attacks are simple to pull off, but if you want to use Axel’s signature Grand Upper, for example, you must tap the direction you want to go twice and hit the attack button. This will trigger a signature move the character is known for.
Each character also has three special moves consisting of a defensive move, offensive move, and air special. These moves are risk versus reward when using them as a bit of health is lost when using a special attack. Players can regain that lost health by hitting another enemy, though.
Finally, Star moves are a character’s most powerful. You are given a certain number of Stars depending on the difficulty chosen but can find more as you play. Star moves are reserved for times when you want to take out a lot of enemies at once or if you want to put the hurt on a stage boss.
While all that is cool, the one move I like to use is the mid-air grab. This is used when enemies throw weapons at you. When used correctly, you will grab the item thrown and can either throw it back or use it against them. It’s a lot of fun to pull off, which is a common theme with the combat in Streets of Rage 4. It’s easy to get into but requires a bit more practice to master. However, you’re guaranteed to have fun along the way.
A New Kind of Rage
Taking influence from the past can be a good thing, but it’s important to evolve while keeping the foundation intact. Streets of Rage 4 does this with its hand-drawn art used for the characters and backgrounds. I was surprised at the level of detail that was put into each stage, item, and character. The redesigns for Axel, Blaze, and several enemies was a great example of how you can stay true to your roots while pushing forward into the future.
The future isn’t just a fresh coat of paint, though. Two new characters are introduced to the series, and Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia fit right in. Cherry, the daughter of Adam Hunter from Streets of Rage, is blindingly fast. Floyd, on the other hand, is the strongest thanks to his cybernetic arms, a gift from Dr. Zan who first made an appearance in SoR3. These two characters stand out on their own, giving the series something new that complements the old. The way each one ties in with the previous games helps them fit perfectly with Axel and Blaze.
If there’s one thing that’s changed drastically in the last 26 years, it’s technology. Streets of Rage 4 capitalizes on this by giving players the option to play online and with up to four players locally as opposed to just two. Growing up with two older brothers, it would have been nice for all of us to play at the same time, but that’s like looking back to 2020 in 10 years and being angry 8K television weren’t standard. Four players can make things feel a bit crowded, but I’m going to roll with the opinion that having more options is better than having less, even if I don’t fully utilize some of them.
Despite All My Rage
I have to say that Lizardcube, Dotemu, and Guard Crush Games did an excellent job bringing Streets of Rage 4 to 2020. The music, hand-drawn graphics, attention to detail, and gameplay familiarity is what every Streets of Rage fan has been waiting for. If you are new to the series, Streets of Rage 4 will still find a cozy place in your gaming library.