Despite there being a ton of beat ‘em ups that have released over the years, it’s the Streets of Rage series that has stuck with me the most. From the moment it first graced my Mega Drive, I’ve felt like it had the best characters and enemies, the coolest power-ups, and the slickest city setting that made for the perfect environment to dish out hurt on my enemies… what more could gamers want?
Given its popularity, you’d have thought that SEGA would’ve released an abundance of titles in the series – however, we haven’t seen a new Streets of Rage game since its third entry twenty-six years ago. Well, it took some time, but gamers FINALLY get to return to those raging streets in Streets of Rage 4. It hasn’t come from SEGA this time around though, but the teams at DotEmu, Guard Crush Games, and Lizardcube.
Fortunately, the sequel was in good hands and they’ve done a really good job in reviving the franchise, with Streets of Rage 4 not only a fantastic return for the series but also one of the most enjoyable beat ‘em ups that I have ever played.
Streets of Rage 4 takes place ten years after the last game, with Mr. X finally gone from the streets of Wood Oak City. However, his presence is still felt through the Y Twins – Mr. X’s children that have taken control of his crime syndicate and look to use mind control on the city’s citizens. It’s up to players to take the twins down, with returning Streets of Rage alumni Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, and Adam Hunter joined by newcomers Cherry Hunter (who is the daughter of Adam) and Floyd Iraia (who has cool cybernetic arms).
The story progresses with still image sequences in between levels, though they lack a cinematic flair due to the absence of voice acting. Still, they do a good job of contextualising Streets of Rage 4’s adventure and whilst the tale might be a bit run of the mill, it’s still a whole lot of silly fun.
It might have been twenty-six years since a new Streets of Rage game has graced our TV screens, but not much has changed in that time from a gameplay perspective. Players will battle through an assortment of creative levels including the likes of a cargo ship, a moving sky train, an art gallery, a police precinct, and, of course, neon lit streets, all whilst they beat up a wild assortment of goons and then finish off with a showdown against the boss of the level… yeah, pretty familiar, right?
Fortunately, the formula has aged really well, with the mashing of buttons to dish out attacks proving more effective than ever. There are different attack types to unleash, with the player able to string together basic strikes, strong attacks, blitz moves, and throws as they hit combos on their foes. One of my favourite additions this time around is the inclusion of a dedicated back attack button – whilst it hasn’t exactly been hard to perform the move in the past, it’s much easier to weave into combos by just tapping one of the shoulder buttons.
Special moves also make a return and can help players get out of tricky situations when they’re surrounded by foes. There are three different varieties this time around: a defensive special that allows you to wipe out enemies surrounding you, an offensive special that sees you lunge forward at enemies, and an aerial special that lets you strike at enemies from above. They change up depending on the character you’re using too, so you can expect to see the likes of a somersault kick from Blaze or Axel’s famous flaming uppercut. These are all game changers that can cause a good amount of hurt upon your foes, but you can’t use them carefree given that they use up a chunk of HP to perform.
Did I mention that weapons make a comeback too? One of the most satisfying elements of the Streets of Rage series has been using its varied arsenal, so players will be glad to see that weapons such as a knife, pipe, taser, and police baton (just to name a few) make an appearance. Naturally, these deal out some extra damage when compared to your standard attacks, whilst they can also be launched from range to hurt an enemy who is across the screen – satisfyingly, they’ll often bounce back to you when this happens, and it’s so neat and stylish to grab it from mid-air and unleash more strikes upon your foes with the same weapon. It just goes to show that the sense of brutality that existed in the original games remains here too, with Streets of Rage 4 certainly holding its own in the action department.
Whilst nothing will ever beat calling the cops to help you out like players did in the original Streets of Rage, you can pull off Star Moves in Streets of Rage 4 that essentially act as super moves and allow you to deal a good chunk of damage with stylish flair over a large area of effect. These are activated by using special stars which you can collect in the environment, and believe me, their use can be vital to your success – especially in some of the tougher boss battles. With limited use though, you’ve really got to pick the best opportunity to unleash them.
One impressive inclusion in Streets of Rage 4 is the combo system, which sees players build up their score as they land hits upon their enemies. A combo counter will build with each uninterrupted strike, with the higher scores you rack up with your combos making it easier to unlock additional lives. Much like the combo systems in other games, the combo will break if you go too long without hitting an enemy or get hurt yourself, so it certainly helps encourage an action-focused approach where you’ll constantly beat on your foes whilst adding some careful defensive flair to the mix for good measure. You’ll want to land as many hits as you can, but without getting caught yourself.
Everything comes together perfectly to make for an incredibly enjoyable experience, with Streets of Rage 4’s brutal combat, the satisfying combo system, and the array of special abilities and weapons at your disposal making for some of the most fun I’ve had in any beat ‘em up. It’s just so damn stylish in design, whilst the quick pace and challenging enemies ensure you never get the chance to skip a beat throughout each of your relentless battles. I loved it.
Beat ‘em ups are at their best when played with others, so it’s good to see that you can play Streets of Rage 4 in both local and online multiplayer. Online is limited to just two players, but up to four players can tackle the game’s campaign in local co-op – as you can imagine, it makes for a frantic experience, but there’s so much chaotic satisfaction to be had from pummelling enemies with three friends. Would you rather beat each other up instead? Well, there’s a battle mode too, where players can compete in one-on-one action to see who really is the BEST at Streets of Rage. The series has always lent itself well to multiplayer, so getting to play as so many familiar faces with your friends and family once again will bring plenty of nostalgic smiles to the faces of gamers.
Talking about familiar faces, Streets of Rage 4 has the most impressive roster that I’ve seen in any beat ‘em up. You’ll start off with returning heroes Axel and Blaze and the newcomer duo of Cherry and Floyd, but you’ll soon see a familiar face when Adam joins the fight – you’ll unlock him early on in the game too, so you won’t have to wait too long to go hands on with the hero from the original Streets of Rage.
That makes five characters, which is more than enough by typical genre standards. However, Streets of Rage 4 doesn’t stop there, with players also able to unlock twelve varieties of the characters from the original three games, in all of their 16-bit pixelated glory. Want to play as Axel in his younger and more prolific Streets of Rage 2 form? It’s possible. Do you prefer Blaze’s look from the first game? She’s there too. Or do you just want to rollerblade your way through levels as Skate? All you’ve got to do is unlock him. The best thing about the characters is that they retain their move sets from their original games. You know how I mentioned that nothing beats calling on the cops to help you out in the first Streets of Rage? Well, if you play as Axel, Blaze, or Adam in their original forms, you’ll even get to call on them once more and have them unleash a world of pain on your foes with their advanced weaponry. It’s a brilliant throwback that gamers returning to the series are going to absolutely love… believe me, I know from experience.
Clearing Streets of Rage 4’s story shouldn’t take players too long, with my first playthrough taking just over three hours to get through. There are additional difficulties on offer to give yourself more of a challenge, though I found that it got pretty tough in the latter stages on the normal difficulty anyway – there’s definitely a difficulty spike that comes out of nowhere. You’ll unlock additional modes to play through after beating the game, including the Arcade mode that gives you just the one continue, and Boss Rush that challenges players to take on each of the game’s bosses in quick succession. Admittedly, neither of these modes excited me, though it didn’t bother me too much given that I’m planning on playing through the main story multiple times in co-op with friends. That being said, those who are likely to only have one run through the game may find themselves slightly disappointed with the short runtime.
Visually, Streets of Rage 4 looks absolutely superb, with its colourful hand-drawn visuals taking what the 16-bit releases did and giving them a modern and stylish lick of paint. Seriously, Lizardcube have done a fantastic job here, with the environments packed to the brim with detail and all character animations looking incredibly fluid throughout. There is a sense of familiarity when it comes to the character designs though, especially with some of the returning enemies that look identical to their Mega Drive counterparts, but the revamped art style ensures that they still feel fresh to take down. In fact, it’s nice to see some of their familiar faces again… and again… and again – yeah, you can expect to see mobs of some of the same enemies constantly just like in the original games.
What helps make the game look so good is its impressive performance on the Nintendo Switch, with a crisp and smooth resolution on both the docked and undocked modes, and a 60fps frame rate that never seems to drop at all. Streets of Rage 4 is simply spectacular as far as its visuals are concerned and they certainly compliment the stellar gameplay.
Streets of Rage 4 marks a superb return of the famed franchise, with the stylish combat, the slick visuals, and the nostalgic charm proving incredible throughout. The story mode is a little short in length and a few tough difficulty spikes caught me off guard, but it’s still packed to the brim with enough unlockables to keep you hooked in for a long, long time – well… provided you’ve got some friends to experience it with over and over again, that is.
Whether you’re a new face to these deadly streets or a returning fan that wants to dish out some more beatings, you’re going to have one HELL of a good time playing Streets of Rage 4.
Developer: DotEmu, Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC