Revivals are totally the in thing right now, but one that I never quite saw coming was Streets of Rage 4. Whereas other revivals have been for properties that have been undisputed kings in their genres, Streets of Rage is coming from a market that was crowded given the cultural context it rose to prominence in. Arcades and beat ‘em ups feel almost complementary to each other, but Streets of Rage was one that I was personally aware of but never really adored. Now, twenty six years since Streets of Rage 3, Streets of Rage 4 attempts to bring the action into the modern era to mixed results.
Playing like your typical beat ‘em up, Streets of Rage 4 sees you punching and kicking your way through a city akin to games like Double Dragon, Final Fight and even, to a certain extent, Battletoads. You select a character from an initial roster of four and make your way through each level, defeating a big boss at the end before moving on to the next level. It is easy to apply the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality with a game like Streets of Rage 4. But at the same time, while it celebrates everything great about the time it harkens back to, it also brings with it all those issues that persisted all those years ago.
From the beginning, you will I be able to pick one of four characters from a roster that perfectly balances new with old. Axel and Blaze, who have appeared in all the Streets of Rage games thus far make a return. They play just as you remember – Axel with his classic, all-around Martial Arts background and Blaze with her devastating Judo and Sambo style throws. Cherry is the daughter of Adam Hunter from the original game and does less damage than the rest of the roster but is fast to make up for it. Finally, there’s Floyd, who is brand new character with bionic arms, with a slower paced but damaging move set.
From the moment that you pick one of these characters and jump into Streets of Rage 4, you will notice how the game plays just as it did before, for better or for worse. The movement, the music, the whole vibe of the game does a perfect job of channeling that arcade beat-em-up feeling that the original three games did. It does this so well that if you’d released the same game around the same time as the original three games did, it’d fit right in.
There are some notable improvements to the combat that helps to make Streets of Rage 4 feel a little bit modern, however. For one, special attacks still take away health from your character but attacking enemies shortly thereafter offers you an opportunity to regain that health. Such a design choice is a simple one, but it is one that I’m surprised hadn’t been done sooner. It encourages a faster, more aggressive approach to combat. In doing so, however, it might land you in a worse situation than before, creating a risk-reward dynamic we’ve not really seen in a game like Streets of Rage before.
There’s a few other improvements to the combat that helps make Streets of Rage 4 feels a bit more modern than its predecessors. Enemies can now be properly juggled or hit against walls to further extend combos, which in turn allows you to better your score at the end of each stage. It’s a nice change in design that really helps make the game feel more modern, but it’s really the extent of all that’s new here in terms of changes to the core gameplay. It feels more modern, but still a bit slow and some more mobility options would’ve gone a long way here.
Obviously, the stages and bosses are all brand new though, and the variety is right up there. Many of the games eight bosses are returning characters from previous games, though usually twisted in a new and unique way. I’ve never had much of an affinity for the Streets of Rage canon but the fanservice feels like it’s been dialed right up here for those who know the first three games inside and out.
When you’re done with the main story, there are a few more things to unlock and play around with. Sticking with the theme of celebrating the series history – you can unlock other characters from previous games as well as 16-bit sprite versions of them to play around with. You can also take on the games boss roster consecutively with Boss Rush mode, as well as battle each other in Battle mode on arenas based on each of the story levels. And of course, like any good retro revival, there’s a nice helping of concept art to unlock too.
There’s a few different ways to play here, whether cooperatively or competitively, and both local and online modes adds even more options for players. In the current online landscape, it would’ve been nice to be able to play through the game online with four players. Online is only limited to two in Streets of Rage 4, for some reason, and is bizarre when you consider similar games like Castle Crashers and Broforce were able to achieve such a feat. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means but something that I would’ve loved to play through with three other friends.
Those who played Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap will know what to expect from Streets of Rage 4 visually. The game looks an absolute treat, utilising a style drawn to look like a bright and colourful comic book of sorts, perfectly evoking the look and feel of the era these games were from. It’s a bit of a shame, though, that this strong and bold art direction feels a tad wasted on the game’s cinematics – which are just static images with text. The distinct lack of voice over feels like a huge missed opportunity to modernise the game along with everything else.
Streets of Rage is renowned by many retro fans for its eclectic soundtrack that has gone to influence many major artists of today, including more notably Childish Gambino. Streets of Rage 4 continues this tradition, employing a vibrant and noisy soundtrack that perfectly complements the action to give the game a grimey and dubstep feel. The tracks perfectly bridge the old and the new, employing a team of composers both of both today and even those who worked on the original games to offer something vivacious and exciting.
THE PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Streets of Rage 4 is a solid tribute to the genre it arguably helped shape, but this feels like more of the same with a fresh coat of paint rather than an all-out reinvention. What’s on offer here is reminiscent and nostalgic, and still a great time, but it ultimately lacks the oomph to elevate it beyond the games that came before it.