Review: Streets of Rage 4
Posted 29 May 2020 at 12:34 by Sam C Gittins
"Ten years have passed since the fall of Mr. X and his syndicate. The city has been at peace... until now
A new crime empire has arisen, corrupting everything good in the city. It is rumoured to be led by Mr. X's own children: the Y Twins.
Former detectives Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding join forces with their old friend's daughter, Cherry Hunter, along with Floyd Iraia, an apprentice of the brilliant Dr. Zan.
Together these four vigilantes stand against the Y Syndicate on the...
Streets of Rage"
Sega does what Nintendon’t,
It was this simple, yet brilliant marketing slogan that led to Sega successfully taking on Nintendo during the 16-bit era. The Genesis, or Mega Drive to us Europeans, led to one of the first true console wars and it was franchises like Sonic and Streets of Rage that truly took the fight to Nintendo. The latter, which was Sega’s attempt at a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, captured the heart of gamers worldwide with its great gameplay, exhilarating soundtrack, and memorable bosses. Decades later, Streets of Rage 4, a direct sequel to 1994’s Streets of Rage 3, has been released. Is the magic still there?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Sega’s struggles in the 32-bit era are well known, but one issue that plagued the Sega Saturn is that Sega struggled to turn their 2D hits into 3D. Sega of Japan had demoed a 3D sequel on both Saturn and Dreamcast hardware, but the projects were scrapped, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the slow death of the genre. Side scrolling beat ‘em ups didn’t need to go beyond 2D gameplay, and Streets of Rage 4 knows that.
The latest entry in the series, developed by Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games, is clearly made with a love and understanding of what made the original games so great. Whilst no Sega console after the Mega Drive got a Streets of Rage title, this sequel, much like Sonic Mania in 2017, puts a modern take an older franchise.
I posted the following quote on the forum, following my first play session with the game. I think it amply demonstrates what a strong first impression playing this game leaves you with.
"Well, after playing Streets of Rage 4 for a good three hours on Normal mode and only now clearing Stage 6, I can say that the game is brutal but fair, with some brilliant set-pieces so far and a difficulty curve which had steadily ramped up to a point where each new area is taking a good few tries to get through, but you learn more as you play and it's really rewarding when you finally beat the stage you were on with just a sliver of health left.
I really want to finish the story mode at least once in a single sitting but that will all depend on how the game plays out from here, I could just leave it there until tomorrow but I want to keep pushing forward as the game is just so much fun to play; the trio of developers who worked on this game have really done the Streets of Rage series proud, as not only have they managed to retain the core elements which were so enjoyable from the original games but they've expanded on the formula in ways which make complete sense when you take into account the just over a quarter-of-a-century which has passed since the last entry in the series.
Taking out enemies on the opening streets stage never felt so good.
This is how you bring back a beloved series in style, in a way which will have anyone who plays it raise a big smile on their face, from throwing the first punch in the game and realising that this is a new zenith for the Beat 'em Up genre, which can proudly sit alongside not only its own older brethren but also any modern-day 'Classic' example which you care to mention... Wulverblade, River City Girls and Ninja Saviors; it's up there with the best and then some.
Streets of Rage is back, in 2020 and I couldn't be any happier than in this moment, playing through this game for the first time which I never thought would see the light of day, but dawn has broken on the streets of Wood Oak City and it's time to reclaim them from the shadowy criminal syndicate, one stage at a time."
Beats of Rage
Part of the appeal of the original games was the exhilarating soundtrack. Inspired by artists such as Black Box, Maxi Priest and Soul 2 Soul, Yuzo Koshiro took the music he had heard in Los Angeles’ underground music scene and created some of the most memorable music on a video games console to date. It’s no surprise that fans were just as excited to see what the Streets of Rage 4 soundtrack had to offer, and I was relieved to see that just as much care and effort had gone into the soundtrack as I’d hoped.
Yuzo Koshiro returns to produce many of the stand-out tracks, often inspired his earlier entries to the series, but he takes a back seat to Olivier Derivière (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag) and a number of other artists who’ve contributed to the soundtrack. Whilst it’s hard to judge how good this soundtrack is so soon after the games release, I can say that the compositions are, on average, some of the best music I’ve heard in a video game for some time.
The new soundtrack works very well, especially with all the other contributing composers. The whole thing gels really well and I like that there's clear progression as you advance through each stage, like where you're working your way through the streets on the opening stage, turn the corner, that car ploughs into the wall and the beats really start dropping, or in the second stage where you're in the Police cell, you bust out, advance a bit then just as the police and thug characters are battling it out, you get that heavy beat, with bells and sirens... it's just so well thought out.
Right from the start, the selectable player roster is the perfect balance of old and new. You can choose from the two veterans, which are Axel, who is now wearing an older, more grizzled look with longer hair, coupled with a full beard which I'm definitely a fan of; Blaze, who looks as full-figured as ever with legs that look like they'd give even Chun-Li a run for her money; then you have Cherry Hunter, Adam's daughter, who seems like a Skates replacement but with dreads and a slamming guitar; finally, there's Floyd Iraia, who I can only describe as a cross between Jax from Mortal Kombat, Dr. Zan, and Max... though he doesn't feel like a replacement for any of those characters. All credit to the designers though, making up new Streets of Rage characters must be hard.
Starting out, depending on which type of Streets of Rage player you are, you'll either have no problem with having buttons placed all over the controller if you've only played modern games, but if you're more of a veteran then you will likely find the legacy control option more fitting, which instead of giving you "too many" buttons to contend with, it limits the inputs to the d-pad and three face buttons, just as it was in the originals, your more powerful life-draining attack will be on one button, with your standard attack on the other, while the third button is used for jumping attacks.
You'll start off with a star icon next to your name. This is your single use attack, though you can pick up more by grabbing any stars you see at rare intervals. When using this attack, you will want to make sure that you're surrounded by enemies to make sure its full force is felt and in order to boost that combo meter, which can be a challenge to keep going in between areas. It does add a lot to the gameplay though.
Things can get tough when there's a group of thugs on you, take them out with a leg-sweep.
After you've got to a certain point in the game, you will unlock Adam Hunter, who is a returning playable character to the Streets of Rage series for the first time since the original. For me, I found this is where the game really opens up, because even though Axel and Blaze are great, controlling exactly as you'd expect them to, with great moves including "Grand Upper!" among many others, Adam has a double tap dash ability which makes him more appealing to use, especially if you're trying to keep a combo going or just dash out of the path of an unblockable enemy attack.
Unlocking the rest of the "classic" character roster will take you some time, as this is tied to your lifetime score, which adds up your individual scores from each stage in story mode or arcade mode, to form this total which just keeps growing. Every one hundred thousand points or so, you will unlock more characters from the past games, including retro versions of the main characters, but also Skates, Max, and of course, the absolute best "secret" character from the third game, Shiva, who is very much well worth the effort of unlocking because he's still so much fun to play as. Sadly no Roo yet, but the developers have recently responded in a Q&A panel to the question of his inclusion and they are considering making him more than just a passing cameo.
Of course it wouldn't be Streets of Rage without those titular "Cobbles of Anger" (that doesn't have the same ring to it, clearly) and you should be pleased to know that the opening stage is very reminiscent of that opening stage from both of the first two games, especially as this stage was abandoned in favour of a warehouse in the third entry. Neon signs aplently; rain-soaked tarmac, dustbins, and phone boxes, just waiting to be smashed or have an enemy thrown through them, even a car to destroy at one point, which brings back good memories of another famous fighting franchise which I forget at this exact moment but will finally remember at some point.
There is an obligatory ship stage, where you must battle enemies while the vessel crashes through waves (watch out for those volatile exploding oil barrels though). It works really well conceptually, as most of the stages do, as you travel from the deck, through the central area, right through to the captain's quarters to be greeted with a not so wholesome boss encounter, which is nothing if not amusing.
You'll find plenty of weapons to pick up, ranging from the staples, such as the blade, lead pipe, baseball bat, and samurai sword, right through to one-off weapons including a boomerang blade, road sign, plus a longsword. There are also enemies which throw projectile weapons including acid, grenades and molotovs. Perhaps the best new mechanic though, is the ability to not only throw weapons as you have before, but to also catch them on the rebound. This is something which not only never gets old, but if you find yourself in a situation with a pile of weapons next to some enemies, you can find some interesting ways of juggling the weapons and the enemies, making short work of both in no time at all.
Of course, there are many different locations in this game, plenty of which I don't wish to completely spoil, but I will mention the Chinatown stage, which is probably the most visually striking area in the entire game. Think of some of the level of detail found in the backgrounds of Street Fighter games, then multiply that a few times, which should give you an idea of just how bustling and full of life some of these areas can be. There is also a stage on top of a moving train (with a wonderful view of the cityscape), you can throw enemies out of a plane, and yes, there is an elevator stage with breakable glass on both sides; all of the boxes are checked and then some more for good measure.
You became the Bad Guy!
The range of enemies is nothing short of impressive, and even though there aren't different names for each individual enemy (which I'm sure was the case in earlier games, to a point) the varied enemy types are appreciated, as there are plenty of street punks you'll recognise, such as the knife-carrying Galsia, the Signals with their mohican hair style, emblazoned trench-coats, and wicked throwing attacks, which can still be countered if you remember to hold the jump button before you hit the ground, so that you'll land on your feet instead of on your back.
Even the newer enemies such as Dylan, a punk with his hands in his pockets who only uses kicks, are equally satisfying to take on, not to mention Sugar, who is the new take on the Biker characters, she has an annoying habit of performing a charged headbutt; these are both characters which you will want to hit, so in that respect, the designers have succeeded in creating very punchable creations, and all of the violence still takes place without a drop of blood being spilt, which is good because that was part of the appeal of the original games, which also featured no blood but just some very stylised attacks that connect in a satisfying way and are fun to repeat several times.
Big Ben is back again, the round guy who can breathe fire and smack you sideways with his short reach, while doing an impossible "swan-dive" in your general direction when you least expect it; the Thai Boxers with the bird names have returned, yes, Raven, Condor, Pheasant, and Sparrow are all there, with each of them packing a mean kick which will send you flying along with a lot of your health meter if you're not careful, though that's nothing a whole Chicken or an Apple won't cure. (other food pickups are selectable, including a vegan alternative).
Grand Upper! Axel's answer to all problems in life. Don't mess with Cherry, either.
It's the bosses which really steal the show though, from the corrupt Commissioner who surrounds himself with his order-following battalion of riot-gear equipped cops (himself having a mean right-hook), to the previously bar-owning Barbon who can power up a deadly barrage of attacks to pummel you into submission, though he doesn't instigate the fight with "Come on!" any more like he did in the second game, perhaps he has mellowed with age? Even the newer bosses are impressive, such as Estel, as she's a tooled-up Special Forces operative who has a few moves of her own, which makes me think that she might even end up being a potential DLC character, along with another classic boss or two who you face off with, which I won't spoil, but let's just say that their modern versions are impressive and fleshed-out enough to be potentially playable in the future.
Look out for arcade cabinets hidden away in certain stages as well, because if you can figure out a way to short-circuit them, then you might well be in for some surprising easter egg encounters which might otherwise go unnoticed during normal play.
In terms of performance, the game runs at a silky smooth 60 FPS in both handheld and docked mode. Even on the harder difficulty settings, where the screen is often flooded with enemies, I never noticed a dip in performance. The game's art style, with its vibrant use of colours, is also perfectly suited to the Switch in either handheld or docked mode, with not even the 720p resolution of the Switch’s handheld mode holding the game back from looking great. The Switch may not boast as much power as other consoles on the market, but you wouldn’t notice it when playing Streets of Rage 4.
N-Europe Staff Writer
After playing the game for fifty hours over the past month, twice through in single player as both Axel and Blaze, in Normal and Hard difficulty just to get a feel for the game. The rest of that time was shared with the community, playing the game online with a variety of players, ranging from clearly experienced veterans of the series, to some who, I would wager, had never played a Beat 'em Up in their life, let alone one in the Streets of Rage series.
But when playing, none of this really matters, as one thing seems to ring true when playing the game online: everyone I played with clearly enjoyed the game on some level, regardless of whether they would rapidly deplete their already generous stock of lives by overzealous use of the special attack without attempting to recover health afterwards, or if they would assist in stringing together a monstrous combo, with both characters working in tandem.
While my experience of the online was limited to the Xbox One version (I'm still waiting for that physical Switch release), I have to believe that the setup must be similar on the Switch and other releases, which means that online can be very smooth indeed when you get two players with good connections together, but when things go wrong, the game essentially freezes at any point during a stage and eventually you are booted to the main menu. I have had several complete runs through with no issues, so the online mode is competent when running through the story, but you will likely have a more enjoyable play session if you are playing in local co-op; especially if you are in a position to try out the four player mode, which seems well worth putting some time into, and it's something I will personally try on the Switch version at a later date.
Even when you've beaten the story, there are still multiple difficulties to tackle, the later ones of which have proven too much for me to beat on my own as of yet. They certainly do provide more than enough of a challenge though, especially with the increased amount of enemies. Then there's the Arcade mode, which just gives you a set amount of lives and that's it (except for any extra lives which you might earn as you increase your score), this is really as close to how the original games played that I can think of, except that you don't get any continues. In fact, if I had any suggestion of how to further improve this game, then it would be to have an arcade mode which lets you have continues as well, but that might defeat the purpose of the mode.
As it stands, when you make normal progress through each stage in the story, your lives are tied to that stage, and you start the next stage with a new set of lives. This does make the game more about getting those individual ranks on each stage, which is fine, but a mode which is somewhere in between, providing a more classic Streets of Rage sense of progression, would be welcome as well.
Battle Mode returns, featuring a variety of different arenas in which to take each other on, I've found this mode to be an interesting diversion online, and you do get a reasonable percentage of players wanting to fight it out; although you could also fight it out in the main story as well if you wanted - by leaving the "Friendly Hits" option on - though I would always say that it's better to leave it off, as it really hinders your progress in the game.
Chinatown is a really outstanding stage, watch out for those Thai Boxers though.
New to the series is the Boss Rush mode, which really is a trial by fire. It's something I have attempted only a handful of times, yet I haven't managed to get further than a few fights in, even when playing two-player co-op online. Perhaps after beating the game a few more times, I might try this mode out again for myself, just to see how far I could get with all the techniques I've picked up, and a full roster of characters. This is one of those modes which is best left alone until you're confident in your own playstyle with a certain character, as it is challenging, though it's a welcome addition to the lineup.
You'll also find some nice bonus items in the "Extras" menu, where there is some amazing concept art to be seen, which really gives you an idea of how this game was built up through its various iterations. If you enjoy the new soundtrack, but still long for the old OSTs then you can also opt to play with the soundtrack from the first two games during gameplay. This is nice for a change, but you might find yourself going back to the soundtrack which was made for the game, as it is more fitting. There are also retro filters you can apply if you so desire, but personally, I really like the art style which has been used, despite being a huge fan of the 16-Bit pixels from the original trilogy.
Back to the Industry
On a personal level, I think it fitting that it takes a new entry in the Streets of Rage series to get a long-running reviewer to return to covering games. I started out quite early on reviewing older games for the Virtual Console service on the Wii, which included writing about the original Streets of Rage games in addition to many others. Those are games which I grew up with on the Mega Drive back in the day. It was an honour to be covering the re-release of those games back then, just as is to be given the chance to review the fourth entry in the series alongside one of our newest reviewers on the site Anil Parmar, who has an equal amount of enthusiasm for the games as I do (if not even more so when it comes to the music).
That seems to be a key element which runs through the development team of this title as well: many members of the three development studios which handled this monumental release clearly have a great love for the series. Both veteran composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima's affinity with the series knows no bounds, yet Olivier Derivière brings an equal amount to the music in the game, especially when backed up with the rest of the amazing artists who have contributed to the score; this is the same for every aspect of the game, from the engine to the hand-drawn graphics, right through to the feeling of getting that all important first punch just right.
Game development has become a much more involved process in this modern age, but when you break it down into each key component, with each member of the team ensuring that the part they are responsible for fits into the game perfectly, what you end up with is something very special indeed, as it's clear that these are people who have a strong love for the series and a desire to make the very best game possible. This has certainly been achieved here; in that sense, the spirit of Sega is alive and well in this project, just as it was in the case of Sonic Mania not so long ago.
Fighting in the middle of a construction site, what could possibly go wrong?
Could this mean that we might end up getting a Streets of Rage 5 in the not too distant future? As much as I would love to see that happen, I think we are very fortunate to have seen this game come to fruition, and I get the impression that the teams aren't finished with it yet, either. There has been talk of DLC on the horizon, which I'm sure will happen. Even through the past few weeks of playing the game, there has been a significant patch which has adjusted several things that have tweaked the gameplay ever so slightly, improving the game that little bit more in the process, which is encouraging to see in an age where many other developers seem content with shipping a broken game and calling it good. That just isn't so here, and I can't wait to see how the game is tweaked even further in the future, to make it the very best it can be.
It's games like this which make it a joy to be a part of this industry. These kinds of revivals don't happen very often and yet they are becoming an increasingly regular occurrence, which always makes me wonder if there could be hope yet for many other past series, from Sega or other companies. One thing is for certain though, if you're still on the fence about picking up Streets of Rage 4, then I would say that the time has come to leap off that fence, straight onto the streets of Wood Oak City, ready to take down waves of enemies and have a blast doing it.
As for myself? I'm about to have "one more go" at trying to clear the game on Mania difficulty. I may be some time.
Sam C Gittins
N-Europe Final Verdict
Streets of Rage 4 is everything which we could have hoped for and so much more. Not only have three talented developers in conjunction with returning series veterans managed to revive the franchise from its quarter of a century dormancy, but they have created something special, which is a new breed of classic that can stand alone as a shining example within the Beat 'em Up genre. Another endlessly replayable entry in the Streets of Rage series, which will surely be fondly remembered in another twenty-five years, just as the original games are today.
A killer soundtrack
Brutal combo system
Challenging down to the last life
Solid fighting mechanics
Totally radical visuals
New characters don't match the originals