America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 01st May 2020 | 2,959 views
You never know what you'll get when a studio resuscitates a beloved, moribund franchise. Luckily for SEGA and Streets of Rage fans, Streets of Rage 4, back after a 25-year hiatus, is a worthy successor to the 16-bit beat-em-up series. It channels the spirit of the original trilogy while adding more complex fighting, sumptuous hand-drawn art, and an electric soundtrack composed by an all-star group of musicians. It's an excellent bridge between old and new, let down only by some repeat bosses and a forgettable story.
Streets of Rage 4 takes place 10 years after the events of Streets of Rage 3. With Wood Oak City once again under threat from a powerful new enemy, series heroes Axel and Blaze team up with newcomers Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia to clean up the streets for good.
While the story hits all the right nostalgic beats and arrives via glorious hand-drawn comic panels, it's certainly one of the game's weaker elements. It's simple and predictable, and it ends with a disappointing anti-climax.
Still, story is not the point of Streets of Rage, nor beat-em-ups in general. Judged by its rhythmic action, combo system, and enemy encounters—all things important to the genre—Streets of Rage 4 is a resounding success. It features an evolved version of the combat framework from the original trilogy that feels like one part beat-em-up and one part 1v1 fighter. You can perform simple combos and throws, or mix things up with charge attacks, blitz moves, and devastating star moves. Furthermore, the game supports three "specials" per character—defensive, offensive, and air—which operate according to a clever risk-and-reward system. Performing a special attack will temporarily drain health. If you hit enemies after using the special, that segment of lost health will regenerate; if you sustain damage, however, it won't restock.
Thanks to these mechanics and systems, combat in Streets of Rage 4 is more layered and complex than a lot of beat-em-ups, old and new. Sure, you can get through easy mode by mashing buttons, but smart strategy and big combos will win the day on higher difficulty settings. The bigger the combo, in fact, the larger the score multiplier, which translates into additional lives. There is something supremely satisfying about punching a bad guy, picking up another and throwing him into a group of goons, catching a projectile in mid air, pummelling a henchman with it, and then clearing the room with an area-of-effect special attack—all without taking any damage.
You'll be able to experiment with these combos with a generous roster of playable characters, including five main protagonists—three franchise stalwarts and two newbies—plus many unlockable retro characters. Each performs based on several statistics, including power, speed, and stamina. Axel Stone, the poster boy for Streets of Rage, is a well-rounded character. Cherry Hunter, daughter of Adam Hunter, is fast and agile, but relatively weak. Floyd Iraia, who shares a bit of DNA with Mortal Kombat's Jax, is sluggish and leaden but packs a punch.
Streets of Rage 4 features 12 levels, and each has a unique look, feel, and function. There are city streets; a skyscraper, complete with elevator (every beat-em-up needs an elevator packed with goons); and even an art gallery. Some of the more interesting levels include interactive hazards, like incoming overhead wires on the Skytrain stage. Many stages have great transitions as well. Police Precinct starts in a dirty jail cell and opens up into police HQ, while Airplane begins on the tarmac and then literally takes flight.
If there's diversity to the game's levels, there's less variation when it comes to enemies and bosses. A lot of the same types show up again and again. The end bosses from levels 2 and 4 reappear as a final boss duo in level 7, for example. Things pick up a bit starting in level 9 with the appearance of gun-toting baddies and some brand new bosses, but more variety would be welcome.
Once you beat Story mode—no simple task, even on the default "normal" difficulty—you'll unlock several new options, including individual stage select, Boss Rush, Battle, and Arcade mode. Arcade, in which you get only one credit to finish the game in a single sitting, is very much a challenging, old-school experience and a great way for Streets of Rage 4 to connect with its Genesis origins. Battle, in which players fight each other, is a total let-down however. Developers have been trying and failing with versus modes in beat-em-ups since the original Double Dragon on NES; it's time to give them up.
If you make enough progress in the game, not only will you unearth additional modes, you'll gain access to new playable characters pulled directly—pixels and all—from the SEGA Genesis. Each has a moveset unique to his or her respective Streets of Rage installment. That makes for 17 total characters, all playable solo, via couch co-op (up to four), or in online co-op (up to two).
Streets of Rage 4 has a deep combat system, loads of characters, and lots of head-cracking action, but perhaps its greatest successes lie on the audiovisual front. This is an absolutely gorgeous game, thanks to the hand-drawn stylings of Lizardcube, the studio that breathed new life into Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap three years ago. It's a work of art. Similarly, the funky, electronic soundtrack—a joint effort headlined by Olivier Derivière—is a joy. Highlights include "Rising Up" by Derivière and "Main Theme" by series veteran Yuzo Koshiro.
Fans who hold Streets of Rage as a sacred property, worry not: Lizardcube, along with co-developers Guard Crush Games and Dotemu, have done the series justice. Streets of Rage 4 retains the franchise's gritty charm and urban milieu and infuses it with an evolved combat system, lots of playable characters—both old and new—many interesting locales, spectacular art, and thumping music. Some repeat baddies and lackluster storytelling are, by comparison, mere blemishes. The streets are paved with gold in Streets of Rage 4.