I’ve loved video games for most of my life, but in my early years I wasn’t exposed to nearly as many as I am today. One particular omission, is the entire Sega Genesis console library. I recognized Sonic, but I can’t say that I knew anything about other Genesis games. It would take some time before I would finally catch up to what I missed, like using my Wii to discover Gunstar Heroes. Streets of Rage is one of those titles that I missed the first time around.
Despite loving my beat ’em ups like Final Fight and Captain Commando, I never got a chance to play Streets of Rage. I didn’t play the modern collections either for fear of playing and missing out the point, as is the case with most nostalgia gems. You could say Streets of Rage 4 was what I needed. A chance to get into the Streets of Rage series with modern players in mind, and it certainly lives up to the hype!
Developer: Dotemu, Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Apr 30, 2020
Streets of Rage 4 is the latest entry in the legendary beat ’em ups series Streets of Rage. Unlike most modern “sequels”, Streets of Rage 4 is not a remake nor a reboot of the franchise from 0. It doesn’t try to reinvent the formula or add gimmicky elements. Streets of Rage 4 is everything you’ve always loved from the series, and then some more!
So get ready to jump back in to Wood Oak city and clean up the criminals from the streets!
A legend 25 years in the making
It’s hard for me to pin-point what makes a beat ’em up game fantastic, since the formula is pretty well-defined. Beat ’em ups play as single player fighting games in an isometric world. In this isometric world, you can move up and down with complete freedom, while busting out your most devastating combos on your opponents. Beat ’em ups are usually linear games where you progressively advance hordes of enemies until you reach the end of level boss.
When I play Streets of Rage 4, I don’t feel the same as when I play all those other beat ’em ups from years ago. The music, the gameplay, the visuals, the tightness, every single factor adds up to create a fantastic experience.
I haven’t played any Streets of Rage game previous to this one, but after diving deep, I can say that this is absolutely one of my favorites.
There is one thing which stood out immediately to me, and that’s how intuitive the gameplay feels. I’ve played numerous beat ’em ups since my SNES and arcade days. I enjoyed my time, but I never felt like the gameplay was “fair”. Being swarmed by opponent, enemies outranging you and a lack of defensive options were some of my most common complaints. In my humble opinion, every game must be able to be completed without taking a single point of damage, provided a perfect run. I’m not saying previous beat ’em ups can’t be beaten without taking damage, just that it felt that way to me.
Upon booting up Streets of Rage 4 for the first time, I immediately felt like I understood the game. Perhaps it is easier to explain if you are familiar with the concepts of fighting games, and once I did, every single issue I had with the genre was resolved.
Enemy range is solved by learning the range of your jab and abusing the Z plane to move out of the way from the enemies. Swarms are solved by using your defensive special moves and invincible throws. It is equal parts pressing the right attack buttons and controlling the zones.
Although, I’ll admit that I found the movement to be a little bit limiting in certain fronts. The fact that most main characters don’t have a way to dash or run makes it feel at times sluggish. Then there’s the drop kick ladies which are able to target you diagonally. It feels as if they break the rules of the game by ignoring how you need to align to deal damage.
Combat in Streets of Rage is mostly performed by the combo system. You can most likely mash the attack button to go through the game, but combining special moves and throws is your key to success. If you’re familiar with fighting games, you know that you can cancel regular attacks into special moves. This means that you can be doing your Y combo and then mix in special attacks.
You can also throw the enemy by moving close to them. Once they are in a grab, you can opt to pummel them for damage, throw them in any direction or press jump to switch sides and perform a suplex. Throws are great when dealing with enemies that block a lot, or to abuse the invincibility to get out of sticky situations. Nothing like throwing an enemy into a bigger group of enemies!
There is one element which I’d like to highlight: the specials. By pressing the X button, you can do one of 3 different special moves. There is a standard special activated by just pressing X called the “defensive special”, a forward special activated by pressing forward+X, and an aerial special activated by pressing X while airborne. All of them have their own specific uses in combat. For example, the defensive special is useful when you are in the middle of a combo and see incoming enemies. Cancelling your regular attack into a defensive combo will get you out of a bind.
But the most interesting aspect is the resource used to activate these special moves. Using a special move costs a portion of your life gauge. You may be familiar with desperation moves like games such as Final Fight that uses your HP for a desperation move. However, rather than outright losing your life, you will transform a portion of your bar into recoverable “green” HP. You can recover this green HP by inflicting damage to your enemies, however, if you are hit, you will lose that green life. I simply love the implication of trading your HP for damage, and then recovering it by being active instead of being passive and waiting to recover it.
A modern story
The story picks up after the events of Streets of Rage 3. Mr. X has been defeated and the Syndicate is no more. However, Mr. X’s children, the Y twins, have a plot of their own to control Wood Oak city. It is now up to a new group of heroes to fight for the city.
Streets of Rage 4’s cast has both familiar faces and newcomers. You might recognize old veterans such as Axel, Blaze and Adam Hunter. Joining the fray is Cherry Hunter, Adam’s daughter, and Floyd, an apprentice of Dr. Zan.
Despite sharing a list of commands, they all play different from each other. Each of the characters from the main roster is designed with a specific archetype in mind. Axel is by all means the “Ryu” of the game, being a straightforward character to play that’s easy to pick up. Then there’s a character like Adam which has a bigger emphasis on mobility and reach, as evidenced by his short dashes. Floyd is the big guy, and you guessed it, he represents the grappler. Finding a character that represents your style is as much a personal quest as it’s always been.
And then there’s the old school veterans. Don’t worry, there’s also something for you! As a tribute to the older games, the classic characters from Streets of Rage 1, 2 and 3 make a special playable appearance. After you unlock them, you can use them in any mode, complete with all the original controls from their respective game. You can even change the soundtrack to feature the original tracks from previous games for full blown nostalgia.
Speaking of unlocking characters, I’m a big fan of how Streets of Rage 4 handles the unlocking process. As you play the game, it will keep track of your scores and add them up to a “lifetime score”. By reaching certain score breakpoints, you will unlock a new character for you to play as. Simply put, the more you play, the more your score increases and the closer you get to the unlockables.
You can gain points towards your lifetime score by playing any game mode,
The complete package
Speaking of game modes, Streets of Rage feature more than you could have possibly wanted from a beat ’em up.
In story mode, you will go through the entire story in a stage by stage basis. Unlike arcade modes, Streets of Rage features 3 different files and lets you go through the stages one by one. There are no “credits” in this game mode, but you have a limited number of lives to complete each stage. If you “game over”, you will only have to start over from your current stage. You can also change characters in-between stages. Story mode is for those who want to ditch the old-school constraints of the genre and want to experience a hearty (but fair) challenge as their first play through.
The biggest advantage of the story mode is that you don’t have to do all stages in a row, as your progress is saved after each stage. But another benefit is the “assist” system. If you game over during a stage, you can choose to continue with an assist. Assists will give you extra lives and stars at the beginning of the stage at the cost of dividing your score.
For those looking for the 1CC (1 credit clear), look no further than the arcade mode. Arcade mode will also have you go through the entire game, cutscenes included, but the main difference from story mode is that you only have a single credit to beat the game. Lose all your lives and it’s back to the beginning. Extra lives are earned every 30,000 points unlike the 8,000 from story mode.
Stage select lets you play each individual stage in your preferred difficulty. A very cool aspect of it is that it tracks your score and grade per stage, so it is great if you are a completionist looking to earn S in every single stage.
There’s also Boss Rush and Battle mode. Boss rush will pit you against every boss, one after another, while Battle mode will pit you against your friends in a good old fashioned brawl.
Beat ’em ups wouldn’t be nearly as fun without some friends, thankfully there is every reason for you to NOT play alone.
Setting up a multiplayer is as easy and seamless as just starting any game mode. During the character select screen, anyone can join from your local console my pressing L+R. If no one’s around, you can also press Y and turn it into an online game with friends or even random people.
And if it wasn’t good enough, Streets of Rage 4 even uses the “Online play invite” system that was included in a recent Switch system update!
You can also join random online games. There isn’t a feeling quite like joining a random game and feeling that respect from another player when both agree on who should take the meals or how to split the score items. Random bonds are always the strongest of bonds. There’s even a friendly fire toggle if you wish to incur in slight mischief!
I have to mention that the connection isn’t perfect. You will encounter some degree of latency and feel as if you’re slightly underwater at times. I’ll admit that I played on wi-fi in handheld mode, so perhaps your experience will improve with a wired connection.
Honor your past
It’s really hard to talk about everything Streets of Rage 4 does well without a wall of text. There’s the right proportion of good and classic stuff mixed in a perfect package. There are nods to the classic history of Streets of Rage with gems such as the pixel character from ALL 3 previous games and the retro soundtracks. Then there’s the screen filters for the old CRT effect. And yet, the game also stands tall as a game created with modern design techniques.
You know how they say you always remember things better than they actually were? How you remember that game you played as a child as the perfect game, but then you play it today and it sucks? Or that movie you thought was cutting edge, but you watch it now and all the jagged edges come to light? Streets of Rage 4 is what happens when you take a beautiful memory of the past and play it in the current date, but it actually is as beautiful as you remember it!
Streets of Rage 4 is a game that should be taken as the benchmark of what a sequel must be. It is a blast from beginning to end that channels the glory days of the beat ’em up genre, but also makes it a great game that will please classic fans and bring new fans in. Sign me up as the latter, because without having played any other Streets of Rage game before, I dove right in and emerged a fan with a smile on my face.
A+! I know I don’t usually rate games, but I felt as if I had to give it something to match just how much of a good time I had while playing it.