If you grew up in the late 80’s or early 90’s, you were part of the golden age of the beat ’em up. With games set in mystical worlds, based on popular tv shows or even following highly trained martial artists, it was the fights on the streets that fit the mould of many beat ’em up. There were several big titles in this setting, but I have fond memories of SEGA’s Streets of Rage series. With the original releasing in 1991 and it had two sequels in 1992 & 1994 respectably. A fan favourite series, it has taken almost twenty-six years for a sequel, but if there fight left in this series or should it have stayed off the streets?
In the years that have passed, the 2D beat ’em ups have been few and far between, while a good modern beat ’em up is even rarer. So Streets of Rage 4 had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, the people at Lizardcube, DotEmu and Guard Crush have created a slick fighter, while bringing enough modern tweaks to keep it relevant. It’s a simple format, set 10 years after the events of SoR3, you play as Axel, Blaze or Cherry (unlocking Floyd and Adam during the story) and have to take on the Y Twins, the children of the previous game’s big bad – Mr. X.
Story mode consists of twelve chapters, that sees you play through a mix of linear levels strung together. Each will be filled with a number of enemies and ending in a level boss. You move from left to right and in order to help you take on these enemies, each character has a small, but effective set of moves. You can jump, punch and kick your way through the hoard. If you struggle to take on some of your harder foes, you have a special move to inflict more damage, but the downside is it takes some of your health. Finally, you can collect special stars, that allow you to perform an even more powerful attack. Best saved for use against the bosses, the star move generates a multi-hit attack with a large radial hitbox.
Scattered throughout each level, there are a number of items, weapons and health pick-ups to get you through. The inclusion of a combo meter allows you to build up your points tally. Hitting high combos can earn you extra lives and your score will go towards you lifetime score. You can unlock a number of classic style characters, each in their original pixel art style. One aspect that has gotten a makeover, are the visuals. Gone are the pixel based spites, which are replaced with a stylised hand-drawn look. Some classic characters, former enemies and environments have been given the overhaul, while the added visual effects on weapons and special attacks, fill the screen with a bombastic wave of colour. It looks great and runs at a slick pace on every platform. There are a couple of situations, where the classic style returns. With hidden classic levels dripped in CRT style scan lines and the inclusion of the characters to play as from the three previous titles, the game has a great callback to the past, while forging into the future.
Another plus to the game is the soundtrack. Mainly composed by Olivier Deriviere, series veterans Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima also return to contribute to the soundtrack. It’s a good mix of 90’s-esque synthwave that fit the overall style perfectly. Check out the Spotify link to listen to the music for yourself.
To round out the package, the team have included four player couch co-op, while 2 players can take the fight online together. Along with a story mode linked together with a comic book style cutscenes (with no audio though), there are several additional modes. Arcade mode sees you attempt to complete all the stages in one sitting, boss rush pits you against all the bosses, battle mode sees you take on a buddy and online mode allows you to join one other person to take on the Y Twins.
Overall, Streets of Rage 4 retains the great, fluid gameplay of the previous titles, while adding just enough to modernise it. The devs obviously loved the source material, but for a title that could have fallen flat and be blinded by nostalgia, is an actual blast with friends. The different difficulty modes, secret characters, easy to play and online functionality, allows repeat play. I would certainly like to see another title in the series, sooner rather than later.
From one of my favourite game series, comes one of my favourite games of 2020. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but when it comes from good DNA, why change it. With the addition of four player co-op and online play plus a great art style, Streets of Rage 4 is not only a good game, but a great addition to the series as a whole. Let's hope it doesn't take another twenty-six years for a follow-up.