Streets of Rage 4 : Don't call it a comeback

It's not a secret that I love my side scrolling brawlers, or beat 'em ups if you will. In comments that I have made  before , I have...

It's not a secret that I love my side scrolling brawlers, or beat 'em ups if you will. In comments that I have made before, I have expressed my love and nostalgia for this genre. In fact, I was always a little down on the fact that the one vs one fighters had taken over the genre since the ever so popular street fighter series took the crown. Not that those games are bad, but my heart burns brighter for the "left-to-right" fighting adventures. The golden age was filled by many adventures brought to the smokey arcades and then in our living rooms on 16 bit consoles. Giants such as Capcom, SEGA, Konami and others left a long and glorious legacy with games such as Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Final Fight (my favorite), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and of course Streets of Rage. Games like these have always had their share of praise and criticism and were in many ways product of their times.  Even with their flaws and their now outdated graphics and gameplay, I still love playing them. I have also purchased a Final Fight Arcade. When I heard that Lizardcube, the devteam of the fantastic "Wonderboy: the Dragons Trap"  remake had set their sights on a making a new "Streets of Rage" sequel, I was very excited about the idea. Would they be able to honor the legacy of the Streets of Rage series, while giving it a fresh feel? Would the genre still hold up and find a room in this day and age or should some things be left in the past? Let's find out.

What is it?
Streets of Rage is a Beat-em-Up side scrolling brawler played over 12 levels. The game is a direct sequel to Streets of Rage 3 taking place 10 years after the defeat of the notorious Mr X. Now a decade later the streets seem once again rampant with violence and unsavory types. Rumor has it that Mr. X's own children, the Y twins have been plotting revenge for the loss of their father and have now executed their plan to submerge Wood Oak City in violence once more and seize control by any means necessary. Former detectives Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding are roaming the streets looking for answers and cleaning it up along the way. They brought the help of Floyd Iraria, an apprentice of the brilliant Dr. Zan, and Cherry Hunter the daughter of their old friend Adam.

These boybands are getting out of hand!

If you have ever played a game like this, then you will be easily familiar with the control scheme, but even for new players the basics of the game are easy to grasp.
The controls for Streets of Rage are straight forward. You have a basic attack button that is used to deliver a powerful punch. Keep punching to create powerful combos dealing more damage. There is a jump button which can help you start of a powerful kick if you follow it up with your attack button. A third button is used to pick up items or weapons. In case of weapons, you can use the same button to drop them again or often better combined with a directional button hurl it at approaching enemies. The last button is for your special attack. These attacks can help you get out of some bad situations but will cost you life. If you attack another enemy quick enough right after with some basic attacks you actually fill a bunch of the lost life force back up, but get hit before you do and it will cost you dearly. So use the attack wisely.

Each of these buttons can also be combined for more advanced techniques. These are different depending on the character you are playing with. Double tap a directional followed by the attack button and you perform a blitz move. For Cherry this is a powerful flying kick, for Axel this is a nasty uppercut. Hold the attack button down for a strong attack, but this is slower so you could get punched before you get to use it. Are enemies flinging objects at you? You can try to catch them mid air using your grab button. It is especially fun to throw an object such as a lead pipe into an enemies face, have it bounce back to you, catch it in mid air and throw it again. Talking about grabbing, if you get close enough to an enemy you will grab them automatically after which you can throw them, vault over them or deliver some close up punches. Finally there is the star move.  These stars are a finite resource for an ultra powerful attack. You start with one or more depending of the difficulty setting and can find more hidden throughout the game. The better your timing with these, the more damage you can do, often against multiple enemies at once. Unlike the special attack button, this star move does not cost you life force.

Your different character types all have a different play style. For example the young Cherry is fast and nimble, but does not do much damage with her punches so you will have to move in and out of combat fast, where Axel is more the traditional bruiser and his character is slower but his reach and strength make short work of anyone coming at him.

Even though the game is presented in a left to right 2 dimensional fashion,  you can also move up and down the street by pushing up and down. It can be hard to see at times where an enemy is standing in regards to the area of the street, that you may sometimes miss them. Of course you can use it also to your advantage by stepping out of the way of rushing  bad guys, making them miss and then punish them with a counter attack.  Keep making long combos and add to your score. The levels are also loaded with breakable items that sometimes hold bonus items such as food for health, a weapon or money, which translates into points. Hit certain score milestones and you will be awarded with an additional life. 

Other parts of the level act as hazards to you as well as the enemies in the game. Punch a flammable barrel, step away and watch it explode and take out a group of goons in one blow. Kick the wrecking ball and have it slam them to the ground. Just be careful as you are not immune and your actions can easily backfire. 
There is no dash button, which can be a challenge when facing fast attacks while using a slower character. If you are lacking the speed then a well timed move up recognize enemy attack patterns, making it easier to avoid or counter their moves.

Streets of Rage features four player local co-op but also has a 2 player online function, which at the time of this review, I was not able to test. However local co-op worked really well. Playing with one or more friends does change the way you play the game. In part this is because you will have to share health items and (this is bad news for mindless button mashers) you can hit and damage each other. It is therefore very important to be aware of the plane that each player is on and be careful with combos and hazards.

It is clear that the developers themselves are big fans of the original games and genre. Many enemy designs, backdrops and levels have that Streets of Rage feel or are lifted straight from the previous games and given a modern upgrade. Expect to see some significant upgrades, but easily recognizable enemies and sceneries pass by on your journey. This feel of appreciation for the original i.p. starts right from the opening level with a straight up homage to the opening level in Streets of Rage 2. 

The graphics have evolved from the large 16 bit sprites into hand drawn animated characters that feel straight from an animated cartoon. Even with the high quality artwork, the entire game still holds on to the same charm as those 16 bit days. It is almost as if the folks at LizardCube and Guard Crush looked at what the games were, understood the technological limitations of the time and back engineered the look and feel that the original programmers were going for at that time. 

Obviously with modern technology, there is a lot more possibility in terms of scenery and lighting, and the team seems to have worked hard to squeeze as much atmosphere in the game as they could as there is never a dull moment or empty feeling area in the game.  Add a killer sound track of pumping dance beats and the game will get your blood pumping.

Throughout the game you will fight in the streets, bars, elevators, moving trains, and encounter tough bosses, who in good beat-em-up traditions, often return as minor bosses or tough but regular goons in later stages. There are 12 of those stages, some are longer than others but they add up to a solid challenge. Even on normal or easy setting, it will be an accomplishment to run through all levels without a restart. On the higher difficulties, the game will become a brutal exercise of luck, strategy, fast reflexes and pure will. If you do fail, you have the option to add more lives and or star power to the next try, but doing so will reduce your scores. It is a nice thing if you just want to see what the next level is and have trouble to get through the story. 

In story mode the cut scenes are presented by comic book style panels and text. It is artful and effective and fits in the spirit of the originals very well. The story line might not be Pulitzer prize or Oscar worthy material, but the presentation is slick and does an outstanding job adding to a game of this genre without pulling you out of the game. Though admittedly I would totally watch an animated series of Streets of Rage.

Streets of Rage 4 is certainly not a bare bones game and is loaded with features to keep you entertained for a long time after completing the story mode. It will also put a big smile on the faces of fans that loved the original. Often it is the little stuff that adds up to the great sum of its part. 

Once you complete the story mode you can revisit your favorite levels or play Arcade mode, which will give you no continues and saves. It is one play through beginning to end. Fail and you will start back from the beginning. 
The game comes with a legacy controller layout that simplifies controls to three buttons just like the original. Perhaps you can plug in a classic SEGA style controller to really go retro? Miss the tunes of the original soundtrack ? Simply change it to original, straight from the pause menu and while you are here, why not change the way the food items look. 
Ready for a large turkey for dinner everyone, or would rather have a more healthy salad? 

The game is loaded with Easter eggs to unlock and discover. From how the sound effects for food pickup are the same as the original games to playing through a bonus level with 16 bits sprites, including my character, after being punched into an arcade machine. 
Play through the game often enough and unlock game artwork, concept art, mock-ups and retro characters from the Streets of Rage series. The game comes with 5 main playable characters and many retro designs to unlock. 

If you need a break from story or arcade mode? Why not try boss rush, which is as the name suggests a tough challenge, one life, all boss fights. 

Or perhaps you want to test your skills against your buddy, or 3 of them in a 4 player brawl? Then take them on in Battle mode and see who really rules the streets. And yet, even with the throwbacks and tributes along the way, the game manages to have its own identity in the series. Every little detail has been meticulously added, polished and designed to contribute to that Streets of Rage feel and make it more relevant in the modern age of gaming.

Even though there have been various re-releases, homages and modern takes on the genre they have only seen moderate success. Other than the fight arena variants such as Street fighter, Marvel vs Capcom, and Mortal Kombat, there hasn't been much room for fight games. In particular the side scrolling street brawler. Streets of Rage 4 is a strong contender to break the slump and restore the fade glory of the past and bring joy to a new generation. The choice to make a sequel and not a remake of the earlier games was a great decision and allowed for more design freedom, possibilities to modernize the gameplay without leaving its legacy behind.
The new characters fit very well and feel like they have always have been part of the series. Streets of Rage 4 takes what made the genre so great and even though it brought some of the quirks along, it polished out most of the frustrating bits. A fight can feel tough, but never unfair. With regular well placed save points and the ability to ease up the game with extra lives or power ups, you always feel that you have a fighting chance to make it to the next part. 

Once you have completed the story mode, you can spend endless hours beating the game on higher difficulties, perfecting your run to get that high score. Streets of Rage 4 does not punish you for being a casual player, and at the same time provides real challenges for the hardcore player. The added fun of playing with friends online and local up to four players makes the deal that much sweeter. 

As you can tell I am over the moon with this release. As a fan of the genre playing Streets of Rage has me basking in nostalgia and wanting for more. The game keeps me coming back for more and has been a blast to share with my kids. If only I could have it in Arcade form to sit next to my Final Fight cabinet...

Streets of Rage is back and ready to clean the streets for some time to come. 

Parent recommendation
Just a note on the rating of this release. From its inception of this site one of the goals has always been to help inform parents that might not fully grasp the world of video games and look to understand what their kids are into.  As always we ask parents to keep an eye on the video game rating and understand what your children are playing. Streets of Rage 4 is rated T for teen, it has violence, obviously, but no blood or gore and some characters, are dressed provocatively. However, there is no nudity or sex acts or foul language implied or otherwise to worry about. Then again this game would not have a Teen rating if it did. As usual, it is up to you to decide what is best for your kids, but if you are ok with the rating you should really team up with the kids, stop evil and save the town.  

Game information:
Title: Streets of Rage 4
Developer: Lizardcube and Guard Crush
Publisher: Dotemu
Release date: April 30th
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Version Reviewed:  PC (Steam) 
ESRB: T for Teen


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