After a twenty-six year hiatus, fans were clambering for Sega to bring back Streets of Rage. The series was one of their hardest hitters on the Genesis, but after 3, nothing came other than failed pitches. It truly seemed hopeless until DotEmu, GuardCrush Games, and LizardCube came together to give fans exactly what they wanted! Streets of Rage 4 was announced as a hand-drawn love-letter to everything the first three games were. Fans nearly died holding their breath. After playing the original trilogy for the first time in preparation, I went in with mixed feelings on the franchises and cautious optimism.
Ten years have passed since the defeat of the Syndicate. The Streets of Rage have been calm since the defeat of Mr. X. Suddenly, the children of the crimelord, Mr. and Ms. Y take over the city in an attempt to finish their father’s fight. Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding must once again set out to save the city. This time they are joined by Cherry, the daughter of Adam Hunter, and Floyd, the apprentice of Dr. Zan, the four will need to work together to stop the newly reborn Syndicate.
Streets of Rage 4 plays much closer to the first two titles. It’s a lot slower paced than 3, but it’s designed to be. Gameplay has been given the much needed modern face-lift. Every character has a more varied moveset and access to many special moves and combos. The game does away with a lot of what made 3 worse than the other two but keeps what worked. While you don’t have a dash or roll, your basic movement is more apt for getting out of danger. The Genesis was extremely limiting, but Streets of Rage 4 isn’t designed to be on the Genesis. Even though it’s slower than 3, every hit has the perfect amount of impact. It doesn’t feel like I’m button-mashing through a bunch of faceless sprites. I found Streets of Rage 4 to have the most satisfying combat of the series.
Previous Streets of Rage games used dozens of enemies and unfair boss fights to overwhelm the player. Previous games had other difficulties, but not of them as accomodating as Streets of Rage 4. Even on harder difficulties, Streets of Rage 4 goes out of its way to make sure nothing is overwhelming or cheap. Levels offer a good stream of healing items and money to increase your score and earn extra lives. Enemies can still walk off-screen or run away from you, but there aren’t many that will. Some enemies can feel a bit like damage-sponges. There were only two types of enemies that felt truly annoying to fight. A much better number than the previous “every enemy” from the last two games.
Streets of Rage 3 fell apart at the end of every level, 4 has my favorite bosses in the series. Many of them are returning faces that fans have, no doubt, grown attached to. Some of them still have extremely quick moves that will challenge your mastery of the game. All bosses are telegraphed well. If I got hit by a big sweeping attack, it felt like my fault. This is much different than when bosses would come flying at me from outside of the screen to do half of my health in one pot-shot.
Gameplay isn’t the only thing that was modernized! Streets of Rage 4 features beautiful hand-drawn animations and a soundtrack worth owning by itself. The entire game itself feels like a moving comic book. It was designed to be exactly what kids imagined the game looked like in the ’90s. The animation and sound design has a lot to do with how satisfying the game feels. This type of aesthetic is something I wish more retro-revivals would attempt. Too many of them hide behind the original sprites.
There have been dozens of retro-revivals in the past few years. Many coming from Sega themselves. Most of them fall into the same trappings. They just give more of the same with little to no innovation. It was my biggest issue with Sonic Mania. Streets of Rage 4 is not Shenmue 3 or Sonic Mania. Streets of Rage 4 ditches the outdated continues system of the arcade. The game saves at each level, and if you get a game over, you go straight to the beginning of the level.
Streets of Rage 4 has brought in a lot of modern conveniences. Such as heavy customization options and online multiplayer! Unfortunately, only two players can play online. When it worked, it was a flawless experience. I played through the campaign with SolidRoar of IndieGamerTeam! Any time either of us paused, we would desync and be forced to restart the level. We also ran into a session where we suffered extreme input lag and choppy visuals. Most of the time, the experience was perfect. You’ll want to keep these issues on your mind. THE DESYNC BUG WAS PATCHED AFTER OUR PLAYTHROUGH
Streets of Rage 4 dives into fans’ nostalgia but doesn’t hide behind it. You can find hidden boss fights from the original titles, complete with the character’s original sprites, hidden throughout levels. For accomplishing a total amount of points, you can unlock hidden characters from the Genesis! You’ll gain access to every incarnation of the main roster from the original trilogy, including Max, Skate, and Dr. Zan, and Shiva from Streets of Rage 3! Each character has the exact sprites and moveset from the game they’re from.
Streets of Rage 4 is an incredibly short experience. You’ve only got twelve levels in the main campaign, but I feel the game is the most replayable in the franchise. The levels themselves are much shorter than they are in previous games. The developers knew when they should stop. The unlockable retro throwbacks, multiple difficulties, and D to S scoring system are enough to keep you around for weeks.
Streets of Rage 4 is a pure love-letter to fans of the franchise and those who would be interested in it. This game takes the best of one of Sega’s classic IP and throws away what hasn’t aged well. As someone who had never touched a beat-em-up, I played the original trilogy in preparation for this game. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played beat-em-ups your entire life or have always been an outsider, this game is a perfect jumping-on point. This isn’t Mega Man 11, or Sonic Mania, Streets of Rage 4 is everything a retro-revival should be. This is the gold-standard I will be judging everything else by. I can’t recommend it enough.