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Streets of Rage 4 Review

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Fast Facts

Streets of Rage 4

Developer: DotEmu/Lizardcube/Guard Crush Games
Publisher: Sega
Website: https://www.streets4rage.com/
Genre: Action, Arcade, Beat-em-up
Platform: PlayStation 4
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 30/04/2020
Price: £19.99

A code was provided for review purposes.

Introduction

26 years is a very long time for Streets of Rage 4, especially when it comes to the video game industry.  To put it into perspective, in 1994, Rare and Nintendo released the first Donkey Kong Country, Sony was putting the finishing touches to the Playstation which was due to release in Japan in that December, and Sega released Streets of Rage 3 worldwide in June. Most series that haven’t had an entry in that amount of time is long considered dead.

However, the time has come for Streets of Rage to return, after a huge hiatus.  After so many unsuccessful attempts in the past to revive the series in-house, Sega took the near-impossible decision to throw their hands up and realise: we have no idea what to do with this property.  Taking on this near-impossible task, of not only reviving a near-dead series, but also modernising it for the current set of consoles, is the co-development teams of DotEmu, Guard Crush Games and LizardCube.  The question is: was Streets of Rage deserving of a reboot?

It has been 10 years since the events of Streets of Rage 3, where vigilantes Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, Dr Zan and Eddie “Skate” Hunter defeated Mr X and his criminal empire The Syndicate for the third and final time.  Or so they thought, as a new criminal empire has risen from the ashes and taken The Syndicate’s place.  Known as The Y Syndicate, which is controlled by the Y Twins, they aim to pick up where their father left off all those years ago, smashing the peace that Wood Oak City had enjoyed for nearly a decade.  It is down to the previous 3 game’s main protagonists, former detectives Axel and Blaze along with new character’s Cherry Hunter (daughter of Adam Hunter, who is also playable) and Floyd Iraia to enter The Streets of Rage.

Streets of Rage 4 Review
This is Axel Stone, not Ken Masters

The Story

The story of the game is not the most impressive, the Streets of Rage series is not exactly known for its compelling and gripping story.  It was always a small vehicle to get you to various locations around the city to take down the criminal empire, and Streets of Rage 4 is no different to the previous games.  However, the addition of post level cutscenes did help to make the narrative a lot more clear than they were in previous games. 

These excellently animated sequences were a nice addition, and something that most modern gamers would be very familiar with, but to series veterans, it is a very welcome addition.  However, it is rather disappointing that these cutscenes were very much the “comic panel style” that games like Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 used to highlight their story mode.  I would say it is a very mild criticism but it would have been a treat to see these cutscenes fully animated and voiced.

The Visuals

The trio of developers involved in the project are all quite known in various circles of the gaming industry, for their many different and unique properties over the years, many of which are revered for their impressive visual fidelity or maintaining a solid framerate.  Lizardcube became a household name in the industry with their incredibly impressive-looking remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, which featured a beautiful hand-drawn style.  Streets of Rage 4 is absolutely no different to this.

Streets of Rage 4 PS4
Blaze Fielding travelling through the mean streets of Wood Oak City

It would appear that the majority of the visual work on offer here smells of Lizardcube’s unique style and, whilst in motion, the character’s movement, the setting of Wood Oak City and each enemy, whether they are returning or brand new, are all equal parts impressive and absolutely jaw-dropping.  It has been quite a while since I’ve had to stop playing and just sit in complete awe at the game I was looking at.  Not only did this look exactly how a modern Streets of Rage game would look, it absolutely exceeded my expectations.  It is easy to see why Sega contacted Lizardcube to work on this game.

The Gameplay

Side-scrolling beat-em-ups don’t tend to have many issues with maintaining a steady frame rate but it is easy for the screen to become too inundated with enemies.  Much like a fighting game, I would expect a solid 60 Frames Per Second (FPS) on a game of this calibre, especially since Streets of Rage 4 relies quite heavily on combos (which I will come back to later in the review).  The frame rate stayed incredibly solid and buttery smooth, even with a fair amount happening on screen. 

At times, I would have a magnitude of enemies on the screen, many holding weapons including: grenades, molotovs and poison bottles; you would possibly understand if the frame rate dipped to sub 60 FPS.  I was blown away that DotEmu managed to keep the game not only steady, but setting the benchmark for what studios should be doing to not only make a game look great but perform superbly.   Whilst I was given a code for the PS4 version, I also tried the Xbox One and Switch versions during my playtime, and can report that performance doesn’t suffer at all across all consoles.

Streets of Rage 4 Review
Axel and Blaze in a struggle again Big Ben, Yellow Signal, Galsia and Electra

Being very familiar with the Streets of Rage franchise, it was a game that was very easy to pick and play.  I would expect anybody who has played a side-scrolling beat-em-up in the past, such as Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Golden Axe, Final Fight or Castle Crashers, will have an easy time with being able to pick up a controller and perform fairly simple combos. 

However, Guard Crush Games, who I would suspect did the majority of the fighting mechanics, have managed to advance the tried and true formula that was there in the original trilogy of games on the Mega Drive/Genesis.  Introducing certain mechanics that would be familiar to not only fighting game players, but fans of Guard Crush Games’ previous titles Streets of Fury and its Extended Edition, they have included the ability to juggle opponents with various moves that cause either ground bounces or wall bounces, allowing for a free-flowing and custom combo design and it is here that Streets of Rage 4 absolutely excels head and shoulders above the rest of the games in this genre.

The Roster

Each character in the roster feels incredibly unique and, similar in respects to fighting games, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Axel is the hard-hitting powerhouse character, who doesn’t have a lot of combo ability, but when attacks land, it is possible to finish off a few of the lowly grunt characters like Donovan and Galsia in one combo.  Blaze is actually the opposite of Axel, where she doesn’t hit as hard but has a lot of reliance on combos and the special attacks.  Floyd is the “Zangief” of this game, he is a slow-moving, hard-hitting grappler. 

Cherry Hunter fills the hole that was left by Skate, in which she is the small, fast-moving character who is very tricky to use, as a fair few of her combo extension moves leave her airborne, which can be increasingly difficult when you come to stages where you can easily fall down holes.  Last but not least (of the main roster) is the unlockable Adam Hunter, who is an excellent mix of both Axel and Blaze’s moveset, where he could touch of death combo (a 0% to death damage series of attacks) someone but requires a fair amount of execution.

And this isn’t going into the unlockable characters from previous games like Max, Skate, Shiva and Dr Zan, as well as the older versions of Adam, Axel and Blaze.  With 17 characters in total (with 13 of them having to be unlocked), there is going to be a playstyle that absolutely suits everyone.

Streets of Rage 4 PS4
Character Select Screen

The Mechanics

The basic fighting mechanics have barely changed from the original games in the series, where you have a normal attack, a special attack (with both defensive and offensive options) and jump. However, where Streets of Rage 4 advances beyond the original games is the addition of the aerial special attack, which at the cost of some of your life bar, can hit enemies far harder and generally be used for combo extension.  For example, Blaze’s aerial special is a charging kick that can be used after a ground bounce to keep a combo going, and even be used to evade certain enemy attacks. 

Additionally, each character now has a super attack, a very powerful move generally used for ending a combo and causes massive damage, although some are capable of extending combos even further. These new additions to the fighting mechanics helps the game to make natural advancements in gameplay to bring it in line with the more modern games in the genre.  I absolutely loved picking different characters and trying them out due to this, whereas previous games in the series, I usually stuck with Skate as he was always the most combo/execution heavy character in 2 and 3.

The Online Play

It has become a bit of a meme these days that most games come with an online mode, which in essence has mostly replaced some of the older modes we used to get on arcade style beat-em-ups like time attack or score attack.  This is not the case with Streets of Rage 4.  The game gives you multiple ways to play out the main story, from giving you save points between each level and 2 lives per stage; this is very different to how it was in the original games, as you never had the option to do this before.  Whilst it does make the game easier, it is there for accessibility for new players and those returning after many years.  However, there are difficulty options in these modes, ranging from Easy to Mania Modes.  So whether you are a new player or veteran, you will find a difficulty setting.  Whilst I played the story on medium, it gave a fair amount of challenge still.

Streets of Rage 4 Review
Adam Hunter is always up for a fight

For those purists who don’t like the idea of a checkpoint/save system and regenerating lives between each stage, there is a classic “arcade” mode, which unlocks after completing story mode, where you are given 2 lives to complete the entire run of 12 stages.  This is the expert mode of the game, even more so than Mania difficulty on the Story mode.  In addition to this, you also have the Boss Rush mode, which unlocks after completing the main story mode, as well as a Battle Mode in which you fight against an online opponent.

Whilst I didn’t play much of Battle Mode, the few games I did have were incredibly fun, as it felt exactly like playing a fighting game against a human opponent.  The majority of these modes can either be played solo, with up to 4 players on one console offline and 2 players when played online.  The netcode isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it is at least stable for the most part and games are fairly quick to connect and seemed to run pretty smoothly (at least for me it did).

The Audio

It was always fairly unusual that the original games had a huge dance and electronic influence, as composers Yuzo Koshiro and  Motohiro Kawashima wanted soundtracks that would sound comfortable in both a video game and dance floors around the world.  Streets of Rage 1 and 2‘s soundtracks are utterly spectacular and are regulars on my video game soundtracks playlist.

It is with an unfortunately heavy heart, that my biggest criticism with the game comes.  The soundtrack, whilst having some notable composers working on it, such as Yoko Shimamora, Yuzo Koshiro and Olivier Deriviere, never quite lived up to the originals.  This isn’t necessarily a bad soundtrack at all, it just, unfortunately, won’t be getting the same kind of playtime that Streets of Rage 1 and 2 soundtracks will.  However, the ability to be able to change out the music to these original soundtracks is superb and when playing this again in the future, I will be turning this feature on.  Combining this with sound effects that are mostly ripped from the original Mega Drive games, and it is a massive slice of the nostalgia pie that had brought me back to my childhood, playing Streets of Rage 2 constantly with either friends or my brother.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hGCBFb-b1mXAg9tT9whwqkdlY7nfBoay/view?usp=sharing
Link to the remix I made for the video review

Conclusion

Streets of Rage is a series that means a lot to me, as it was one of the first games that I played when I first got my Mega Drive.  I never in my wildest dreams, after a 26-year hiatus, imagined that it would ever return again.  But it is back, with a few modern sensibilities, such as online play, 4 player offline co-op and a modern art style that is just as jaw-dropping in motion, as it is to look at in screenshots.  This is absolutely the game I was hoping for and expecting but completely exceeded my expectation with an incredibly interesting and robust combo system, various unlockable characters across the series and a stack load of different ways to play the game.

The 3 co-developers of Lizardcube, DotEmu and Guard Crush Games have utilised their incredible talents and flair to create an alliance that I would love to see work together, either on an original project or restoring another long-forgotten franchise.  Streets of Rage 4 is equal parts homage to the older games, whilst giving more than enough flexibility and depth to make this, in my opinion, stand well above Streets of Rage 1 and be as close as you can get to the near perfection you had with Streets of Rage 2, with only the soundtrack being the deciding factor in the decision.  Streets of Rage 4 is a game I could very easily recommend to everybody, whether you are a fan of side-scrolling beat-em-up or not.

Rapid Reviews Rating

You can buy Streets of Rage 4 for the PS4 at the following link: PlayStation Store.

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