Dotemu (who previously gave us the amazing Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap) has finally released Streets of Rage. It’s out for all major consoles as well as PC, and we took the PlayStation 4 version out for a violent walk around the block.
Few arcade games had more of an impact on me than Final Fight. I still remember first seeing it about 30 years ago and marveling at its larger than life sprites as its main protagonists took on a variety of scum on the streets of Metro City. Back then, I was used to NES-like visuals and those seen in 8-bit and 16-bit home computers of the era, so imagine my delight when I was able to play the game’s conversion for my Atari ST not long after.
It sparked a solid interest in the beat ’em up/brawler genre, with TMNT, Golden Axe and Double Dragon quickly becoming favorites. And then there was Streets of Rage, a series I didn’t get to play until later because it was exclusive to Sega’s consoles. Originating in the nineties (and thus a little later than the aforementioned titles), it arrived as the genre has evolved into pretty much what it still is today, making the original trilogy some of the most enduring and least-dated examples of the genre. Compare it to Double Dragon and you’ll see what I mean.
Perhaps that’s why it took so long for someone to develop a reboot/sequel, but because it’s so fondly remembered anticipation was high for Streets of Rage 4. Luckily, it doesn’t disappoint, and part of that is that the development team didn’t try to drastically revamp what the old games were about and instead just gave it a modern twist.
The game’s set ten years after the end of Streets of Rage 3, when a new generation of criminals (literally the offspring of the previous bad guy) have taken over the city. Original protagonists Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding are back, along with Cherry, Floyd Iraia as well as several familiar characters that can be unlocked over the course of the game. With its graffiti and neon-infused backdrops, the city immediately evokes memories of the classic games that came before, and it doesn’t take long before things feel very familiar – despite a new look.
Streets of Rage 4 has a new look for its characters, who now look like they’ve been lifted straight from a hand-drawn animated version of Streets of Rage. What helps is that they’re animated extremely well, and that the backdrops and enemies you face also look the part. This isn’t just an updated version of an early nineties franchise, this is what a 2020 beat ’em up should look like and it’s one of the best looking examples of the genre so far. Even the cutscenes are done in a sliding comic book panel kind of way, though I wish they had had voiceovers or had at least gone with a speech bubble kind of style rather than subtitles.
The controls are easy and intuitive, going with what worked back on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive rather than using a 10-button layout just because that’s what available these days. It makes for a delicious jump-in, jump-out kind of experience where anyone can just join without having to go through a series of tutorials. And that’s especially good because these are the types of games best enjoyed playing cooperatively.
As with most arcade-style beat ’em up (the RPG-infused Dragon’s Crown being an exception), the campaign in Streets of Rage 4 is on the short side of things, but replay value comes from additional modes that are unlocked once you complete it. My advice would be to at least play through the game solo once though, and then just play cooperatively – in my experience, that never gets old.
Speaking of things that never get old, fans of the original game will absolutely love the soundtrack that this game offers. Not only is there a new selection of music that fits the franchise well, you can also enable a mode that uses music from the old games instead. These weren’t melodies that I had at the ready, but I instantly recognized them and did an entire playthrough just so I could listen to them.
The music, as well as the core gameplay and controls, showcase what is a great homage to a classic series. Strengthened by wonderful visuals and animation, this is a game that fans of the genre (and series in particular) won’t want to pass up.