Review: Streets of Rage 4
When I’m writing a review about something I love, it’s hard not to turn into a gushy mess and blurt out “I love this game, it’s amazing!” Just because I love something, doesn’t mean everyone will. So, I thought I would try to explain what I love, not just about the game, but the genre in general.
As I sit down to write my review for Streets of Rage 4, it occurred to me that side scrolling beat ‘em ups have been a part of my gaming life for over 35 years. The earliest example of this was probably Kung Fu Master in the arcade. I instantly fell in love with the simple, yet addictive gameplay of kicking and punching people in the face! Probably the main reason I loved Kung Fu Master, was because the hero looked and sounded like Bruce Lee.
This is an important point, because although there have been tons of these type of games, the good ones usually have something which hooks you to them.
Some of my all-time favourite games fall within this genre, and they are great for different reasons. Golden Axe, Final Fight, Batman Returns, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Target: Renegade, Double Dragon, the list goes on and on. These were incredible games that captured my imagination, and remain special to this very day. Even though side scrolling beat ‘em ups all essentially do the same thing; i.e. you are punching and kicking seven shades of crap out of bad guys, the games I’ve listed all felt unique, which helped them stand out from the crowd.
A lot of these games were released in the arcade and finding good home versions of them wasn’t always easy. Golden Axe was great on the Megadrive, and Final Fight was amazing on the Mega CD, but they weren’t original games you hadn’t played before.
This was until Streets of Rage came along in 1991, which took everything amazing about this genre, and made it exclusive to the Megadrive. Streets of Rage introduced you to new heroes, Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, and Adam Hunter. Surely, they have some of the coolest names in video game history?! Each fighter had unique moves and you quickly decided who was your favourite. For the record, mine was Axel. Although the game is very similar to Final Fight, (3 heroes make their way across town to fight bad guys), there wasn’t anything around on home consoles quite like it. Streets of Rage looked great, played well, and sounded fantastic! It couldn’t get better than this……could it?
To put it plainly, 1993 saw the release of one of the best games of all time, Streets of Rage 2. It is a rare occasion when a sequel improves in every way upon the original, but Street of Rage 2 is one of those examples. Not only was the fighting better, with more moves to choose from, there were now 4 characters to select. Axel and Blaze returned, accompanied by the gigantic wrestler Max Thunder, and Eddie “Skate” Hunter. Again, for the record Max is my go-to hero. (Come to think of it, I seem to have a thing for hulking men, as Mike Haggar from Final Fight is also one of my favourite characters.) Probably the biggest improvement of all was the soundtrack. Simply put, it is one of the greatest video game soundtracks ever committed to a cartridge! There wasn’t anything like it, and it made your Megadrive sing! It still stands up today, and those tunes are burnt into my brain. Streets of Rage 2 made you feel proud to own a Megadrive, and secretly made all your SNES owning friends jealous.
Streets of Rage 2 was a huge success, and a follow up was guaranteed. The promise of a whopping 24 Meg cartridge for the sequel, gave fans a sense of excited anticipation of what was to come. 1994 saw the release of Street of Rage 3, and I may be in the minority, but it is one my most disappointing sequels I’ve played in a video game series! To be honest, improving on perfection is an almost impossible task, so maybe I’m being a bit harsh? Streets of Rage 3 tries to make everything bigger and better, but unfortunately fails in a lot of ways. Although the developers attempted more with the story, they seem to have forgotten gameplay is what really matters. Despite the combat not changing much from Streets of Rage 2, it felt boring, with the same enemies being thrown at you over and over again. If anything, it seemed lazy, rather than incompetent! Despite this, the greatest crime the game commits is the appalling music! I’m not sure what happened, because composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima returned from producing their glorious score for Streets of Rage 2.
So, Streets of Rage came to an end in 1994 with a whimper, rather than a smashing uppercut. The series would lie dormant until 2020, but just like the main bad guy Mr X, a good beating won’t keep it down.
It’s worth saying I already have a lot of love for Streets of Rage 4 developers, Dotemu and Lizardcube, as they released Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap in 2017. Anyone who can remake one of my favourite games from my childhood, can do no wrong. Just following up such a brilliant game like Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap with Streets of Rage 4 deserves a lot of credit!
The story in Streets of Rage 4 takes place 10 years after the events of Streets of Rage 3. To be honest, the story isn’t important. What is important is there are bad guys who need putting in their place, and you are the only person who can do it! Series regulars Axel and Blaze return along with new characters Cherry Hunter (daughter of Adam) and Floyd Iraia. Floyd is a mixture of Max (hulking brute) and Dr Zan from Streets of Rage 3, (mechanical arms) and is my new favourite character. There is something about the way Floyd grabs two bad guys, and smashes their heads together which makes me grin from ear to ear.
If you’ve played any of the previous Streets of Rage games, you will soon find yourself at home with the controls. Punching, kicking, jumping all come naturally, as do grappling and some of the more advanced moves. One new feature are the special attacks. These drain your own life, but if you immediately execute an attack on an enemy, you will regain your health. If you get hit however, you lose this health, plus any normal damage you take. It’s a nice risk vs reward feature, which adds an element of strategy to the gameplay. There are also ultra-damaging moves which can be unleashed, but these only happen if you have enough stars.
The gameplay feels fantastic, and the developers nailed the combat which made the series so much fun. Fighting feels weighty, and you never resort to wildly mashing buttons.
As you can imagine, the biggest upgrade compared to previous Streets of Rage games are the graphics. It’s fair to say they look stunning! When I played the game for the first time, it struck me how it seemed like a beautiful painting was coming to life. The cartoon graphics have a slight hint of Japanese Anime, mixed with a touch of Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. Either way, it is gorgeous, and the style closely resembles Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap.
Streets of Rage 4 takes a bit of everything from the preceding games, and there is plenty of fan service as you make your way through the game. There are unlockable playable characters which are presented in their original form. The first time I saw the classic character sprites from the previous games, along with the new backgrounds was a wonderful moment.
As I mentioned, music has played such an important part of the series, and I’m happy to say Street of Rage 4 does a great job with an original score. There is an option to revert to the retro soundtrack, should you choose to.
Side scrolling beat ‘em ups are often best enjoyed with friends. There is 4 player local co-op, and 2 player online co-op available.
The highest compliment I can pay Streets of Rage 4 is it makes me smile every time I play. I’ve now finished the game three times with different characters, and I’m on my way to a fourth completion. I’ll probably finish it with every character, as I’m sure there are other secrets which I’m looking forward to discovering.
The makers of Streets of Rage 4 are clearly huge fans of the previous games. Much like the remake of Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap, they treat the source material with respect, and not just a cynical cash grab. They have taken everything that was wonderful about Streets of Rage, and presented it in a beautiful package. Simply put, it’s a game for fans, made by fans! However, I also believe it will introduce a new generation of gamers to a genre which I adore.
Streets of Rage 4 feels like slipping on the most comfortable pair of comfy slippers, or meeting up with an old friend. You immediately feel at ease and want to spend hours together, knowing this is where you belong.
So now you’ve read this review, I hope you fully understand what I wrote in my original paragraph? “I love this game, it’s amazing!” A must buy!
Streets of Rage 4 is available now for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.