Many of my earliest gaming memories involve sitting in a dark room with my siblings in front of a CRT TV barely larger than 20″ and playing the classic beat-em-up games of my childhood, including (but definitely not limited to) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, Double Dragon, and Battletoads. These games were brutal in a way few others were; you had a set number of lives, extra lives and health buffs were rare, and if you lost, you started over… from the very beginning. This meant that I spent endless hours perfecting the earliest levels of these games attempting to get as far as I possibly could. I never finished most of them, but it didn’t hinder my undying love for the genre. As games and technology have progressed, the arcade-style side-scroller has largely been forgotten, but that doesn’t make them any less fun. Add a few modern-day touches and conveniences, and you could have a quarantine-time hit on your hands. Developers DotEmu and Lizardcube did just that, revitalizing this classic beat-em-up SEGA series absent for the past 26 years. Streets of Rage 4 is short but packs enough action and nostalgia to make me feel like I’m a kid again, if only for a few hours.
|Available On||PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch|
|Release Date||April 30, 2020|
|Time Spent Playing||4 Hours|
Set a decade after the last entry to the series, Streets of Rage 4 follows our fearless heroes as they attempt to put an end to the brainwashing techno music being broadcast by Mr. and Ms. Y, twin children of Streets of Rage 3 antagonist Mr. X. Long time protagonists Axel and Blaze return, along with metallic arm Floyd and teenaged rocker Cherry, daughter of Adam Hunter from the original Streets of Rage. More than ever, each of these characters plays distinctly and uniquely from one another, with strengths and weaknesses that suit them in certain situations. As you progress and play more, you’ll eventually unlock 12 additional characters (including Adam Hunter himself, playable for the first time since the original game), but most characters will require past your initial playthrough to access. It may have been nicer to have a little bit more unlocked by the time credits rolled, thus enticing me to replay some missions; nevertheless, if you fall in love with punching and kicking your way through city streets, there is plenty of reason to revisit your favorite missions.
Combat is crisp and responsive, and chaining combos together against hordes of progressively stronger enemies feels rewarding when successfully executed. Using the limited 3D space to your advantage, anticipating enemy attacks and countering with your own becomes crucial to survival. My initial impression of the combat was one of antiquity, but learning the intricacies of each character reveals the true depth available. I spent the majority of my time playing as Cherry Hunter, favoring her speed, spring, and special attack for clearing large waves, but switching to Axel, Blaze, and Floyd helped in certain stages with particularly sticky situations.
If the difficulty of the original Streets of Rage games is giving you pause to play Streets of Rage 4, rest assured that certain safeguards have been put in place to increase the accessibility of the game to all skill levels. In regular story mode, you can choose between four difficulty settings, and your progress is saved after each stage. If that still proves too difficult, you can add lives and power-ups to a stage for a decrease in score. If you like the original hardcore all-or-nothing game style, Arcade mode is exactly that. I’m positive that nearly anybody reading this review can play Streets of Rage 4 to its completion and still have a fun time, tailored to their own desires.
The soundtrack, composed by Olivier Deriviere, Yuzo Koshiro, and Motohiro Kawashima, feels like a perfectly updated version of the techno-synth vibe of the original games. Most tracks blend in with the beautifully animated cityscapes to create a lively and vibrant Wood Oak City with gangsters, businessmen, and cool cars, all highlighted by neon colors. The tracks are made to be true background music, fit for a side-scrolling arcade action game with potential short bursts of play. The most notable and modern track is named after (and plays during a battle with) a particularly musical boss, DJ K-washi. It feels the most modern of the entire OST, while still incorporating a lot of the same techno instrumentation featured throughout the rest of the record.
Unfortunately for most gamers, earning 100% completion and unlocking every character isn’t at the top of our to-do lists, so finishing a single campaign of Streets of Rage 4 will only take you approximately 3 hours, depending on how long you spend on each stage and how many times you die. Certainly not having to restart the entire game every time I died decreased my total playtime, and though being a nice addition, I still wanted some more new content by the time I reached the strangely-abrupt finish line. It makes me wonder if those irritating permadeath situations common in days of yore were blessings in disguise for us, drawing us in for weeks to months just to perfect a single game. (Or maybe I’m just bad at games now…) Nevertheless, if beat-em-ups are your jam, you’ll still find plenty to love.
Thankfully, you won’t have to buy Streets of Rage 4 for its retail price of $24.99 to enjoy it on PC or Xbox – the game is available on Xbox Game Pass, and for most gamers, that will be enough. Streets of Rage 4 wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly better than I expected it to be, and set a stage for future beat-em-ups that I hope more developers take cues from. Most surprisingly, Streets of Rage 4 made me want to boot up my NES and SNES, pop in the brutal fight fests of my childhood, and teach my 5-year-old just how hard games used to be.