Fun fact time, folks. Streets of Rage only came about because the Mega Drive wasn’t able to handle the go-to scrolling fighter at the time Final Fight. The SNES could just about manage, albeit with one less character than the Arcade original. SEGA, not to be undone took their tried and tested template from classics such as Golden Axe and Alien Storm and applied it to a scrolling beat up. The result was the finest side-scrolling beat-em-up’s ever made, the Streets of Rage trilogy.
This new game, which has nothing to do with SEGA other than their blessing, has been passed on to a new developer. Instead, developing duties fall to Lizardcube, who if you remember made Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, among others.
The first thing that will grab fans of the original is, what is with the hand-drawn graphics? I have to admit when I first saw the trailer I was a little disappointed not to see some fine chunky pixel work at play. But once you see it on screen, it doesn’t matter. It looks gorgeous, like the pages of a comic have come to life. But for the purists, there is a retro mode to give you a pixelated version of the game’s graphics. While not as good as having original pixel art, it’s a nice addition.
The all-important factor we need to consider is gameplay. The good news is, flipping over opponents and slamming them into the ground feels as satisfying as it ever was. The combination of attacks, animations and sound effects makes everything feel so satisfying, enjoyable and weighty.
At its heart, Streets of Rage 4 is still your favourite side scrolling beat-em-up, as nothing much has changed in that respect. It’s a mystery why this once popular genre hasn’t evolved. Still, Streets of Rage is what we want and that’s what we’ve been given. What Lizardcube have done is evolve the gameplay to make it just near perfect as you can get it. From the simplicity of the straight-up punch and kick to the subtle nuances of the specials, knowing when to use a defensive move or an offensive move (both of which deplete your energy) adds a surprising level of strategy. Add into the mix a stronger charged attack, a back attack, and the famous vaulting over enemies gives you a lot of options. Thankfully, Lizardcube has kept the controls as simple as they can throughout, meaning you won’t be tying your fingers in knots. All these little changes just make the game just some much damn fun to play.
There are still weapons that get thrown into the mix, alongside environmental dangers. Old classics like the drainpipe and dagger make a return, but new weapons include a taser and an 8 ball! Environmental dangers range form toxic goo to giant wrecking balls. Thankfully these types of things a kept under control to stop the game spiralling into the absurd.
It’s not just the weapons that get some attention, there is a roster of new enemies for you to fight. Although it’s nice seeing the old punks making a return the new characters add a nice level of unpredictability. If you have played the original game, you kinda know what to expect so you can play the game accordingly. New enemies, with new routines and moves, means you have to learn patterns and techniques all over again, and stops the game getting boring.
I loved the graphics of the first game. The pixel work was some of the finest around. Along with the graphics, it was the original soundtrack that stood out. SoR 4 doesn’t disappoint in this department either. As soon as the title music starts you know you’re playing a Streets of Rage game. Modern tunes that just ooze a nineties vibe, although admittedly none of the tracks seem as distinctive as the Mega Drive originals.
So far, so perfect. I love this game, and it is arguably my game of the year so far. But it’s not all perfect. As with the original game, the characters are slow-moving, including the characters that are supposed to be faster. I’m not sure if it’s 3D games we are used to playing, but Streets of Rage 4 is crying out for an evade button. Without one, some of the hits you take are unavoidable. As refreshing as the new characters are, some are just annoyingly cheap (those fuckers with shields, for example), they make you get raged up quicker than Axel in a wrestling ring. Same can be said for the bosses. The bosses as characters are great but also cheap – each one has an unblockable move, and without the aforementioned evade move, you just have to take the punishment and there is nothing you can do about it.
It’s also a shame that the bazooka-laden police back-up car, the special from the original game is no longer present. Instead, you have special moves, which do the job but just not as exciting as a police car raining down hell on the goons. (Although the driver of said police car does make an appearance).
Streets of Rage 4 is not here to redefine the genre. It’s here to give fans something they have waited over 2 decades for and it doesn’t disappoint. If anything it has made me ask the question “why aren’t there more side-scrolling beat-em-ups?”. As soon as the game starts, it’s like you’re meeting an old friend again. When that title sequence starts you feel right at home. From the tweaked combat to the lovely little touches the game surprises you with, it’s a roller coaster ride down memory lane which I didn’t want to end. There is something to be said for simple games, a refreshing change from the more complex games of modern-day. I love this game and I want more. I do hope we don’t have to wait as long for the next installment.
Streets of Rage 4 is available now PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Developer: Lizard Cube
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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