Note to self: Always read the fine print before pre-ordering stuff off Limited Run Games. Maybe then you won’t have to wait an extra 3 months to play a video game.
I love beat ’em up games so much it’s not even funny. From Final Fight to The Simpsons they’ve always been one of my go-to genres to come back to so I can unwind. While many of them aren’t the deepest in terms of content, many of them offer near-infinite levels of replay value and chances to improve your skill and none exemplify this more than Sega’s Streets of Rage franchise. While I’ve always been more of a Final Fight person, I’ve always admired Streets of Rage’s level of gameplay depth and sense of style. I played the XBLA versions of Streets of rage 1 and 2 all the time as a kid and beat them properly for the first time when I obtained my own Sega Genesis. Those two games some of the most well designed, satisfying beat ’em ups I have ever played, and they both stand the test of time. No idea about Streets of Rage 3 though. I saw the cover and kind of peaced out on it. Don’t even own it on the Genesis.
I never understood why Sega chose to not continue the series past the Genesis. There were plans to release a new game on both the Saturn and Dreamcast and Backbone Entertainment did try to pitch a new Streets of rage to Sega, but nothing ever materialized. It seemed like all hope was lost for the franchise and it was going to end up being a fondly remembered but lost gem to the past. That was until 2018 where a brand new Streets of rage game was being developed by Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games. The initial trailer showcased new designs for Axel stone and Blaze Fielding and sported a beautiful hand drawn art style in a similar manner to Dotemu’s Wonder Boy remake from the previous. While there was no release date to be found, that didn’t stop me from being excited for it. As more and more info trickled in, including its April 2020 release date I got so excited that I pre-ordered a physical version from Limited Run Games just so I could have a boxed copy. What I didn’t realize at the time is that it would be getting released 3 months after the initial release and I had to get it shipped from my old addressed because I recently moved houses.
My time with Streets of Rage 4 was nothing short of pure bliss, with a few bouts of personal frustration here and there. I absolutely adored how it felt mechanically and how much it borrowed from Streets of Rage 2 in terms of design philosophy while still having it feel fresh and exciting. The initial roster of Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, and newcomers Cherry Hunter, the daughter of series alumni and (thankfully) returning series alumni Adam Hunter, and Floyd Iraia, the apprentice of Dr.Zan from SOR3. Each character has a standard button combo, two jump attacks, three health eating specials, the best grapple system of any video game I have ever played, and a highly damaging but highly limited Star Move that can only be performed while in the possession of said star. While this sounds simple the game actually offers a level of depth that I think will excite and intrigue both longtime beat ’em up fans and newcomers alike. The amount of offensive options the player has at their disposal really opens the game up to have an extremely satisfying combo system and also encourages an almost fighting game level of precision to maximize their damage. The game is ESPECIALLY fun in multiplayer since you can string together a ludicrous amount of hits together to annihilate bosses and enemies alike and lemme tell you nothing is better than sitting with your bro and watching that combo counter go up to 100. Streets of Rage 4 is an absolute blast on a mechanical level, but what about presentation-wise?
Much like their last Sega licensed game, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (which I still need to check out, by the way), it uses a hand-drawn 2D art style with dynamic lighting and godDAMN does it look nice. Every character in this game has an insane amount of animation and bounce to them and all have a beautiful color pallet attached to them so they can pop out in contrast to the equally beautiful backgrounds. This is also complemented by the game’s wonderful sound design as every hit makes the most satisfying noise and helps convey a sense of power and weight to every character, Floyd especially exemplifying this by having the most gratifying attacks in the game. The music as well oh my GOD is the music fantastic. The soundtrack was primarily composed by French music artist Olivier Deriviere but also features several other artists including the original Streets of Rage composer Yuzo Koshiro, veteran chiptune artist Kiji Yamagishi, the queen of string instrument compositions Yoko Shimomura and many, MANY others. Each track is memorable in their own way and perfectly fits in with the game’s atmosphere. The fact that they were able to not only bring back Streets of Rage’s sense of brutal, yet satisfying gameplay AND its sense of style and presentation is nothing short of amazing and every artist and composer involved should be commended for their hard work.
One last thing I wanted to mention before wrap up is how Streets of Rage handles its content and relatively short length. An average playthrough of SOR4 will run you about 2 1/2-3 hours if you know what you’re doing. While that seems very short I think it’s to the games betterment since it prides itself of replayability. As you progress through the game you’ll slowly start to unlock more and more content such as Adam Hunter about mid-way through your first playthough, a slew of extra modes after you complete it for the first time and my personal favorite, the cast of the first three Streets of Rage games. After each stage your overall score gets added up to a meter and after reaching a certain threshold you start to unlock characters from the first three games, pixelated sprites and all. They play EXACTLY how they did in their original games and many of them, ESPECIALLY SOR3 Axel, are horrifically busted and do insane amounts of damage. I think this is a wonderful bonus for longtime fans of the franchise and it adds so much to the games replay value . I also love the additions of Arcade mode and a boss rush for that added bit of challenge and while it’s a tad laggy, having the option for online is really nice and can be fun if you find the right lobby. I think for what it is, Streets of Rage 4 has a lot to keep players busy with and is well worth its $25 asking price.
Streets of Rage 4 is fucking fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough. I don’t care if you’re a beat ’em up veteran or have never touched one in your life, I think this game is a MUST-PLAY for pretty much everyone. It’s “Easy to learn, hard to master” style of gameplay is enough to keep anyone engaged with it and its near endless amount of replay value and extra modes make this well worth the price of admission. I’m happy to see Streets of Rage get time in the spotlight again and hope that this leads to an even brighter future for Axel and company. The streets can only stay safe for so long.