Longtime readers of DSOGaming remember I wrote a petition for a campaign known as #SEGAPCPorts. The petition called for Sega to increase the number of games which they ported to PC. Most of those games we asked for made their way to the PC eventually. So know that I write this as a dyed in the wool Sega fan and despite Sega’s off-hands approach to this sequel, it is none the less a historic Sega franchise.
Twenty-six years ago was the last time we saw a new Streets of Rage. My memory doesn’t actually go back that far but I played a lot of Genesis (or Mega Drive for our European readers) a few years later. Streets of Rage sticks out for the generation, never released to the arcades like Capcom’s Final Fight, or Sega’s own Golden Axe. Despite this or perhaps because of it, Streets of Rage became the premiere beat em up franchise of the generation.
The genre fell out of favor in the subsequent generations as the advent of more advanced hardware allowed for beat em ups to effectively become a gameplay component in other games. Usually incorporating RPG or open world mechanics into the mix. There were occasional attempts at bringing a pure beat em up into 3D, Sega franchises like Die Hard Arcade/Dynamite Cop but the most successful of these is likely Rockstar’s The Warriors. In turn Sega’s internal attempts to revive the successful Genesis franchise never really took off, including an effort to revive the series on the Dreamcast.
So we arrive in 2020, our year of Corona. One of the few upsides of this specific period of time being the deluge of content we’re being treated to across platforms: Doom, Animal Crossing, Gears Tactics, FF7 Remake and now Streets of Rage 4.
As I previously mentioned, Sega wasn’t a major player in this franchise revival, developers Lizardcube (who also recently remade Sega’s Wonder Boy 3) and Guard Crush Games handled development. Publishing duties by Dotemu.
They arrived with a different visual style than the prior 3 games, some new composers and a refinement on gameplay that changed a fair bit between the 3 entries on the Genesis. The main cast this time around is Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, Adam Hunter (not playable since the first title in the series), Cherry Hunter (Adam’s daughter) and Floyd Iraia (Dr. Zan’s apprentice).
Gone are the sprint and roll of Streets of Rage 3 which featured them for each playable character. Instead Cherry is the only main cast member with a sprint; her father Adam has a small dash forward. Across the character roster your basic moveset consists of your standard combo, hard attack, jump kick, grapple/throws (which provide some frames of invincibility), your double forward “blitz” attack, star specials and your regular specials.
Star specials rely on star collectibles that are expendable in exchange for unleashing a powerful attack, usually best reserved for boss fights. As for the regular character specials, previously if you used specials you’d lose health but SoR4 adds a risk/reward mechanic here instead. After using a special the part of your health you stand to lose turns green, if you can successfully attack enemies without being hit that green part of your health bar will restore. Additionally each character now has 3 specials, neutral, in-air and forward specials. The neutral also provides frames of invincibility.
Score matters more in Streets of Rage 4 than its predecessors because of the unlockables. Included in the game as unlockables are the prior casts of the first three Streets of Rage titles. Pixels and movesets included. Meaning you can get your roll and dash back on Axel should you choose to target his unlockable. These prior characters are rebalanced to make up for their faster movement speed vs. the new cast, ensuring they aren’t completely broken or overpowered.
The new soundtrack was handled by a lot of different composers, leaving open the question of whether it would feel cohesive vs. the famous soundtracks of the first three games. Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, who famously composed the soundtracks for the original games are not the sole composers on 4. Not all tracks on the first three titles are stellar and the same holds for 4 but I will say, after multiple playthroughs on the new soundtrack me and my co-operative co-hort switched to the retro soundtrack and we didn’t miss the new one too much.
I think the new soundtrack definitely has a greater ratio of forgettable tracks despite some enjoyable new additions. It must be considered that it also happens to be a larger soundtrack than the prior games. None the less, credit for including the “Retro Music” option. I found myself re-listening to some of the new tracks while writing this very review.
Another throw back outside the unlockable rosters and retro soundtrack feature are the hidden bossfights throughout the levels. By finding Bare Knuckle cabinets in the background and zapping them with a taser you are transported to boss fights from prior Streets of Rage games. Thus allowing you to both increase your score and grab some goodies (such as stars), before heading back to the main level, as though you’d just played the arcade cabinet yourself. An inspired touch.
Streets of Rage 4 has some tough enemy patterns that occasionally feel unfair. That was always there — this is a genre born to munch quarters. It still is in this game. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to handle the Big Bens. But usually characters have a weakness, or strategy, that you can rely on to defeat them. It just involves learning their patterns and deploying that appropriate strategy.
The game features some other modes outside of the story: battle (which is basically a vs. fighting game but without the depth you’d see in something like Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter), Arcade (story mode but with just “one quarter” — see how far you can get) and finally boss rush. Multiplayer is supported locally for up to four players and it is an excellent couch co-op experience. Online multiplayer is supported for up to two.
In addition to the time I spent playing Streets of Rage 4 during last week, I spent six and a half hours playing three player Streets of Rage 4 on Saturday with family. I was transported back to lazy summer days spent on a Sega Genesis next to 2 liter bottles of Coke. That’s an excellent gaming experience. It’s not solely nostalgia, my wife, who never had serious exposure to the franchise had a similarly good time playing the game. This is a title for interested new fans too, why not try it? It’s on PC game pass.
If it’s not clear by now, Streets of Rage 4 is really everything a fan of the first three games could seriously ask for and expect out of a new entry in the franchise without significantly altering the formula. Too close together and it’s lazy, far enough apart (26 years certainly is) and it becomes refreshing.
- Excellent arcade action
- Faithful entry in a legendary franchise
- Huge character roster
- Retro characters have original movesets
- Great unlockables
- New combat mechanics are great additions
- It’s a good, well made beat em up in 2020
- Excellent multiplayer
- Great looking
- Soundtrack options
- The vestiges of the genre aren’t for everyone
- The new visual style is a departure from the original trilogy, which is dividing some fans
- The new soundtrack is arguably less cohesive than prior titles in the series