Streets of Rage 4 Review – Old Dog, New Tricks
Streets of Rage 4 on Nintendo Switch
For a Genesis-kid that has been following the Streets of Rage series for decades, it’s kind of hard to believe that Streets of Rage 4 is actually real. If you thought the wait for Final Fantasy VII Remake was bad, Streets of Rage stans have been waiting around since 1994 for a new game. It was cut off for no reason other than 2D games were kind of thrown aside while developers and publishers experimented with 3D after the release of the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, and PlayStation.
Even in recent years with 2D games enjoying a renaissance, thanks largely in part to great indie developers, there was still no word on Streets of Rage 4.
I thought for sure after Sonic Mania that maybe this was the beginning of a 2D Sega resurgence but nope, still nothing after that. It’s easy to see why someone could lose hope as time continued to pass.
Sega though did eventually give Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games the green light to take a stab at one of the most beloved Genesis franchises of all-time.
Developer and publisher Dotemu may not be a household name in the U.S. but they have proven themselves capable of handling work on important franchises such as Metal Slug, Final Fantasy, and more in the past.
I’m thrilled to say that Dotemu once again has proven why they should be trusted, as they have delivered a fantastic and faithful follow-up in Streets of Rage 4.
When I spoke to members of the Dotemu staff last year after Streets of Rage 4 was unveiled, it was clear that they were true fans of the original and that they understood that working on Streets of Rage 4 massive privilege that they took very seriously. Their knowledge of what made the original games so good shines throughout their game.
Combat, the most important aspect of course in any beat-em-up brawler, feels exactly like what I imagined a modern Streets of Rage game would. Its pace is extremely similar to Streets of Rage 2. You can perform simple ground and air combos using your basic attacks and move in basic directions (up, down, left, right) to try and maneuver your character in for a grapple attack if you get close enough.
I was very pleased to find out that all of my old tricks still worked. In fact, a lot of the enemies are returning from previous games, so I was beating them up exactly the same way I did years ago.
My old ways only got me so far though. In fact, I was struggling at first a little bit even in the first few stages. That’s until I started to get a feel for how the new special attack system worked.
Unlike later Streets of Rage games where special attacks could only be used in exchange for a loss of health, in Streets of Rage 4, the health can be refunded under the condition that you continue to combo attacks without getting hit.
This dynamic allows you to actually use your fun special attacks more often and use them to create a very satisfying and powerful flurry of attacks that will have enemies bouncing all over the stage. As long as you can keep the combo going without getting touched, you’ll get all the health you traded back over time.
Coupled with new heavy attacks and ultimate Star Attacks, Streets of Rage 4 adds just enough new content to feel like a true sequel, without going overboard redoing everything and creating something unfamiliar for fans that have been waiting a long time.
That said, I would have loved to see the developers go one extra step and add another layer of complexity. Something like unlocking new special attacks that you can swap in and customize your favorite characters with would have definitely put Streets of Rage 4’s gameplay over the top.
Regardless, you’ll need all of these tricks that you do have because even at normal difficulty Streets of Rage 4 can be challenging. New and returning enemies will work together to punish any mistakes you make.
For example, there is a tricky Judo enemy that will counter almost any punch you throw at it. You need to grapple to chip away at his health. This can be hard to do though if you’re surrounded by other enemies that are also trying to get in your face.
As you get to the later stages you’ll have to start contending with the environment as well. You’ll have to deal with issues like getting knocked off buildings, blasted by steam from the background, sliding around a slippery steam room while trying to fight, and avoiding stepping in poison puddles.
When the above challenges get mixed with the right (read: annoying) enemies, there are points where Streets of Rage 4 can feel a bit cheap. There were times where I made one false move and then between the environment and the enemies around me, I was locked into a death combo which took off nearly my entire health bar.
There are no checkpoints during a stage and you’re expected to complete it from start to finish with the health and lives you’re provided with at the start of each stage. So losing a life from something that feels a bit cheap will annoy you at some point.
That said, if the game is too hard, you can increase the amount of lives and Star Attacks that you have in exchange for a reduction in points. This creates a nice balance of allowing people to get through the game, but still giving the edge to players who play as the developers intended when it comes to high scores and grinding for unlocks (more on that later).
The core cast of five characters all are very distinct from each other and feature different play styles with special attacks that complement their combo style.
I took my old pal Blaze for a spin on my first playthrough and she’s once again the balanced member of the crew. She can do a little bit of everything, mixing in ranged specials with average strength, speed and jumping ability.
Next, I tried Cherry Hunter who gave me Skate vibes. She’s extremely quick and hard-hitting. She excels at close combat and her specials are powerful, but she doesn’t want to stay too close for too long as she can’t take a beating as well as the others.
As in the originals, Streets of Rage 4 does a nice job of giving each character their own flavor and integrates them into the story very well. Which in case you weren’t aware already, Streets of Rage is not Red Dead Redemption, so don’t go in expecting a masterpiece of storytelling. But for those that are interested, yes it picks up about a decade after the last game and follows a new crime spree led by the twin children of Mr. X.
Visually, I’m not going to lie, I prefer the old-school look to what is in Streets of Rage 4, but by no means is Streets of Rage 4 ugly. The modern look definitely grew on me over time and I can understand the desire to give the game a fresh coat of paint after 20 years.
It looks far better in motion than it does in still screenshots. I encourage fans to give Streets of Rage 4’s new look a chance before instantly writing it off because it didn’t do exactly what Sonic Mania did and go full modern 16-bit.
Of course we’re going to have to talk about the music. The bar set by the original games is impossibly high not just for Streets of Rage 4, but literally any game ever. The original games feature some of the best and most beloved tracks ever in a video game, full stop.
While trying to match the classics is a tough task, Streets of Rage 4 does have an incredible soundtrack in its own right that features work from various artists including Olivier Derivière, Yuzō Koshiro, Keiji Yamagishi, Yoko Shimomura, Harumi Fujita and Motohiro Kawashima, just to name a few of the people on this star-studded lineup of accomplished composers.
They all work together and put their own unique flavor in this stew of a soundtrack. It all combines well, and is a feast for the ears all throughout.
Streets of Rage 4 has a similar length to the original games where it will take a couple of hours to beat at the most. It’s not very long so the replay value will come trying out the different characters and unlocking the retro features.
The retro characters are very fun to play with. Not only is there a lot of them, each looking exactly how they did decades ago, but they also come with their classic special attacks too.
So yes, if you’re using Streets of Rage 1 Axel, he will call in the retro police car as his Star Attack to light up the area with napalm (or whatever it is), but he didn’t have special attacks back in the first game, so he lacks them in Streets of Rage 4 too, it’s that faithful.
Fortunately, he hits like a truck so it’s OK.
In addition to the characters, you can also unlock other cool retro features such as a CRT filter, soundtrack, etc. but unfortunately they will require a lot of grinding to get them all.
While I don’t expect everything to just be unlocked from the get-go, because that would take away from some of the fun, it is a bummer.
I was looking forward to playing as some of my favorite classic Streets of Rage characters, but I quickly realized that it’s going to take quite a few trips around and around the story mode to get them all. This revelation shined a spotlight on how shallow the game modes are.
There’s Story, Arcade (a hardcore style mode where you get one credit and have to play the whole way through), Battle and Boss Rush.
It’s adequate for a game priced at where Streets of Rage 4 is at launch, but will these modes hold up for hours and hours as you try to unlock all the cool retro stuff? For some it might be worth the grind, others may give up and never see most of it.
Unlike Sonic Mania, a comparable 2D revival that has wide-open levels that you can revisit and explore different paths, outside of changing your character, the levels in Streets of Rage 4 will play out the same way every time.
Hopefully, the developers get another chance to expand on this foundation even further because they certainly earned it. Streets of Rage 4 a great game worthy of being the 4th main entry.
Priced at $24.99 or less, fans of the original have no excuse for not picking it up and reliving some cherished memories with a friend. And even nostalgia aside, it’s one of the most fun beat-em-ups I’ve played in years with a lot going for it.
- Fantastic combat that feels wonderfully retro with a modern touch
- Great soundtrack created by a dream team of talented composers
- Filled to the brim with nostalgic call backs for old-school fans
- Unlocking everything will require lots of grinding of content that gets repetitive
- New combat features could have been a bit more ambitious
April 30, 2020
Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games
PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
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