Streets of Rage 4 nails everything you would hope for out of a sequel to one of the greatest brawler franchises in history. It retains all of the chaotic action of it’s predecessors, while paying tribute and modernizing the unique aesthetics the series was known for. That dedication to honoring the roots of the franchise is a double-edged sword however, highlighting both the good and bad the genre has to offer.
It’s been 26 years since the last release in the Streets of Rage series, which is long enough that it would’ve been a fair assumption to assume the series dead. Yet here we are in 2020, face to face with a sequel that was met with heavy skepticism when it was revealed. Despite all of the side-eyeing and cynicism that I did when I heard about Streets of Rage 4, I’m very happy to report I was wrong.
Streets of Rage 4 follows the grand tradition of “light touch” storytelling, by dropping you into a crime ridden city, with only seconds worth of story to propel you forward. But if you’re coming to Streets of Rage 4 for the rich lore, maybe it’s time to refocus your efforts on something else.
The first thing that jumps out to you is how wonderfully crafted Streets of Rage 4 is. As you might expect for a series that lived on the Sega Genesis, the original series boasted beautiful pixel art that stood out among it’s competition. Streets of Rage 4 retains the visual chops the series was known for, by modernizing it in a pseudo-comic book style that really works. Characters all have thick outlines surrounding them, while the backgrounds are meticulously rendered to give you a sense of place in the world. What I’m trying to say is that the art is really good.
The other half of that presentation that I really enjoy is the new soundtrack. By taking old tracks and remixing them, along with creating new music from scratch, Streets of Rage 4 boasts a synth-heavy, aggressive and driving score that keeps the intensity up in the most face-punchingly conducive way possible.
But while aesthetics are an important aspect of any game, the real question has to be about the gameplay itself. It’s here that I’ve got great news for the people who love brawlers, and less good news for those of you who maybe weren’t wild about their brutal difficulty spikes. Streets of Rage 4 is a game that were it made in the 90’s, would fit in just fine.
In Streets of Rage 4 you’ve got a standard attack that strings into a combo, you’ve got the ability to grab enemies if you walk into them, and you’ve got your bevy of weapons that you can pick up and use before they break. There’s also the inclusion of special moves that are fairly rare to come by in any given level, but when used, can release something of a super move that behaves differently based on what character you are. There is more in terms of combat as well, like back attacks, health draining attacks, and more that you can weave into your arsenal.
The thing that frustrated me when I was a kid and still frustrates me to this day is still present in Streets of Rage 4, and that’s any sort of defensive option. It’s frustrating to me to have to lumber out of the way on the z-axis to dodge certain attacks when some sort of block, dodge or parry would be so much more satisfying. I know that this is inherently counter to the DNA of the series, but every time I get hit by an attack I try to maneuver out of the way of, I’m reminded how nice a defensive option would be.
While I truly believe Streets of Rage 4 would have been better for including some sort of defense, my other criticism is a little flimsier in nature. I think it would’ve been nice if there was some sort of progression or lite RPG mechanics sprinkled over the game. It isn’t a deal breaker by any stretch, but I wouldn’t have minded being able to learn new moves or upgrade some stats. Like I said, I can live without this stuff, but I think it could have been a neat inclusion.
Streets of Rage 4 boasts a few other modes and gameplay options like level modifiers that make your experience a little easier if you need it, online cooperative play, and a few others that I’ve yet to dig into. There’s also a gallery of Streets of Rage art and other extras you can unlock, such as the ability to take the pixelated versions of characters from previous entries, and play as them.
The brawler genre itself may have faded from the forefront of gaming, but Streets of Rage 4 is a fantastic return to form. While some of the rougher edges of the genre have been sanded down and smoothed out, the core of these games is retained and ever present. If the brawler genre is something you love, Streets of Rage 4 is the game for you. If the genre wasn’t your cup of tea, Streets of Rage 4 is a really good game that probably won’t change how you feel about brawlers.