Streets Of Rage 4 preview: the classic goes cartoonish

Streets Of Rage has a new look, but the gameplay retains that retro charm...

At the Gamescom 2019 conference, Den Of Geek popped over to the Dotemu booth to see what the French developers had been cooking up with Streets Of Rage 4 in collaboration with Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games. The booth had been decked out like an 80s bedroom, complete with Predator and Return Of The Jedi Posters.

Of course, this game follows in the footsteps of Sega’s original trilogy of Streets Of Rage titles, which launched on the Sega Mega Drive back in the 90s. After a brief introduction, we sat down on a stripy sofa to check out the Streets Of Rage 4 demo, with a member of the promo team taking on the role of our co-op ally.

As you will have already seen if you’ve watched the trailers, this new instalment gives the Streets Of Range franchise a new lick of paint. Rather than trying to recreate the visual style of the Mega Drive games, the new developers have opted for a more cartoonish approach with lots of OTT character models and primary-coloured detailing. Feeling a bit sceptical about how good this refresh would be, we tried to keep an open mind as the demo loaded up.

The Streets Of Rage 4 demo starts by giving you a choice of three characters – returning heroes Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding are both available, alongside a newcomer called Cherry Hunter – before chucking you into Stage 6 of the game. The characters look just as muscly and trying-to-be-cool as ever, and there’s no doubting that Cherry fits the world just fine – if you told us she was a deep-cut character from one of the original games, we’d probably believe you.

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We made our choices and jumped in the game, and quickly our fears were allayed: although the visuals have been given a makeover, the control scheme remains exactly the same and the traversal mechanics haven’t changed a bit. The game still basically wants you to walk from left to right, as well as moving up and down the screen, bashing any enemies that dare to cross your path. You can still pick up crowbars and other items found lying around to give your attacks a bit more of a wallop, which remains a very satisfying thing to do.

Also, although the graphics do have a cartoonish feel, the world doesn’t feel kiddy or over-simplistic. It actually seems grimy and lived-in, with dirty motorbikes lying around and ordinary citizens popping up in the background, simply getting on with their lives. There are traffic cones, pigeons, air-conditioning units – these aren’t just levels that have been chucked together without a sense of attention to detail.

Working our way through the level, as more and more criminals showed up looking for trouble, it was easy to fall into the old habits of walking around casually, dishing out attacks and building cool combos. Smashing inanimate objects can reveal food items that top up your health bar, and using powerful special attacks will eat a bit of your health. Thanks to a new mechanic, though, following up your special moves with successive attacks will also give your health bar a bit of a boost.

Some of the special attacks are particularly satisfying. Cherry, for example, carries a guitar on her back that she uses in multiple ways: one attack sees her holding the guitar by its next and bashing people with the other end; another move sees her playing a powerful chord that sends her foes flying. Both attacks are fun to deploy, and they add to the feeling that Cherry is a sound addition to the franchise.

The level moves from the gritty streets to the luscious interior of a dojo (complete with eye-catching wallpaper), as well as nipping into a kitchen where you can pick up a cleaver knife. There are unique items in each area, and the demo builds to a nicely satisfying boss battle. The whole thing was only brief, around 10 minutes, but it left us with confidence that Streets Of Rage is in safe hands. It’s a mix of retro charm and new ideas, and we look forward to playing more.

The Streets Of Rage 4 release date is yet to be confirmed, but we do know the game is destined for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and Windows PC.

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