Arriving when the comfort of nostalgia is perhaps needed most, Streets of Rage 4 is an absolute celebration of ’90s beat ‘em ups that stands toe-to-toe with its beloved predecessors. This surprise sequel is certainly worthy of one of the absolute gems of the Sega Genesis era.
It’s been more than 25 years since the release of Streets of Rage 3, but this fourth entry will feel familiar to anyone who’s played the previous games in the franchise. Axel, Adam, and Blaze are all here, plus more than a dozen other unlockable characters. Two newcomers — Cherry Hunter, the guitar-wielding daughter of Adam, and the cybernetically modified Floyd Iraia — are welcome additions to the cast that fit in perfectly with the series’ other gritty and colorful personalities.
Developers Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games largely take a hands-off approach to the gameplay. In other words, don’t fix what isn’t broken. Gameplay is largely what you’d expect from a Streets of Rage game — there’s a jump button, attack button, special move, and back attack to fight off enemies from behind.
As is tradition, there are plenty of weapons to pick up throughout each level, from bats and pipes to swords and grenades. In fact, weapons seem even more plentiful than in previous games. It’s all quite familiar but never feels tired.
The biggest tweak to the gameplay (and while welcome, it admittedly doesn’t make a huge difference) is that, while special moves still drain a small amount of health, you now have the chance to gain it back with repeated hits to enemies. It’s a nice way to keep the action moving.
As for the story, it’s standard Streets of Rage fare, though now it’s told through beautifully rendered comic book panels and text. With Mr. X defeated a decade prior, Streets of Rage 4 is about his children, who are of course named Mr. Y and Ms. Y. As expected, the heroes need to stop these siblings of evil from taking over the city.
While the new manga-inspired art style might be a little jarring to those who grew up playing with the sprites of the original games, it looks absolutely gorgeous in motion and stays true to the source material. Similarly, the level design will feel largely familiar, though there are a few new wrinkles like railroad signals that must be dodged while fighting atop a train. And while most of the levels focus on the eponymous streets of Wood Oak City, you can expect a few welcome trips to more diverse locales as well.
The music is also a perfect mix of the old and new. I was a bit iffy on the menu music and the first stage’s theme when I started playing, but I was really digging the soundtrack by the end of the game’s 12 stages. So many of the songs here nail the fast-paced vibe of the beat ‘em ups of yesteryear, but the music never devolves into the chiptune soundtracks that have almost become cliché in revivals like this.
Streets of Rage 4 isn’t a wild new take on the franchise, nor is it a rehash. Like the best remakes of older games, or nostalgic sequels to long-dormant franchises, the game looks and plays how you remember while eliminating the things that haven’t aged well.
That’s not to say that Streets of Rage 4 is perfect. The beat ‘em up genre has always had a few constant issues that are still present here. For one thing, it’s short. A battle mode, multiple characters and difficulties, and an arcade mode that requires beating the game on a single credit offer some replay value, but ultimately you’re replaying the same two-hour story mode over and over
Local and online multiplayer are obviously a draw here, but sadly, online is restricted to only two players at a time, which seems like an odd restriction since four people can play locally, and plenty of other beat ‘em ups have included online multiplayer in recent years.
Then there are the enemies. Some of them, like the cops with shields, feel hopelessly cheap. A couple of bosses are ridiculously evasive. But overall, Streets of Rage 4 is far more fun than frustrating.
It’s been far too long since Axel, Adam, and Blaze starred in their own game, but as usual, they’ve arrived right on time to save the city as well as gamers looking for an enjoyable throwback title.