Streets of Rage 4 is, in many ways, a love letter to the classic side-scrolling beat’em’up franchise, asking you to return to these absolutely furious avenues one more time. It’s the purest kind of arcade fun there is – lo-fi animation, impossibly proportioned women capable of eating an entire cooked chicken in a single bite, and police getting their way by simply beating the everloving fudge out of anything brave enough to stand up.
The most striking thing about Streets of Rage 4 are the visuals. They’ve been upgraded just enough to look distinctive and sharp whilst maintaining the feel of the series so far. Levels pulse with colour in time to a remarkable soundtrack, giving the simple gameplay loop an intoxicating sense of rhythm.
This isn’t a SEGA game – Streets of Rage 4 was developed by five people across three different companies, who have certainly left their mark with some exceptionally fluid animation and individual flair. It’s like someone’s restored an old house, replacing spark plug sockets and leaky piping whilst leaving the original architecture untouched. It feels as though somebody made a game from the ’90s with today’s technology and resources, which is probably exactly what they set out to do.
Streets of Rage 4’s gameplay is authentic, largely untouched from the original mechanics. You’ll batter neverending processions of thugs with fists, fireballs and weapons from the environment. It can be unforgiving – downright frustrating if you’re playing solo, especially when those asshole riot police show up with their regenerating energy shields.
Streets of Rage 4 feels ostensibly like a co-op game, it doesn’t seem to balance or scale in any way based on how many players you have (or maybe I’m just really, really bad at it). Regardless of dubious skill levels, it’s great fun with a friend, especially if that friend has a serious nostalgia itch to scratch.
On the subject of nostalgia, it’s hard to say if someone without those rose-tinted glasses would enjoy this very specific throwback. I don’t have tons of experience with the franchise but do hail from the era in which it reigned, so it’s still reminiscent of the games I’d play back then.
The brilliant visual style and pitch-perfect soundtrack are huge selling points, though – it’s rare to play a game where those two elements come together with the fighting itself to create such a lively experience. Is it as accessible as most games these days? No. Is it worth putting some time in to master the mechanics? Absolutely. The animation is precise enough that enemy moves are signposted with just enough time to get out of the way, so once you learn their tells, you stand more of a chance.
It’s a glorious convergence of light and sound, and there are difficulty options available if you find the difficulty unappealing either way. There are still some eccentricities, weapons don’t feel quite as satisfying as they should (enemies attack with knives by walking into you with them) and star moves – your character’s ultimate ability – feel pretty underwhelming for the fanfare they get.
They should be guaranteed ways to turn the tide and clear a room in a clutch situation, but it rarely plays out that way. The first time I used Axel’s, it killed two guys I’d already punched and the other two just got up and kept fighting. Building up massive combos with the special attacks is really satisfying – using your special moves costs health, which you can then regain by striking enemies once your current combo is over.
It enables you to plough through crowds with an exciting level of risk, especially as a single hit will cost you both the combo and a decent chunk of health.
Streets of Rage 4 overall thoughts
This is a game made by people who love Streets of Rage. It’s not a shameless cash-in, or a pointless sequel. It is relentlessly true to the original series, and should more than satisfy even the staunchest purist. The story is thinly spread plastic cheese, but it does the job – it gets you from one punched face to the next.
What it sets out to do is deliver a faithful continuation of a classic franchise, and it does that in a fantastic way that should set an example for others looking to do the same – sometimes, bigger isn’t always better. Streets of Rage 4 looks fantastic. It sounds amazing. The gameplay itself might feel a little clunky compared to how slick everything else feels, but it stays true to its roots throughout.
If you’re a fan of Streets of Rage, if you’re a fan of incredible animation and awesome soundtracks, play this. If you’re hungry for some nostalgia apples, play Streets of Rage 4. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand.