What They Say:
Publisher Dotemu (Wonder Boy, Windjammers 1/2) and developers Lizardcube (Wonder Boy) and Guard Crush Games (Streets of Fury EX) today revealed Streets of Rage 4, an all-new continuation of SEGA’s iconic arcade brawler series known for its radical fights, jammin’ ‘90s beats and dashing sparring gloves and bandanas.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Sit with me, children, and I’ll take you back to that magical time known as the Nineties. It was a time when we wore zebra-striped pants, learned the magic of pizza on a bagel, and jammed to a new sound called “grunge.” Truly, it was a moment to be alive, and if you were a proud Sega owner, odds are you played Streets of Rage.
Known as Bare Knuckle in Japan (which is a pretty great title, by the way), Streets of Rage was a non-stop action game with edm-influenced music that was considered by many to be one of, if not the best, beat ‘em ups around.
The story behind the games is pretty simple, you play one of a group of ex-police vigilantes trying to save your crime-ridden city from an evil syndicate run by Mr. X. You punch, kick, and hip toss your way through stages, fighting grunts, mid-level bosses, and level bosses until you beat Mr. X into submission. What made the games so much fun were the character designs, control scheme, and the edm music composed by Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima. The series has been on hiatus since 1994, but it’s back now, and boy howdy is it great.
With Mr. X is gone, his children Mr. and Ms. Y have taken on the family business and intend to bring the city to its knees. The cops are either corrupt, deluded, or useless, and the only people who can protect the city are a ragtag group of vigilantes armed with only their fists and their will to survive. They have to fight police, street thugs, cyborgs, ninjas, and a whole slew of other bad guys as they make their way to the top to stop the Ys insidious plan.
The game has four dedicated buttons, one to attack, one to grab things, one to jump, and one to activate a special move. Be careful using that last one, though, as it saps your HP and you either have to earn it back by beating up punks, or you lose it forever. There’s also a super move you can do by pressing the triangle and square buttons, which is good to have in a pinch. The controls are fluid and intuitive, and it doesn’t take long for you to get to business without having to think of what you’re doing. And that’s good, because this game is just old-school enough not to care about your feelings. It’s not Dark Souls level of screw you, but it’s definitely up there.
I played through the story first on normal mode with Axel, and there were many levels that I had to play through multiple times before I found the right patterns or just got lucky. The game does offer assists if you die, such as an extra life, extra star for your super move, etc., but choosing one means that the points you earn are cut by up to one-half, and it affects your rank, which is tallied at the end of each level (I’m a solid C fighter, if you’re interested). I’m not sure how much I cared about the points being cut, but it did wound my pride a little bit, like the game was saying, “Aw! Poor baby! Do you need a hand?” and then laughing at me about it. And if that’s not old school video gaming, I don’t know what is.
I’m proud to say that I only used it once, and I beat the final level without any assists, so I feel like I regained some pride doing that. I haven’t tried the game on hard mode yet, but I’m a little worried. After I beat normal, I fired up a new game on easy, this time playing as Blaze, and the difference between easy and normal is startling. On normal, you get two lives and one star. On easy, you get six lives and a star. The actual difficulty doesn’t seem that much different in the enemy AI, but it’s hard to tell. This difference in difficulty makes me wonder if hard mode is just a boxing glove on a spring popping out of the PS4 and hitting me repeatedly in the balls. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
The level of depth in the story is about what you’d expect from this sort of game—which is not a dig, by the way—and the gameplay is really fun and simple, but where the game really excels is in the art and the music.
Streets of Rage 4 is a beautiful game. The visuals are hand drawn, and are created by the same team who made Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap remake. This hand-drawn quality adds a depth, fluidity, and character to the game that you just don’t get in many modern games. The style is charming and engaging, and really stands out among the sea of games out there now.
And the music! The Streets of Rage series has always been known for its music, and I’m pleased to say that 4 lives up to that reputation. It’s got a great beat and you can punch to it. I’m one of those people who will sometimes put on a podcast or something on the computer when I play a game, because the soundtrack or the noises can be too monotonous. I never did that with 4. In fact, I just paused a second ago to see if there was an album, and there is! Come next paycheck, I’m buying that sucker. That’s how good the soundtrack is.
I had an absolute blast playing this game, and I look forward to playing through it with all the different characters and finding all the unlockable content. While there’s a strong nostalgia factor with this game, it never coasts on it. This is just a damn well-made game with a lot of obvious care and attention in its creation. The hand-drawn graphics are wonderful, the controls are fluid and intuitive, and the music is amazing. It’s old school in its sensibilities enough to really give you a challenge, but also kind enough to give a crutch to old fogies like me who aren’t thirteen anymore. If you’re a fan of the series, then this is a must. If you’re new to the series, but love a good, old-fashioned beat ‘em up, this is also a must.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Dr. J has some punks whose attitudes need adjusting, manually.
Developer: Guard Crush Games
Age Rating: N/A
Release Date: April 30th, 2020
Platform: (reviewed) PS4