Streets of Rage 4 (Video Game Review)

It has been a week, and I’ve received immense satisfaction from playing Streets of Rage 4. Growing up, my initial video gaming console was the Sega Genesis. Sonic the Hedgehog (specifically Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles) received their share of devoted playtime, but Streets of Rage 2 was where it was at for me. I know TMNT: Turtles in Time and River City Ransom have their share of fans, and who can forget the hundreds of quarters spent on The Simpsons and X-Men arcade console games, but SOR2 was the defining beat ‘em up game for me, as it perfected a formula. Now, over 25 years later, Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games have done what they needed to develop a game that keeps what worked intact while modernizing Streets of Rage for today.

Conceptually, Streets of Rage 4 remains a very straightforward experience. There’s an initial set of characters (a couple of ex-cops, and a couple of wild cards) all skilled at fighting. Evil crime lords have a diabolical plot, and it’s up to the players to side-scroll and beat their way through hundreds of battle-ready henchman and boss characters up the big final boss.

The details for this entry establish that it has been 10 years since the events Streets of Rage 3 (a decent game). A new crime syndicate is being led by the children of the now deceased Mr. X. These would be the twins, Mr. and Ms. Y (naturally). They plan to brainwash the city using hypnotic music. It will be up to Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, Cherry Hunter, Floyd Iraia, and Adam Hunter (in his first appearance since the original game) to stop them.

There is not much to the story, but that has never been a highlight of the series. That in mind, SOR4 takes an old school approach to this aspect of gaming. Cut scenes are presented as colorful comic panels, with brief captions, if any, to detail progression in the plot. This isn’t even a game with vocal performances, outside of tiny bursts of dialogue, and lots of fight noises and grunts. So, if you’re expecting my praise of Streets of Rage to equal the depths of Red Dead Redemption II in terms of its narrative and characters, that’s not the game to look for here.

The core of the game is just how well it delves into the realm of side-scroller beat ‘em ups. Part of what helped the old Genesis game stand out was the surprising depth of its mechanics. Beyond just punching and kicking, you could chain moves together to deliver maximum damage and rarely get bored thanks to the different fighting styles, depending on the chosen character. This may not be a one-on-one fighting experience like Street Fighter (though one multiplayer mode delivers this), but SOR4 continues what was established by upgrading the combo capabilities (which now includes juggling opponents against walls, as well as other players), and even adding a move counter encouraging players to explore ways to maximize the number of hits they can get out of various level sections.

As far as the fighting action goes, there is a ton of variety that comes from the different characters offered up to the players, and a deep bench of moves, with ways to link them all together. Additionally, beyond the standard attacks, a few button combinations can unleash even more fury, and the chance to discover the move-set of each character is a joy. And, of course, there are the special abilities that can be used in exchange for a bit of health, which can be earned back by beating up more opponents without taking damage yourself.

Furthermore, each level allows the player to start with a power star that, when used, triggers another powerful special move, best saved for large groups of enemies, or the boss of that level. These can come in handy in a pinch, along with the scattered weapons found either on the ground, in a barrel (or whatever), or in the hands of an enemy. There’s also a fun bonus touch where players can now catch weapons in mid-air. It’s a good thing the violence is somewhat rendered playful, thanks to the colorful cel-shaded animation style, as you can deliver a good beating on people using bats, pipes, knives, fire flasks, grenades, and more.

Speaking of visuals, the wonderful graphics were fully hand-drawn animated by The Dragon’s Trap (the studio behind Wonder Boy), and they add a very specific look and feel to the series that keeps it feeling in line with its predecessors. That said, if feeling nostalgic, there are both unlockable characters and a few hidden levels that can bring players back the 16-bit days (my favorite thing about this is playing as characters from the original Streets of Rage, and using a power star, which means calling on a random police car to pull up and launch an airstrike).

The game starts the player out with four selectable characters (and Adam Hunter midway through). Axel and Blaze are the returning characters, and they are balanced, thought out characters who have an average set of stats to keep them from being too powered-up in any one area. It doesn’t make them bad, both have great move sets and animations, but there’s a lot of new fun to be had with Cherry and Floyd.

Cherry is the fastest of the group and carries a guitar around, allowing her to be quick and light with attacks, but packing power as well, given the right combination of moves. Floyd is a tank. He has cybernetic arms and uses them to destroy enemies easily. While every character can grab and throw enemies, Floyd can pick them up like fruit from a tree and walk around the level, before smashing them into something. Given the nature of the game, there’s plenty of opportunities to replay levels and mix up which character to play as to master each one.

To go with all the awesome that is playing as these different characters, and moving through the twelve different levels, I must mention the soundtrack. SOR2 was a game loved enough for Mondo to put out a vinyl release of its techno/house-influenced music. For SOR4, the soundtrack was primarily composed by Olivier Deriviere, with additional compositions from Yuzo Koshiro, Motohiro Kawashima, Yoko Shimomura, Keiji Yamagishi, Harumi Fujita, Das Mörtal, and Groundislava. Each boss has their own theme, while much of the music does what it can to feel like a modern variation on the sounds of the past. That in mind, a quick switch in the options menu, during gameplay, and players can hear the tracks from the original games as well.

In terms of play modes, SOR4 supports up to four players locally, or two for online co-op. There’s the standard Story Mode, as well as an Arcade mode, both featuring multiple difficulty options. There’s also a Battle Mode and Boss Rush, designed to give players that one-on-one opportunity, as well as challenge their endurance by facing off against a series of bosses, with only one life. Rounding out the package are some concept art menus, but as far as playability, it comes down to how addicting the player feels this game is. Replaying levels to improve high scores is in mind for a certain set of players, which is rewarded with unlockable bonus characters from the previous games.

On the whole, outside of adding the three original games as bonuses as well (and they can be found easily in various SEGA collections), Streets of Rage 4 provides a complete package for those looking for a classic beat ‘em up with more depth than they may expect. It’s not exactly busting any doors down with its ambition, but as both a tribute to the 90s level of beat ‘em up games and as a solid modern reinvention of that era, this is a game that does plenty to satisfy. It’s great picking back up where things left off, which includes punching my way through the streets and grabbing a random chicken from under a barrel along the way. It doesn’t hurt to get all this street pummeling down while jamming to some thumping beats. So yeah, no rage here, just a lot of joy coming out of this return of Streets of Rage.

Streets of Rage 4 is available on Steam and other PC services, as well as all consoles.
Learn more about the game, and where you can purchase the soundtrack and a physical edition at its official website.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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