Streets of Rage was at the forefront of the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre during the 16-bit console era. Back then, the series was known for its over-the-top action, stylish aesthetic, and catchy music. Although a few attempts were made over the years to modernize the genre, they were largely in vain as much of what made beat ‘em ups appealing in the first place was missing from such efforts, ultimately leading to the abandonment of the genre. It’s nothing short of a miracle, then, that over 25 years since its last entry, Sega’s retro classic gets a sequel in the form of Streets of Rage 4.
Published by Dotemu and developed by Lizardcube in collaboration with Guard Crush Games, Streets of Rage 4 is a direct sequel that’s set a decade after the events of the third installment. Much like its predecessors, Streets of Rage 4 puts you in a city filled with thugs and criminals running rampant, subverting law and order. Series favorites Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding are back in action, and they’re accompanied by two new combatants, one of whom, Cherry Hunter, is the daughter of another series favorite called Adam Hunter. The other new playable character, Floyd Iraia, is the pupil of Streets of Rage 3’s Dr. Zan. Most of the other characters from previous entries, including classic variants, can be unlocked via in-game cash that you find hidden across the city. There’s plenty of variety here, and you’re bound to resonate with the playstyles of at least a couple of characters from the sizeable roster.
Your objective in each of the game’s twelve stages is simple – to fight your way through every enemy, be it thug or cop, that stands in your way. Each stage ends in a traditional showdown with the area’s boss. The story is told via cutscenes at the end of each stage. They’re presented as a comic book storyboard and feature some nice looking illustrations. The plot itself is largely an excuse to set up the action, and the dialogue is your standard B-grade affair. While it does gel with the retro/80s theme to an extent, it’s a missed opportunity to flesh out the otherwise likable cast of characters.
The action is true to its roots, and the repertoire of moves available to Axel Stone and his friends retains the stylish and over-the-top feel the series is known for. It’s very easy to get into, and the basic attack button is all you need to throw a flurry of punches and kicks at your enemies. Getting up close to your opponents allows you to put them in a grab hold, from where you can hurl them onto each other. Meanwhile, the jump button lets you unleash a flying kick towards your enemies. The right trigger, or pressing the rear directional input along with the attack button, performs a quick rear attack. It’s a great new addition to your arsenal, as it helps in dealing with crowded situations, where you often find yourself surrounded by enemies.
Additional directional input performs a more powerful character-specific move, such as Axel’s grand uppercut, which is great as a combo finisher. Lastly, a total of three special attacks are also at your disposal, depending on whether you’re stationary, moving, or jumping. They consume a portion of your health bar upon use, though the lost health can be recovered as long as your chain of attacks isn’t interrupted by an enemy.
The combo and juggle system has received some added complexity in Streets of Rage 4. This is easier to appreciate when playing in coop, where you’ll be able to collectively juggle enemies for a longer duration and also setup juggles for your teammates and vice versa. That said, the system also works well when playing solo, as there are ample opportunities to use the environment to your advantage. Punching and kicking away enemies at walls and objects causes them to bounce back towards you, allowing you to extend your juggle. Melee weapons, such as steel pipes, knives, and clubs, can be hurled at enemies and caught as they bounce off of them.
The single glaring omission is the lack of a sprint mechanic across all characters. The constant walk can get a little tedious and also hampers mobility during combat. It also would’ve been nice to see a progression system for each character, with the ability to unlock new skills and specials. Regardless, the combat system still comes together as enjoyable, and it truly shines when played in co-op. The story mode is fairly short, and can be completed in 3 hours or so on the normal difficulty setting. This isn’t a deal-breaker in an arcade game, and the combat is engaging enough to warrant replays to chase a higher score and get a better rank, to unlock new characters, or to simply play on higher difficulties.
Further adding to the replay value is a decent serving of additional modes, arguably the most important of which is the online mode. Unfortunately, it’s limited to 2 players, unlike local coop, which can be played with up to 3 other players. This comes off as a major disappointment, as the online mode is where a large portion of the user base will team up for coop. Other modes include Arcade, Boss Rush, and Battle, the latter of which lets you play versus against other players, both local and online. It’s a fun diversion that works pretty well in local 2 vs 2 scenarios, though the 2-player online limitation hurts the experience here as well. Additional extras include a gallery where you can go through character info and check out various artworks that you unlock during your playthroughs.
The series excelled in the audiovisual department back in the 16-bit era, and it’s great to see the tradition continue decades later in Streets of Rage 4. Each stage boasts unique locales enriched with atmosphere, accompanied by catchy music that. If you don’t fancy the comic book aesthetic and modern beats, it’s also possible to switch over to a retro aesthetic and fan-favorite audio tracks from the earlier games.
All in all, despite missing a few key features, Streets of Rage 4 marks a triumphant return of a classic. It does for Streets of Rage what Sonic Mania did for its respective series.