It’s been 26 years since the Streets of Rage series last entertained us with its energetic beats and violent fisticuffs. That’s forever in the video game world.
The fact that Streets of Rage 4 even exists, then, is perhaps a miracle in itself. But what’s more impressive is that even with all those accumulated years of nostalgia and expectation, it doesn’t disappoint. There are one or two things here that might irk series fans, but on the whole, we couldn’t have asked for a better return for Axel and co.
Taking place ten years after the events of Streets of Rage 3, Mr. X is no longer a threat. Trouble is once again brewing, however; there’s unrest on the city streets. And so Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding once again leap into action to deal some vigilante justice. But they’re not alone. Cherry Hunter, a young woman who’s seemingly inseparable from her guitar, and Floyd Iraia, a cybernetically-enhanced muscleman also join the fight.
“Even with all those accumulated years of nostalgia and expectation, Streets of Rage 4 doesn’t disappoint”
An adventure spanning 12 chapters, Streets of Rage 4 ‘s story mode presents the action in a way that series fans might not expect. The time limit for completing each stage is gone, for example, and lives aren’t carried over from one stage to the next. Instead, you begin with a set number of lives at the beginning of each stage depending on the difficulty selected. If you die, there are no continues; you simply have to retry. An additional life or two can be obtained in each stage however, by meeting high score thresholds; and if you really get stuck, assists are available to ease your passage at the expense of some of your score.
Once you’ve completed Streets of Rage 4‘s story mode, which is likely to take you two to three hours, an arcade mode becomes available, which should satiate fans of the old format. Boss Rush and Stage Select modes are unlocked, too. And online leaderboards are sure to make score chasers happy. All in all, along with Battle mode, which is also available from the outset, there are many ways to enjoy Streets of Rage 4. And enjoy it you will, because the action is brilliant.
“The action is familiar from the outset, in a good way”
It feels like Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games and Dotemu have used Streets of Rage 2 as the base for Streets of Rage 4. It’s got the same meaningful pace; Axel and Blaze pretty much have the same movesets; and the visuals are what you’d expect if you asked someone to turn the game’s pixelated sprites and environments into high definition art. It’s just beautiful. Considering that Streets of Rage 2 is seen by many to be the best game in the series, it’s a good choice.
The action is familiar from the outset, in a good way. You’re still moving from left to right, hammering bad guys while picking up food to maintain your health, cash and other valuables to increase your score, and weapons to lay even more pain to your enemies. Anyone that has played the older games will feel right at home with the range of attacks available, too, including defensive and offensive specials, and limited-use wide-area ultimate attacks.
“Streets of Rage 4 wants you to be imaginative, think outside the box, and use your abilities to cause as much damage to enemies as possible”
Where Streets of Rage 4 differentiates itself from its predecessors, however, is in its focus on combos. Streets of Rage 4 wants you to be imaginative, think outside the box, and use your abilities to cause as much damage to enemies as possible. To enable that, attacks have been made to beautifully flow from one to another, and enemies can now be juggled in the air. It transforms the combat, giving it more depth than ever before, and also making it feel much faster-paced. Starting a standard combo, linking it to an offensive super and then activating an ultimate attack quickly becomes the norm, especially for bosses. But you can be much more inventive. All you need to do is put in time.
Each of the four starting characters in Streets of Rage 4 plays differently, so you’ll definitely want to give them all a try. Cherry, for example, is the only character that can run, while Floyd is so big that he can’t jump very well. You’ll need to master each of their special abilities and unusual quirks to get the best out of them, and when you do it’s very rewarding. There are more characters to unlock, too, including an updated Adam Hunter, and the entire character roster of Streets of Rage 1-3 in their original retro form.
“Streets of Rage 4‘s soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal”
Playing with retro characters in Streets of Rage 4 feels little weird initially, but they’ve been wonderfully retrofitted into the action. The original Streets of Rage trio have very basic movesets but hit harder and move faster to compensate, while characters from Streets of Rage 2 onwards fit in perfectly. It’ll take a while to unlock every character available, but their inclusion means that your fun with Streets of Rage 4 can be near infinite.
Along with the retro characters, Streets of Rage 4 can be played with music from Streets of Rage 1 and 2 blaring out instead of the new soundtrack. You shouldn’t though, at least not for your first playthrough, anyway. Streets of Rage 4‘s soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal, with the tracks by Olivier Deriviere standing out the most. Turn on the retro soundtrack and unfortunately you’ll find that tracks are assigned to stages in a haphazard manner. You’ll play through the entirely of the second stage with boss music playing out, for example, and then reach the stage’s boss to be met with a slower-paced stage number. It would have been much better if you could assign classic tracks to stages yourself.
“Take nostalgia out of the equation, and Streets of Rage 4 is the best entry in the series yet”
There are some other minor issues with Streets of Rage 4 as well, all generally to do with balance. There are some enemies that are a pain to deal with, for example, especially when you find your movement options limited. In some rooms, there are simply too many enemies thrown at you at once, too, with weapons no less. Playing alone, Streets of Rage 4 can occasionally feel frustrating, and maybe even a little cheap. Get a friend or three along for the ride, however, and you’ll find things going swimmingly. Just be careful if you have friendly damage turned on, or you’ll be heading to battle mode after the game’s finished to settle some grudges.
A sequel, but also a celebration of the series so far, Streets of Rage 4 doesn’t disappoint. That’s amazing considering the many years of anticipation and excitement leading up to it. Fans couldn’t have asked for more in a new entry in the beloved series. And even better, Streets of Rage 4 proves that there’s still life in it. It’s a tour de force of sumptuous art, mesmerising music, and trance-inducing action. Take nostalgia out of the equation, and Streets of Rage 4 is the best entry in the series yet.