Streets of Rage returns in tremendous fashion with Streets of Rage 4. The wizards at LizardCube, Guard Crush, and Dotemu have made something special here. The series has been dormant for over 20 years, and the first sequel in that time does not disappoint – in fact, it bridges the gap of time with such satisfaction. With a striking hand-drawn art style and liquid animations, Streets of Rage 4 is everything you want out of this arcade brawler series, and more.
The story mode is what introduces you to the setting, characters, and combat to follow. Which, for better or worse locks out other modes until its completion. At the outset, you are limited to the story mode or the returning battle mode from Streets of Rage 2 and Streets of Rage 3. We return to Wood Oak City (a translation of the city that was only named in the Japanese version known as Bare Knuckle III). In the ashes of the X Syndicate helmed by Dr. X, rises his children, the Y Twins who form the Y Syndicate. From here you set out on twelve different stages to calm the streets of rage using a bearded Axel, Blaze, or newcomers Cherry and Floyd.
There are five difficulties to the game: easy, normal, hard, hardest, and mania. It took me about four hours to complete the story mode with my first character on the normal difficulty. If any difficulty is too tough for you, there are assists built-in to the game to provide accessibility so you enjoy the game. By default, there are no assists. Should you die, you have the option to turn on an assist only for that stage, such as: add one life but your score gets divided by two, add two lives and one star but score is divided by four, or add three lives and two stars but score is divided by ten. There’s certainly penalties for choosing assists, but this is done in fairness of the leaderboards, and is a solid way to get through a particular level that’s keeping you from progressing without boning your entire campaign.
Streets of Rage 4 nails the combat. The jump kicks, the punches, and movement feels right for not only the series but brawlers in general. There’s a wide assortment of weapons like nightsticks, baseball bats, shurikens, and glass bottles that’ll be at your disposal, depending on the level. You can throw enemies into other enemies or down into holes for quick dispatching. Over time you’ll accrue special attacks noted on your life bar as stars (⭐). Executing these will unleash massive damage and prevent you from being attacked or taking damage. It’s an easy to understand and execute system that when you learn the timings, can get through a level untouched.
You’ll earn letter scores for your actions at the end. And since there are leaderboards associated with every difficulty and stage, you have to do well. Which means you’ll have to perform combos of nearly uninterrupted action, not lose lives, and retain your specials to get a good rating all in good time. At the end of a stage, in addition to your score you’ll notice a progress bar with each stage you complete. There’s even some pips that seem they will unlock items. What awaits you is to be discovered by you, but the fact there’s progress rewards is pretty surprising but very welcome.
After you complete story mode, you’ll unlock other modes like Arcade and Boss Rush. Arcade mode is one credit and game must be completed in one go. Boss Rush is all about beating bosses one after another to completion. Now, locking away other modes until the story is complete isn’t that big a deal, but it is a gate that blocks you from other modes of the game (which admittedly is the same game, but without the story and a specific focus). I don’t think it’s unfair to say that there’s a hefty grind with regards to unlocking characters. If you ever want to see the retro versions of the characters, you’ll have to complete story mode multiple times, with different characters, and on higher difficulties. This feels worse than a chore, it’s like a punishment. There’s a lot of reward here, but the effort to get there kept me from trying.
Everyone has their favorites. My favorite stage was Skytrain, a constantly moving train of hazards and great encounters. Now, I wouldn’t say I have favorite enemies, but there’s certainly ones I won’t soon forget. And each enemy has a name, like Margaret. Maragrets throw grenades and hop away without a second thought. And don’t get me started on Francis’, they are too kick happy and are a constant hassle. While many characters repeat, they will have a different name and maybe feature an elemental or style difference that’s roughly the same. I did like how in a few levels, bosses would come back in a gauntlet style fight. It’s maybe not inventive, but Streets of Rage 4 constantly tests you on what you’ve been taught prior.
Streets of Rage 4 even lets you change the food items that appear for you. By default, the game gives apples for small food items and turkeys for large food items. You can change them to be vegetarian-friendly with some leafy greens, or go with pizza and burgers as your food items. It’s the little things like this that make for a huge difference that I can’t help but appreciate.
To say this game is gorgeous is an understatement. Everything is hand-drawn, and features a lot of updates and visual filters. There’s normal which gives you the artwork with no frills, a bloom filter, a retro filter (pixels), and retro CRT (pixels with scanlines and tube effect). With either of the retro filters, they extend into the cutscenes as well. And it’s just an awesome thing that if for some reason you don’t like the hand-drawn art, you can go with what you remember instead. The soundtrack compliments the stages and the action so well. There’s also a toggle for a retro soundtrack This game is an audio-visual treat.
Streets of Rage 4 is the surprise of the year. The grinding towards unlocking additional and retro character is a lowlight, the rest of the game is a highlight. The story is in-tune with prior games in the series, the artwork doesn’t deviate from what you’d imagine this series looking like in 2020, and it’s responsive and laser focused. Streets of Rage 4 keeps the history of the series in the rear view, yet moving forward by adding exciting and quality improvements to the series.
A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes