Violence Is Golden
HIGH Blaze Fielding, of course.
LOW Seriously, why do so many enemies have super armor?
WTF There’s something suspicious being shipped off to Paris…
Like everyone else of refined taste, I absolutely loved the Streets of Rage series back in the Megadrive / Genesis era. With the possible exception of Final Fight, it’s widely regarded as the best the side-scrolling beat-’em-up genre has to offer. That said, the genre hasn’t exactly been flourishing as of late, and the SoR series has been dormant for some time… but that changes now.
The story is, naturally, little more than an excuse for our heroes to go out and shank dudes. Ten years after the events of SoR3, Wood Oak City devolved into a hotbed of violence after twin children of the previous criminal mastermind showed up and took over. So, we get to beat up his evil kids as well! What a family.
There’s a good mix of characters available from the outset. Series favorites Blaze Fielding and Axel Stone are accompanied by newcomers Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia, the speedy, guitar wielding daughter of Adam Hunter and the hulking, robo-armed protégé of Dr. Zan respectively. In a neat twist, players will also unlock pixelated faves by amassing a lifetime high score — it’s a cool idea and leads to building a fairly extensive roster of picks with varied strengths and weaknesses.
What’s more, completing the game unlocks a huge array of modes ranging from one-credit runs and a Boss Rush option to a PvP battle arena and one very welcome level select.
Two players can join up online, or up to four players in local co-op. However, most of my random online sessions were failures. Playing with strangers was always a hellish lag fest, and with no way to filter connections or even tell which country players were from, the experience was usually a poor one.
As an entry intended to revive such an iconic series, Streets of Rage 4 gets a lot right — it looks fabulous, for one thing. I don’t care how many purists claim it should have been another retro pixel-style offering, just looking at how the characters move and attack should be enough to convince anyone that the devs made the right choice. Hits are satisfyingly crunchy and enemies react well to getting smacked in the face. Environments generally look great and are fairly well-varied, stretching from run-down slums to corporate penthouses, and even the top of a speeding train at night.
Likewise, in a franchise that’s famous for its musical composition, the soundtrack is totally up to snuff, featuring a star-studded cast of contributors including Yuzo Koshiro himself. A few tracks aren’t on par with the rest, but many are damn-near perfect and match the onscreen action beautifully. Anyone not that keen on the new compositions can select the retro soundtrack and listen to tunes from the original games as they splinter some dude’s skull.
An aspect where Streets of Rage 4 differentiates itself from its past (beyond the visuals) is by orienting things more towards being aggressive. There’s a combo counter that starts every time a thug gets kicked in the balls, and it breaks after a short period of inactivity, or if one of our heroes gets clocked.
There’s a lot of scope for freeform combos here — enemies can be punched while they’re in the air, rebounded off walls, and bounced off the ground if they aren’t flat out on the floor. It can look awesome, especially when multiple players are blasting goons back and forth. The special moves are fast and flashy, and while they cost player health to use, beating up punks without getting hit will refund lost energy.
Unfortunately, the same effort put into attacking hasn’t been put into the defensive and movement capabilities of the team. Most characters can’t run, leading to silly moments of lumbering slowly after enemies keeping their distance, and there’s no form of universal dodge or parry to snap out of an attack and avoid an incoming blow. Even a defensive special won’t activate if players are in the middle of a combat animation — something that absolutely feels like a design error given the emphasis on aggressive play to keep combo counters rising.
As a result, It feels like only half of SoR4‘s combat was considered during development — the offense of each character is excellent, but the defensive options are generally dire. The noticeable lack of balance between the two is made worse by what I consider SoR4‘s greatest mistake — many enemies have ‘super armor’ imbued attacks and use them constantly.
For those not familiar with the term, this means that punching foes while they’re flashing white won’t stagger or interrupt them out of their attacks. This allows them to get in cheap, unearned damage and even special attacks won’t break them out of these moves. This means evasion is the only real option, and like I said, evasive options aren’t offered in abundance here.
Despite the super armor mechanic, there’s still an absolute ton to love about Streets of Rage 4. The enhanced combo engine is a neat addition that can lead to some seriously insane beatdowns, four player local co-op’s great, and the sleek graphical style, fantastic music and bonus retro characters are all excellent accompaniments to an undeniably strong entry in the 2D beat-’em-up genre. It’s a truly wonderful return to form for a beloved gaming franchise that’s been absent for far too long.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Lizardcube and Guard Crush and published by DotEmu. It is currently available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 2 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Cartoon Violence, Mild Language and Mild Suggestive Themes. It also features a very suspicious background object in the art gallery area. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is an action-fighting game in which players choose one of four vigilantes to battle against a crime syndicate. As players traverse side-scrolling environments (e.g., streets, jails, police stations), they use punches, kicks, and throws to defeat waves of human enemies (e.g., gangsters, criminals, police officers) in melee-style combat. Players also use knives, swords, pipes, and tasers to inflict more damage against enemies. Combat is frenetic and accompanied by impact sounds and cries of pain; some sequences involve more protracted one-on-one combat. A handful of female characters wear low cut tops and are depicted with jiggling breasts. The words “p*ss off” appear in the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I can’t recall any moments where the audio is a necessary part of the gameplay experience. It should be entirely possible to enjoy the game without aural accompaniment, so I’m calling this one fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls – in fact, on PC this is done incredibly well. There’s configurable controls for both keyboard and controller, and the button prompts can be changed to reflect whichever controller is in use. Selecting the Switch version will even align the confirm / cancel buttons to reflect those found on Nintendo’s console.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.