Streets of Rage feels like a franchise that could and should have been brought back so many times over the past twenty six years.
Quite how it’s taken this long to get a Streets of Rage 4 is curious and surprising, especially since Streets of Rage 2 is one of the most beloved games of any generation and to this day remains a timeless classic. I guess there’s only so many times Axel and Blaze can go around punching and kicking people before the penalties match the cuts and bruises, but this is among SEGA’s most prominent poster franchises, and fans have been absolutely clamouring for more.
Maybe if a Streets of Rage had hit the Dreamcast all those years ago, that could have been the major system seller it needed and the console’s fortunes might have been different. We’ll never know.
What we do know is that Lizardcube’s mainline sequel coming out this week is everything you could have hoped for from a Streets of Rage 4. In fact, it’s so magnificent it’s – almost- been worth this painfully long wait. Which is a hell of a thing.
These are huge shoes to fill but from the moment you boot up, select your character and throw your first punch, it feels like you’ve never been away, which is possibly the highest compliment you can pay the game.
This is the same side-scrolling smash-em-up you loved on the Mega Drive but given a stunning modern aesthetic that both feels appropriate in 2020 while expertly overlaying the action so that it looks, sounds, and feels authentic and faithful.
Lizardcube have spent a ridiculous amount of time hand drawing these incredibly expressive characters, finding the perfect animations for them to pay homage to each installment of the franchise. I mean, each character has around 1,000 frames, a massive upgrade from the originals. Seriously, take a look at the PS Blog post and see how many looks they went through for Blaze.
The steady introduction of new thugs, with a stream of familiar foes blends well with unexpected obstacles to keep the action fresh. The balance of the game forces you to keep changing your strategies on the fly, while the diverse spread of environments ensures that you’re not just wandering aimlessly around the same streets, punching barrels and phoneboxes.
Admittedly, the story seems a little bland at first. Set ten years after SoR 3, you’re rumored to be fighting Mr X’s insubordinate offspring who have formed the ‘Y Syndicate’ but there’s some fun, comic-book esque cut-scenes in-between levels which make for some entertaining scenes full of fan service and flesh the story out in more detail.
These cut-scenes often lead to you unlocking some of the characters in the game, and Streets of Rage 4 has a whopping seventeen playable characters across the main campaign and the game’s Battle Mode, which will be familiar to series vets. This includes retro-sprite characters from the original trilogy, complete with their old moves, as well as some new faces like Cherry and Floyd.
I think that’s the beauty of what Lizardcube have achieved here. They know how important fan service will be in a game we’ve waited 26 years for, but it’s also crucial that the series is being given an opportunity to grow and evolve, setting it up for the future.
Axel and Blaze don’t feel like they’ve missed a beat, while Cherry has that fast-paced finesse, a guitar holstered to her back ready for fighting, and Floyd can literally pick two people up at once and Hulk-smash them together. The range is superb, and that’s not getting into the other characters you can unlock.
Of course, Streets of Rage plays best when you’re in co-op. It’s great fun ploughing through foes which scale to your ability, countless numbers trying to overwhelm you, but when you’re playing alongside someone else the game really comes alive. You can tell each other which enemy you’re going for, when to take the turkeys laying around on the floor, and decide who gets to collect the money to help build up to another life.
Even the online component works well – though was a bit jittery pre-launch. Matching together is pretty seamless, almost immediately I was dropped into the action and fighting alongside someone from the other side of the world. Try telling Streets of Rage 3 players back in 1994 you’d be able to do that in the next game.
Streets of Rage 4 may not look it to the casual observer but there are layers of tactics here. It’s so important to your survival to learn what each fighter is capable of and which works best for you. Because everyone plays so differently.
But if you’re talking Streets of Rage, you absolutely must mention the soundtrack which is just as important as being able to fight in these games. If you’ve been following its progress at all, you’ve probably heard a lot of it already, but let me just say that in game, playing against the action, fitted into each area, it’s perfect.
Within minutes, the game has catchy beats that will stick in your noggin and you’ll be bopping your head, tapping your knee, and humming along before you even realise what’s happening.
Once again, it’s a collaboration between new and old artists to Streets of Rage, and combined, I think they’ve absolutely nailed it, a perfect mix of gritty, thrilling, tense and exciting. It’s just wonderful.
But all told, Streets of Rage 4 is a monumental effort. It’s easy to fall into, compelling enough to keep you interested, and is a more than worthy sequel to one of the most beloved franchises ever made.
My partner and I had so much fun fighting side by side, recounting our experiences with the older games, reminiscing while creating new memories.
Streets of Rage 4 does what it set out to do – brings the classic gameplay you know and love to modern platforms and presents it in a way that will almost certainly feel timeless in another 26 years time. They did it. It’s everything we hoped it would be and much more.
But let’s not go quite that long for another Streets of Rage, eh?
Streets of Rage 4 releases April 30 on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on PS4
Review Code Supplied by Dot Emu