Streets of Rage 4
Developed By: Dotemu, Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games
Published By: Dotemu
Category: Arcade, Action, Brawler, Multiplayer
Release Date: 04.30.20
The 90’s Console Wars have been over for two decades – I mean, so have the 90’s, so that makes sense – but that doesn’t mean that Nintendo can’t score one more victory over Sega. Case in point, the release of Streets of Rage 4 for the Nintendo Switch. The Streets of Rage series – known as Bare Knuckle in Japan – was previously a Genesis exclusive encompassing three games, the last of which was released in 1994. Yeah; it’s been twenty-six years since the rage of the streets was unleashed. But, as the residents of Wood Oak City are about to find out, just because something goes away doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. For them, that’s not exactly great news, but for players, it’s the most welcome news of all.
Legacy of Rage
Ten years after the defeat of notorious criminal mastermind Mr. X, a new crime syndicate has sprung up in Wood Oak City. It’s headed by the Y Twins, Mr. X’s nefarious offspring (I guess they took their mother’s last name?). With the police seemingly unable (or unwilling?) to combat the new threat, it’s up to a group of vigilantes to take back the streets – the STREETS of RAGE. Can our heroes survive the trek across twelve stages of grueling hand-to-hand (to knife, to baseball bat, to sword, to lead pipe, etc) combat? I mean, obviously, sure, they can – that’s the whole story of the game. Like pretty much every beat-em-up brawler ever, the story is fairly light, but since by the end it pretty much proves that EDM is a force for evil (spoiler alert?), I’m giving the storyline in Streets of Rage 4 a passing grade.
Gameplay of Rage
Streets of Rage 4 plays exactly like one of the series’ classic entries – for better or for worse. The good news is, that means you’ve got smooth, straightforward, satisfying beat-em-up action. You’ve got a basic attack, a special attack that drains your health a little, and some throws to go on the offensive. You can also do a double-forward charge attack and a jump kick – how can you have a beat-em-up without jump kicks? – but that’s kind of it for combos. Some enemies and destructible objects drop weapons you can pick up and use as well, like bats, knives, swords, hammers, and lead pipes. Everything works nicely taken altogether, and the game truly captures the feel and mechanics of the original trilogy, which for diehard fans should be welcome news but for me is more of a mixed-blessing.
The game plays at the same pace as the original trilogy, which moves a little slow compared to the action games I tend to enjoy the most. Long animations for actions like jumping or long windups for attacks often get interrupted by way faster and more agile enemy units, meaning even if your reaction time is good, your character’s often isn’t. If you mistime your attack or jump to dodge, you can end up taking a hit that leads into a ridiculous combo, especially in boss fights. Most of that can be overcome by learning enemy attack patterns and their tells, but sometimes you just get surrounded and strategy doesn’t mean crap. Regardless of these few potholes, however, the otherwise smooth gameplay means I’d drive these streets anytime.
Innovations (Or a Lack Thereof) of Rage
While the formula is tried and true, it’s a little lacking in innovation and at times can feel outdated. Lots of modern takes on the genre have introduced new strategic elements like more complex combos, or a guard or roll action to expand players’ defensive repertoire. If you’re used to those updates, the game can get a little frustrating. It’s like playing Mega Man X and then trying to go back to the base Mega Man series right after; I don’t even know what to do anymore if I can’t wall jump.
The game does introduce super attacks that can be activated by using stars that can be collected throughout each level; they don’t carry over into subsequent levels, so feel free to hoard them up and then spam them on bosses. You do get extra points for unused stars at the end of a level, so you may want to consider holding them as well, but… nah. The attacks are too cool and useful to not use. I also don’t remember being able to catch thrown weapons in the older games, but maybe it’s just been too long since I played them. Enemies can throw weapons, and you can snatch them out of the air and either throw them back or lay the smackdown on some fool. Be careful about throwing things, though, as certain enemies can also catch projectiles. While Streets of Rage 4 could use a couple other new mechanics to feel more modern, the new stuff it does introduce is a definite step in the right direction.
Find a Buddy of Rage
You can play with up to four players locally, or two-player online. I don’t know why there’s the difference in group sizes; I assume it’s a technical issue I have no hope of understanding, but it’s still kind of a bummer to have the stricter limit for online play especially in the (ominous trumpet sounds) age of social distancing. I will say that fellow Switch Effectionado Brett and I played online together for a couple of hours and we had an absolute blast! For whatever updated features I could have hoped for in the base gameplay, a lot of the problems I had fade away when you’re playing with a friend. You’re not outnumbered as badly anymore, so you can divide the enemies between you which pretty much eliminates the need for a block or dodge button and nullifies the speed and agility gaps between players and the enemy units. You can damage your allies if you accidentally hit them, though, so… um… sorry, Brett. I didn’t mean to do MOST of that damage.
Unlock Secrets of Rage
If beating the crap out of hundreds of criminals, police, and criminal police isn’t enough to get your rage out, there are also a ton of cool unlockables to chase. You can unlock every character from the series’ past, meaning you can more than double the initial roster. And not only can you unlock new characters, you can also unlock retro versions of returning characters, meaning you can use 16-bit versions of those characters that have unique move sets that correspond to those previous games. And if THAT wasn’t enough, you can unlock retro soundtracks from the previous games, gallery entries with tons of awesome concept art, and new game modes like an arcade mode and boss rush. That all leads to the game having huge replay value which I always appreciate.
The Art of Rage
Back on the Genesis, Streets of Rage was one of the best-looking and beat-sounding series on the console. That tradition is proudly carried forward with the newest installment. The heroes, enemies, and backgrounds are all gorgeously hand-drawn in a highly detailed, slightly cartoony, but still gritty style that reminds me of one of my favorite comic artists, Joe Madureira. The screaming hot soundtrack accentuates the art style nicely, and includes tracks from the series’ classic composers as well as some big names in contemporary game music. As I mentioned in the previous section, you can also switch the game’s soundtrack over to the retro music whenever you want, with additional tracks unlocked as you progress through the game. While I did find some minor holes in the gameplay formula, there are no weak links in the game’s art direction.
Conclusion of Rage
It’s tough to modernize a retro series without losing the core of what made the games great, and Streets of Rage 4 chooses which elements of the series to update wisely. Sure, the gameplay mechanics are basically unchanged from the series’ last entry released over a quarter-century ago, and while it would be nice to have some new mechanics, it’s not like the formula doesn’t work just fine as it is. And yeah, if you’re playing solo the speed of the playable characters makes the pace of the game feel just a little slow and gives the AI a sometimes-frustrating advantage in numbers. But that issue disappears almost entirely if you’re playing with even one other person, and you can play with up to four friends (if you’re ever allowed to have friends over again, that is, otherwise it’s just you and a buddy). Even if that weren’t true, it’s hard not to forgive a game with such strikingly attractive art and a bangin’ soundtrack. That leaves players with a rock-solid gameplay experience wrapped in very pretty packaging, and it’s hard to argue with that.
Buy Streets of Rage 4
Digital – $24.99
Physical – Starting at $34.99
Follow Guard Crush Games
*A game code was provided for review purposes.