For those keeping count, the last Streets of Rage game released back in 1994. That’s 26 years ago! It’s fair to say that the world has changed a lot since then, but Streets of Rage 4 aims to jump into the modern generation with the same impact it once had. Is it still as fun in 2020 as it was in the ’90s? As an avid fan of the originals through Sega’s many remasters, I can confidently say that Streets of Rage 4 is the best beat ’em up I’ve ever played, and a fantastic revival of the series.
One of the most striking things about Streets of Rage 4 is its art style. Rather than trying to recreate the original’s style for the new generation, we now have some really incredible animations and backgrounds. Everything looks awesome and choosing to go this route instead of making it “retro” is a big piece of making it feel like a true sequel and part of this generation.
It’s not just the art that’s fantastically done though, as all elements of the presentation are done to an extremely high caliber. The music is fantastic, sound effects are just as crunchy as before and the game just has a general style to it that’s really easy to get behind. For the ’90s purists, there are even some retro options for you to play around with, and they don’t feel like a minimum effort deal either. Being able to play as the original characters and listen to the old music is sure to be a big draw to fans of the series. Although this lets the game have a bunch of unlockable classics, I’d be lying if I didn’t wish some of them were in the game’s main roster.
Although it’s obviously not the main focus, Streets of Rage 4 does have a story that takes place ten years after the last game. You’ll get little cutscenes outside of missions, but besides looking great it’s not interesting to the point of being a plus or negative. The new characters are great additions to the roster though. Speaking of the roster, each character feels genuinely unique to play and playing through the campaign as each of them is great fun. Cherry is particularly fun to play thanks to her increased movement capabilities.
If you’ve played a Streets of Rage game, you’ll have a general idea of what to expect from the gameplay. You walk to the right of the screen and pummel absolutely everything that moves. You’ll have to watch out for weapons that you can catch in mid-air, environmental hazards, and the occasional bottomless hole, but the general gameplay loop is the same as it’s ever been, only now it’s been a long time since it’s been quite so good.
However, Streets of Rage 4 does plenty of things to set itself apart from the originals. You can now pick up stars that allow for a devastating special move, and they can genuinely turn the tide of battle when things get a little tough. Juggling is also a big part of the gameplay now, and it is oh-so-satisfying to keep a group of enemies in the air and see the combo meter go up. It’s hard to imagine the game without them, which should say how well they fit in with the Streets of Rage gameplay.
It’s hard to overstate just how good Streets of Rage 4 feels to play. Every attack crunches with weight, weapons have a sharp sting to them, and keeping enemies in the air for as long as possible is incredibly satisfying. There are the occasional moments of old-school annoyance like enemies that seem to only want to punch you out of bounds, but that’s definitely a purposeful move and doesn’t ruin the fun in any way. After all, you can always punch them right out a window too!
One of my favorite features is the retooled special moves. In the old games, you had a mildly more powerful move that would take away your health when used. Simply put, they weren’t worth it, and as a kid, I never really understood why I kept losing health whenever I tried them out. Now, not only do you have multiple special moves but they also only temporarily take away health that can be earned back from attacking enemies afterward. It’s a great risk-reward system and makes them feel genuinely essential.
The original Streets of Rage games were no cake-walk and that’s thankfully transferred over to the latest title. I played through on Normal and found it to be a really satisfying challenge, with a great difficulty curve. In this title though, you’ve also got some assists in case you need them, such as extra lives and stars. They’ll only affect your score, and they’re a great tool for getting newcomers used to how the game plays.
One of the only issues with Streets of Rage 4 is its length. It took me about two hours to complete the game’s 12 stages and that was on normal difficulty. This is eased a bit by the multiple game modes you unlock after and the game’s inherent replay value. The return of couch co-op and the introduction of online multiplayer also ensures that you’ll have plenty to play after the main scenario, so a short campaign isn’t so much of a bad thing.
You wouldn’t think that after so many years of rumors and waiting that Streets of Rage 4 would not only actually come out, but far exceed anything in the genre, but here we are. This is an absolute must-play for both fans and newcomers alike.
Streets of Rage 4 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on a PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.