Beat’em ups were the staple of a gaming civilisation we’ve all but forgotten.
New IPs and franchises were lined up to be transformed into a slugfest of princess – baby – girlfriend – fiancee – professor saving back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Inspired by the lust for revenge, whether hell or highwater, The Warriors or Streets of Fury friends got together to dispense vigilante justice, with their fists, against a common foe to restore peace. No holds barred, no weapon too brutal to ban and no floor food too disgusting to consume. All to drop bodies that disappear from gangs with the attendance of nearly a well-funded militia. After 26 years of Sega’s Streets of Rage last entry, a group of fans usher that feeling once again.
Oak City’s major thorns re-emerge from the woodwork in a two-pronged problem.
With ex-cops Axel, Blaze, and Adam, ready to return to the field, they take on old and new tuffs, recruit a few new friends, and go about reclaiming their territory. Everyone is out to deter them. From their usual enemies, to cybernetic monstrosities, a corrupted law enforcement, as well as their very own ex-partners because some sort of betrayal is needed here. A classic “we gotta save our city” story is included in Streets of Rage 4, but it’s never really the focus. It’s about the fists.
Aesthetically, everything in Streets of Rage 4 is hand-drawn or cel-shaded.
Fluid moves could rival what’s out now, gone are the days of pixelation. Each stage is done in the same comic book style as their cutscenes. Such pleasing sights to the eye already proves there is more to the fight this time. The unlockable characters, through Lifetime points accumulated through some playthroughs, from the previous titles, fit in. Sure, they can be spotted a mile away and also sound the same as they were introduced. Even their star specials are retained. The police backup specials? they’re back, too. Having 3 different Axels, on screen, is something pretty much Mugen-esque, but intriguing since their original playstyles remain intact and undisturbed.
Some of the musical score choices were cool enough to be put against the forward-thinking of the original titles and rightfully so. From house to hip-hop and the different variations between it. A bit of New Jack Swing moves to a more West Coast/East Coast “vibe”, SoF4 does it. The hardest thing to judge considering the influences of where the original scores pop up now. From YouTubers to contemporary hip-hop stars leaned on these tracks.
Four attempts to do this in reverse, taking inspiration from itself and what’s around them. It’s the anti-Avro Arrow approach that could be heard as a result of it. Streets of Rage 4 is littered with a few easter eggs and special stages. And the gallery mode also gives players glimpses of how the drawings came to be. I’m a sucker for art books.
The game will try to take you apart in Story mode.
Arcade, Boss Rush, and Battle mode follow it. The balance is well proportioned when multiple enemies crowd the screen. Lives are measured through the difficulties, starting off with certain amounts in the story mode. Arcade is more akin to the tried-and-true beat’em up fashion: earning extra lives. Dr. Zan’s cybernetic arms apprentice, Floyd, takes his place. Guitarist and another newcomer, Cherry, also jumps into the fray with another new martial arts style. While the veterans have their moves pertained, the newcomers are a bit more of their own thing.
Floyd is more the powerhouse, with a few tricks from his predecessor, compared to the rushdown styles of Cherry. Battle usually consists of two or more players going at it with the choice of any character. Bad guys will appear the stages, at times, to attack both players. The game attempts to be a bit deeper with offensive and defensive specials. As usual, doing one of these lowers your health bar, but after inflicting a certain amount of damage, these can be given back. The catch system was also a treat. Throw a weapon or have a weapon thrown at players, they can catch it. Pretty neat trick. There is a 2 player online mode of these and a local 4 player version, too. Something I’ve always praised about beat’em ups with more than 2 characters to sport.
Streets of Rage 4 also has it issues that are probably brought by the modernisation of the series.
I was met with connectivity issues from online play in any mode. The lobby itself has a few UI concerns with presenting information – such as rooms and what’s going on, but getting kicked out of matches was never the business. Twelve stages feels like a lengthy campaign to get rough against, but the continue replacement could alleviate that nuance. How the first player can literally pause the game whenever, was a bit strange. I was also expecting four-man online play, but it seems like this was purposely left out.
Streets of Rage 4, or Bare Knuckle 4, is a true celebration of the beat’em up genre as any dev can muster. With where it’s going, Dotemu did the service many fans would expect with the technology given. With new features, tied in with a twist to the battle, there’s no doubt about what this romp has going for it. SoR4 is a sure win for Sega and those who longed for a beloved series to step out the shadows and take the throwdown to the pavement again.
Review code provided
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation
Release Date: 30/04/2020
No. of Players: 1-4
Category: Fighting, Action, Arcade
Download link: eShop