Streets of Rage 4 is available on PC via Steam, Switch, Playstation 4 and Xbox One, and it released on April 30th, 2019 for a retail price of $24.99. There are multiple different special editions of the game available as well, ranging from $34.99 to $149.99. It is developed by DotEmu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games. The game takes up 10 GB of space on PC, and varying amounts of space on other platforms.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Beat 'Em Up games were among some of the most popular games on the market. Games like Double Dragon, Battletoads and Final Fight would be found in the collections of just about every gamer, but if you had a Sega Genesis in the early '90s, chances are that you were playing Streets of Rage.
Except for me, oddly enough. I did have a Sega Genesis, but I never got into Streets of Rage, personally. I think I played one or two of them a couple times at a friend's house, but that was pretty much it. It wasn't that the series didn't appeal to me at all - on the contrary, I was quite fond of Beat 'Em Up games. I just never bothered to get into the series. Therefore, I have no particular nostalgia for the Streets of Rage franchise.
So when DotEmu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games announced that they were producing Streets of Rage 4, the first new game in the series in over 25 years...I wasn't particularly excited. I figured that fans of the series would probably be ecstatic to hear that a new game was coming out after so long, but to me, it was just another game.
But the more I saw about the game leading up to its release date, the more interested I became. I do love a good Beat 'Em Up, and this one actually looked to be pretty good. So, how does the game stack up for someone who has never seriously played a Streets of Rage game before? Read on to find out!
The first thing that you see upon starting the game's story mode is a brief story cutscene, outlining the game's plot for you. I don't know anything about the plot of the previous games, but from what I can infer from the intro of Streets of Rage 4, the villain of the previous games was a guy named Mr. X, and in this game, his children - known as Mr. Y and Ms. Y, have taken over his position as the big bads. As with many retro games, and retro-inspired games, it's pretty much just an excuse plot, just to give you something to push you forwards through each stage. There's a few minor twists along the way, but the plot doesn't really do anything especially surprising or notable. But you're not playing the game for the plot, right? You're playing it so that you can kick some faces in! So let's talk a little more about that.
Streets of Rage 4 is a Beat 'Em Up game, and like most other Beat 'Em Ups, the core gameplay flow is very simple. Enemies will come from either side of the screen, you punch and kick them until they die, and then the screen will scroll forwards, letting you progress further in the stage. However, Streets of Rage 4 doesn't stay stuck in the past - it innovates and adds a ton of interesting little mechanics to shake things up quite a bit. Granted, for all I know, these things could have actually been present in previous Streets of Rage titles, but I feel like many of these mechanics are not something that would have been used in a Beat 'Em Up back in the early '90s. There is actually a surprising amount of depth to Streets of Rage 4's gameplay, which helps keep it from feeling monotonous, as many Beat 'Em Ups sometimes are.
Each of the four characters you start with has a unique fighting style (and there are several unlockable characters as well), and even though they all have the same type of actions that they can take, each one has their own quirks to how they should be played. Though I played as each of the starting characters in at least one stage of the story mode (and also played one of the unlockable ones), I found myself frequently returning to Blaze as her quick, aggressive playstyle jived the most with me. On the other hand, there's also Axel, who is fairly balanced all around, Cherry, who is very quick and jumpy (and who I honestly didn't find very fun to play), and Floyd, who is the big heavy strong guy with the best grapples of the team. There are other characters, of course, but I wouldn't want to spoil them for you if you don't already know about them.
Beyond each character themselves, as I stated before, there are a number of interesting mechanics that you can take advantage of. The first is that you can make a quick attack directly behind you with the push of a button, which not only hits enemies behind you obviously, but it's more specifically about getting unwanted enemies off of you, as each one tends to knock enemies backwards instead of being used as a combo tool. You also have special moves that sap your HP, but the HP lost through using your specials can be replenished by performing normal attacks on enemies. There's a super move as well, and that can be used by finding these star items littered throughout the stages.
But what really gets me are the number of technical things that you can do, the sort of things that definitely seem inspired by fighting games rather than your typical Beat 'Em Ups. You can tech your landings, in order to get up quickly after being thrown. You can perform pseudo tick throws on enemies that block attacks, by jabbing and approaching them (throws are automatic when you move close enough to an enemy). You can even cancel your normal attacks into pretty much any other action, and of course, this leads to lots of enemy juggling.
You also have various weapons at your disposal - most of which are stolen off of enemies, and others that can be found littered about the ground, but I found that in most cases, it was more effective to just use your bare hands against enemies. Weapons tend to break too quickly to rely on, and most of the time, the best weapons are only available in areas where you don't really need them. There's even a few really cool weapons, like a boomerang and a naginata, that only seem to appear in one area each, and would probably have been really useful and fun if you could pick them up more frequently.
I was also quite surprised with many of the enemies in Streets of Rage 4. Sure, you have your weak grunt enemies that pose very little threat to you, but there's a ton of specialty enemies in the game that can definitely give you a run for your money. The enemies even seem to have pretty clever AI to boot - one particular instance that stuck with me was that there are these enemies that throw what appear to be molotov cocktails at you. If you dodge their explosive projectile, it will still spread fire along the ground... and if you're foolish enough to walk within their range without attacking them, they will actually shove you into the fire. There are various stage hazards as well, and enemies are smart enough to try and knock you into these objects that harm you. Or at least, it seems like they did it intentionally, though it's certainly possible that this was just something that happened to me by chance.
Most of the bosses offered a nice challenge too - not too difficult, but just enough that I had to take my fights seriously if I wanted to win. Granted, I didn't play on the hardest difficulty, which I imagine is significantly harder than what I played through, but I definitely enjoyed myself and felt like the game was offering me an appropriate level of difficulty, without feeling cheap, but also not feel too easy.
Perhaps the game would have been even better if I had someone to play it with, but sadly, due to this being played pre-release (and thus the online mode seemingly not working) and me not having anyone locally to play with, I had to run through the entire game solo. I'm not sure how much it differs compared to when you're playing with multiple people, though I imagine that there's at least more, or stronger enemies, but I enjoyed the game all the same, even though I played it alone.
There are a few extra modes available as well, such as a boss rush mode, and what appears to be a fighting game styled vs mode where you can compete against another player. Sadly, as I describe above, I had no one to play this mode with me, and it doesn't appear to support AI opponents, so unfortunately I can't offer too much insight on that particular mode.
All in all, Streets of Rage 4 is probably one of the best Beat 'Em Ups in years. It offers incredibly deep gameplay mechanics (for the genre) and moderately challenging stages, without feeling unfair nor too easy.
Now let's talk about a few other things, like the graphics and music. Graphically, the game is gorgeous. I'm a sucker for bright, cel-shaded, cartoony graphics and this game definitely delivers in that regard. I wouldn't say it's the best looking game of it's kind, but it definitely has a lot of style and personality, and I for one think it looks fantastic.
The music however is... alright, I suppose. It's definitely not bad, but I never felt like I was really jamming as I played, and historically, Beat 'Em Ups tend to have really good soundtracks, so I felt kind of disappointed in the music of Streets of Rage 4. Another thing that kind of bugged me was the lack of voice acting in the cutscenes. There aren't really that many cutscenes, nor are there very many lines within them, so I feel like not providing a voiceover for the story is kind of disappointing. I mean, the characters already do have voices during gameplay, so why not during the story? The game has a great presentation overall though, and I feel like this was one of the very few serious missteps with the game.
Final Verdict: Recommended
As I said earlier in the review, I don't have any particular nostalgia for this series, so I can't say whether or not long time fans will enjoy this game. But I think regardless of that, this game is a real gem. I think that anyone who enjoys Beat 'Em Ups will find something to love in Streets of Rage 4, and I really do think that it's one of the best of it's kind in several years. The gameplay feels really solid, the mechanics are surprisingly deep, and the enemy variety keeps the game from ever feeling stale. Definitely check it out - you won't be disappointed!