Streets of Rage 4 Review: 90s Beat ’em up makes Successful Transition into Modern Gaming
Minor spoilers for a handful of levels during this Streets of Rage 4 Review
Some retro games struggle to make their transition into modern gaming. There are problems moving from 2D to 3D, racing to keep up with technological advances or when seeing the genre you once loved be replaced by something new. Beloved franchises from the early 90s, like Sonic the Hedgehog, struggled when first entering the 3D environment. In 1996 Sonic 3D Blast released to near critical disdain, with Gamespot giving Blast a 4/10. Even in the last decade modern Sonic games fell flat compared to their cherished Sega Megadrive counterparts. It’s only when Sega returned to their 2D safeground with Sonic Mania in 2017, that it felt like Sonic was truly back.
Other retro games, like Super Mario Bros. had greater success. The first 3D Mario game, Super Mario 64 in 1996, remained true to the original concept, while adding new and interesting mechanics to it’s platforming formula. Even to this day, 64 is considered one of the best platformers of all time. Fast forward 20 years and Super Mario Odyssey continued this trend. Mario succeeded where Sonic failed, as Mario still felt like Mario.
For Streets of Rage 4, the first Streets of Rage game since 1994, the transition into modern gaming is a monumental success. Rather than completely overhaul the original concept like Mario, it follows a safer Sonic Mania-esque route. By keeping in line with the original trilogy, Streets of Rage 4 feels like Streets of Rage through and through. The end result is a game from the 90’s, cleverly disguised in the modern era by a thick coating of 2020 paint. If you’re up for some side scrolling retro action, you’ve come to exactly the right place.
Streets of Rage 4 Review
- Publisher: Dotemu
- Developer: Dotemu, Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games
- Available: Xbox One/Playstation 4/Nintendo Switch/PC
- Played On: Xbox One
Streets of Rage 4 begins by metaphorically hurling you back to 1994. The title screen displays a retro “Press Any Button”, you have 3 save slots and the character selection screen wouldn’t feel out of place in an old school arcade. The developers even tip their hats to this period by including 90s soundbytes for certain in-game actions. (I really appreciated the ‘blooping’ sound when I picked up health). Still not on board? How about a phenomenal high tempo 90s soundtrack to get you pumped up? If you don’t like acid house before Streets of Rage 4, you most certainly will by the end…
Being slapped around the face by 90s nostalgia (in the best possible way) continues with gameplay. Like in older entries, gameplay consists of working your way through 2D spaces and fighting past groups of enemies, either alone or with four friends. Once a section is complete you scurry onwards as “GO” flashes on screen, getting closer and closer to the final boss. It’s safe to say if you’ve played Streets of Rage before, you’ll feel right at home here.
Retro Combat in a Modern World
The combat in Streets of Rage 4 is essentially the same as 16 years ago. There’s one button to attack, one for a special move and two for a powerful super ability. Overall, there are noticeable improvements to how combat feels. Every time you connect an attack it feels impactful with perfectly tuned feedback and crunchy sound effects to boot. Admittedly, combat boils down to button mashing, but the inclusion of special moves adds variety. Special moves are powerful attacks that temporarily drain health. Not only does this create an addictive risk-reward mechanic, but it adds significant depth to every encounter. Simply activating back to back special moves will end your playthrough pretty quickly.
Variety is also found across all five playable characters. Each handle differently and of course, have unique move-sets. Floyd is a slow moving cyborg whereas Adam is an expert in mixed martial arts. Adam was my favourite as he moves slightly faster than the other characters. His attacks were also entertaining to watch as one unleashes a green dragon and another a bone crushing suplex. I thoroughly enjoyed using each character and learning how to use their moves to keep my combos going. In fact, when combined with weapons which can be thrown, bounced off enemies and caught in mid air, the combos create a surprising amount of room for player expression. All these details, be it linking moves, combo juggling or the well thought out characters are exactly what makes fighting games so alluring.
However, my biggest gripe with Streets of Rage 4 is the movement. It’s extremely sluggish as the game chases that ‘retro-feel’. I understand this is what the developers are aiming for, but in 2020 it feels seriously outdated. When you move your character, they chug forwards like a slow moving steam train trying to build momentum. You also need to be within mere pixels of an enemy to connect an attack making it especially frustrating when closing ground. Some characters, like my boy Adam, can dash, but to activate dash requires a double press in one direction like you’re using an old arcade joystick. Unfortunately, it all feels clunky by today’s standards.
If the developers design enemies with this in mind, excessively slow movement isn’t an issue. If you’re slow, then enemies should be slow too, right? Yep, but that’s not the case here. I didn’t count, but I’d say that over 50% of enemies have lunging attacks or rapid movements. Most times they launch themselves at you from across the map, knocking you over. There are ways around this, like using a defensive special move to make you briefly invincible, but to do so your risking health anyway. It’s also difficult to time as multiple enemies will lunge at you back to back. (It is absolutely nuts on higher difficulties as everybody lunges on screen like they’re warming up for the London Marathon). I’m sure these frustrating mechanics could have been updated without jeopardising the retro-feel.
The 12 Stages of Streets of Rage
There are 12 stages (roughly 10 minutes each) in Streets of Rage 4, with each showcasing outstanding creativity. Similar to Luigi’s Mansion 3, initial environments are grounded and proceedingly become crazier and crazier. Starting on the streets you’ll venture underground, to an art gallery after dark, battle on top of a speeding train and even a Medieval Castle. Seeing a new stage for the first time was always intriguing due to this premise alone. I also loved the interactive details scattered throughout, like a wrecking ball you can swing into enemies. (And yourself if you’re not careful). They are all stunning in appearance too, with rich contrasting colours everywhere. For example, within the Castle, light shone through a stained glass window illuminating the floor below with multi-coloured diamonds. I was genuinely in awe at this moment, and likewise when battling through most environments in the game.
At the end of a stage is a difficult boss fight. Most are unique, both visually and mechanically, although a couple return for a second go. But however much I enjoyed each boss fight, the clunky controls started to rear their ugly head again. It’s slightly annoying as bosses with huge health bars are like lunging enemies on steroids. And in true retro-style, death means restarting the entire stage from the beginning.
“Playing with a Streets of Rage 1 character was perfectly nostalgic as their pixelated animations played out on screen”
When you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat it is unbelievably rewarding. (Like each was a mini-boss in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice). The rewards continue with a score and rank which adds to a total on your profile. At certain score thresholds you’ll unlock characters from the original trilogy, meaning there’s always something to work towards. Playing with a Streets of Rage 1 character was perfectly nostalgic as their pixelated animations played out on screen. All of these unlocks are also earnt in-game with no microtransactions in sight. Ahh, I miss old school gaming sometimes.
I don’t usually discuss the pricing of games in my reviews, but it deserves a special mention here. Currently the game is around £20, which is incredible value considering the amount of content. Not only is there replayability using different characters and difficulties, but there are multiple modes too. A boss rush, an arcade mode that ends when you run out of lives and even a traditional fighting game mode. The competitive pricing highlights a publisher and developer who are both aware of the game’s value. They’ve put the gamer first here and I want to personally commend them for that.
Streets of Rage 4 Review – Final Thoughts
Streets of Rage 4 is outstanding if you’re a fan of the original trilogy, but potentially frustrating if you’re not. During the many times I brawled against 2D enemies, I thought of happy memories playing the original trilogy growing up. And due to small improvements that make combat feel great, the entire experience is incredibly satisfying to playthrough. Combine this with a system that is simple to learn and hard to master, and there’s a lot of replayability across all 12 stages.
But at times, the sluggish movement and frustrating enemy design began to grate. I’d go from admiring the beautifully realised environments while bopping along to some 90s beats, only to be knocked over by a lunging enemy seconds later. This was more frustrating on higher difficulties due to the sheer amount of enemies on screen at once. But was the game’s shortcomings enough to ruin my experience? No, not in the slightest. I had a blast with Streets of Rage 4 and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an amazing retro experience.
Streets of Rage 4 makes a successful transition into modern gaming, almost as if it never disappeared in the first place. At its very core this feels like Streets of Rage through and through, and the next worthy entry in a once legendary franchise. I’m glad Streets of Rage is back and here’s to it’s bright future and Streets of Rage 5. If you’re looking to play Streets of Rage 5, it’s estimated for release in early 2036, featuring a retro 2020s soundtrack. Pre-order now to avoid disappointment.