by Nathan Rowland
reviewed on PC
It’s gaming Jim, but not as we know it.
Being born in the mid-nineties, I don’t have a great wealth of experience to draw from when it pertains to games franchises that were popularised in arcades and their bulky, beautiful cabinets. This goes doubly so for the genre of side-scrolling beat em’ ups – my limited experience being focused around The Behemoth’s excellent Castle Crashers when it was re-released on Nintendo Switch in late 2019. I was, however, able to visit an arcade-come-bar in Manchester in early January this year, NQ64, which had a whole bevy of ‘old’ machines and consoles to try out. Many were extremely popular that night including the likes of Dance Dance Revolution, Time Crisis 2 and of course Streets of Rage.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to play it then, but with the release of Streets of Rage 4 on PC, I’ve been able to remedy that folly. Two and half decades after its predecessor, the titular Streets of Rage have never looked better, sharper or more distinct in the series’ reboot. Traveling through the variety of boroughs of New York City, fictionalized and enhanced into the lush and dynamic maps players will brawl throughout, new and old players alike can fall right into this entrancing escapade of fists and glory.
Tucked away inside the game’s layered menus are novelties of concept arts during Streets of Rage 4’s development, most artwork noticeably detailing the transition from the original trilogy’s style to this modernized sequel. But that doesn’t stop this game from wearing its nostalgia on its sleeve. Packed into the release are alternative skins and characters as well as musical scores summoned from the ghastly 8-bit days of yore. It’s a pleasant touch, one which recognizes and celebrates the roots of where Streets of Rage’s lineage comes from. And that lineage is super beef guys and gals. I’m talking shredded.
I think the programmers might have implemented a psychic based engine for each individual muscle on show in this game. My point being, everyone is jacked and they’re not afraid to flaunt it. And personally I’m here for it. The bombastic style for characters fits the tonality, something that’s not trying to take itself too seriously but understands that it's a tonne of fun to fight with flashy martial attacks all whilst look hot and stylin’.
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Featuring five main playable characters: Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, Floyd Iraia and father & daughter combo Cherry and Adam Hunter, with a few extra unlockable characters upon completion. Each of whom possess an enjoyable range of unique combat moves, yet not so many as to become confusing. Likely something of a turn-off for those wishing to get truly proficient into a high-skill ceiling combat system, there is however the ranking leader boards which encourages you to achieve the longest, most damaging and free-flowing combos throughout each level to achieve big scores!
This fourth entry carries on the style of previous entries in the series without bucking trends too much – in-game weapons and health items, bosses at the end of each level, etc. New to the gameplay however is the ability to recover health spent using a special attack by performing successive follow-up attacks. Players are also able to juggle opponents against each other and walls for extended combos. This chances up the usual cadence of punch and retreat tactics, offering a more high-risk, high-reward approach.
This simple combat design is a testament to how extremely friendly Streets of Rage 4 is towards entry-level combatants, quite a departure from the coin consuming design from decades past. Streets of Rage tailors its difficulty after failing on a level for the first time, allowing the player to choose extra lives and stars (a resource used to perform a character’s special move) whilst decreasing the ultimate score upon completing the level depending on how much assistance was provided.
My only qualms with the game are when you’re playing through it via multiplayer. Pre-launch there wasn’t really anyone to join lobbies with for the online sessions which support up to two players. However, I was able to rally together my fellow confined housemates to try out couch co-op, which supports up to four players! Ostensibly, a great idea - more friends, more enemies, harder challenges. What it turns out to be however is a very bewildering experience. Streets of Rage 4 doesn’t have a solid enough visual guide to discern between friends and foes, a punishing challenge when friendly fire is enabled! And when it comes to sections of the game when it just wants to throw everyone and their nan into the mix, the screen quickly becomes chaotic. Too often would I perform a strong area-of-effect attack or abilities meant to clear some space only to catch my friends in the crossfire of my critically damaging abilities. While I respect the accuracy and challenge of such a feature, in this instance it felt unfair and unwarranted due to a lack of design fidelity which caused me to lose clarity of the ongoing combat.
New, New York
Streets of Rage 4 has taken a bold step into a new age of gaming and it’s landed well. As a sequel, it carries on the legacy well with a stylish lick of paint to please even the most scrupulous of fans. Its pleasing to know that titles, no matter how old, can be adapted with such care and attention to recreate all of those stirrings it invoked long ago, but for a different audience in a different time. And times most assuredly are different.
Great aesthetic design, beginner friendly, satisfying combat
Unoptimized multiplayer design