It’s been a while since I posted something here on Darkstalker90. There are various reasons for that but I won’t bore you with those because that’s not why you’re here, is it? You’re here for some gaming-related content so I’ve skipped over the (frankly embarassing) backlog of semi-completed drafts to talk about a game that has commanded my attention over the last week or so: the mighty Streets of Rage 4.
Go back just a few years, and SoR4 would have been just a fantasy – one of those games that cropped up on many a retro-head’s I-wish-they-would-make-this-but-they-probably-never-will list. The franchise’s future seemed to be confined to re-releases on retro Sega compilations and those iffy plug ‘n play devices. Sega themselves had tried and failed in the 90’s to develop a Streets of Rage 4, and the popularity of the side-scrolling beat ’em up had rapidly waned with the demise of arcade-style gaming.
So it was a pretty earth-shaking shock to say the least when Streets of Rage 4 was first shown in 2018. With Sega acting solely as a licensor this time, it was down to the collaboration of Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush games to do the series justice and deliver on twenty-six years of fan anticipation. No pressure, then…
Happily, I can say that the final product is bloody awesome and that the developers involved have done a great job. Streets of Rage 4 isn’t perfect but it delivers a nostalgic and – more importantly – authentic uppercut to the jaw. I’ve been thoroughly addicted to the game since downloading it and consider it to be a worthy successor to the original trilogy.
First of all, I absolutely love the new art style. It’s bright, tastefully exaggerrated and the bold outlines lend it a real comic-book vibe. In fact, it reminds me of another classic Sega game: Comix Zone (this is a very good thing). It’s obvious that a hell of a lot of work has gone into this.
Secondly, I’m also relieved that publisher didn’t feel the need to cover up the female characters! In truth, this was a phantom fear during the game’s development since there were actually MORE people anticipating some form of SJW outrage than there were actual complaints about Blaze’s impractical boob tube and short skirt combo. Still, you never can be sure these days.
The music is pretty damn awesome too. It’s not quite on the same level as Yuzo Koshiro’s work on the original SoR games but the soundtrack fits well nevertheless. The tracks are all-new but contain small nods to the general sound of the older Streets’ games. One way in which the new soundtrack gains the upper hand, however, is the way in which each stage’s music seamlessly phases from one segment into the next. This is, in my opinion, far better than having the same loop of music on repeat. At first, I didn’t even notice this happening, such was the smoothness of the transitions. The OST’s for the Old Pier and Y Tower stages are probably my favourite examples – check them out.
The gameplay is pretty self-explanatory and immediately familiar to any Streets‘ veteran. The difference this time around is that there is a combo system in place that allows you to juggle enemies and bounce them off walls to keep combos going. I was a little sceptical at first but once I got stuck in, I started to really enjoy experimenting and stringing together massive, crazy combos.
The retro unlockables are absolutely awesome too. By accumulating score and hitting milestones, you gain access to the SoR1, 2 and 3 versions of the characters, faithfully represented by their 16-bit sprites. They retain their individual play styles too; so SoR3 Axel still looks and plays differently to his SoR2 rendition, for example, as was the case back in the day. The only retro characters missing are Victy/Roo and Ash (and I’m not surprised by the latter’s absence at all…) but it’s difficult to be too irked about that when the developers have already offered more old-school fanservice than anybody could have expected. You can even play with a retro soundtrack comprising of tunes from SoR1 and 2!
This is a tremendous game in my opinion, and it more than satisfies me as an old-school Streets of Rage fan. But there is ONE major problem and that’s the existence of the almighty Streets of Rage Remake which obliterates SoR4 in the fanservice department. That game offered practically everything ever from the series – heaps of customisation, the same SoR1-3 versions of all the characters that 4 boasts, loads of fun cheats, and more playable characters such as Mr.X and Electra. I can’t say that Streets of Rage 4 tops Remake BUT it’s important to remember that the latter was an unofficial, unauthorised release that utilised a vast pool of existing assets and wasn’t constrained by deadlines or publisher demands.
I for one am happy that SoR4 went the route of a complete revamp. Those beautiful new visuals and character/enemy sprites are MUCH better, aren’t they? It means that the game can stand on its own two feet as a legitimate sequel in its own right. My only gripe with the game is that you can fight against the new versions of Shiva and Max, but only unlock their old SoR2 and 3 versions respectively. I’ve been reading rumours that the developers fully intended for these characters to be playable but ran out of time. It reeks of future DLC to me.
There are a few enemies that piss me off too: the Garnets with their flying kick attacks, and the bulky biker girls with their charging headbutt. My problem with these bitches is that they can track you, and shift between planes mid-attack – something that YOU can’t do. The suicidal-knifer Galsias and uppercut-happy Donovans are as irritating as ever but at least you can avoid them a lot more easily. Bosses can sometimes be tricky too thanks to invincibility frames and armour. Special mention must go to the Commissioner who has SO much of both, as well as a super-annoying grab attack. Fuck that guy.
Overall, this is a great game that does the Streets of Rage legacy justice. It’s the art style and clear love for the series on the part of the devs that really does it for me though. GRAND UPPER!