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Streets of Rage 4 Review: The Legendary Franchise Is Back (PS4)

Despite have a hefty 26 year gap between Streets of Rage 3 and Streets of Rage 4, the franchise has thankfully not missed a step. It's a familiar, safe, cocktail of furious on-screen fighting, blood-pumping dance beats and enchanting visuals.

Axel and Blaze Fighting

Who’d have thought that in 2020, we’d be getting a new Streets of Rage game? With one of the longest gaps between two releases, the franchise has made a triumphant return to TVs. Only, those TVs are now constructed with the sort of state-of-the-art technology that would’ve been greeted with derision in the 90’s. However that dream is now a reality. DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games have put their big brains together to modernize an arcade classic. So does it hold up? Let’s find out with our Streets of Rage 4 Review.

Streets of Rage 4 is available on Playstation, Xbox, Switch, and Steam.

Story – Not Much To Rage About

Streets of Rage 4 Review

Axel In The Story

This section is certainly going to be bit more brief than the others as Streets of Rage isn’t particularly defined by its abilities to tell tales. The previous three entries have centered around the prevention of evil villain Mr.X (no relation to Resident Evil’s Mr.X) and his nefarious schemes. Set years after the events of Streets of Rage 3, a grizzled Axel, and his team, are now tasked with stopping Mr and Mrs Y. The series’ hero, Axel Stone, is reunited with Blaze Fielding and Adam Hunter. They are joined by newcomers Cherry Hunter (Adam’s daughter) and Lloyd Iraia. They all have slight differences in their stats ranging from strength to speed – so choose wisely.

The Y family are trying to take over the city using mind-controlling music, which is influencing the weak minds of the city’s most recognized evil-doers.This sets about the return of previous characters, and bosses, as their brainwashed heads believe they must stop our retired cops from intervening with the Y family’s plans.

That’s it really. The narrative is illustrated through comic book-style storyboards that appear during chapters. They don’t overstay their welcome as the developers understand what their game is about. Fighting. The story is a cut-and-dried affair about good vs evil and there’s not enough of one to really critique. 

Gameplay – Puts Up A Great Fight

Blaze fighting

Blaze fighting

Plenty Of Meat On The Bone

Now we get into the nitty, gritty, meat of the meal!

Firstly, the game offers a lot of content – although it may not appear that way initially. The Story Mode consists of 12 chapters that slowly escalate in terms of difficulty. Each chapter can be completed in roughly 5-15 minutes and could give you a grand playtime of about 2-4 hours. Furthermore, the game can be played with up to 4-players locally. Naturally the length of your road will vary depending on what difficulty level you play on and how often you die. I would’ve liked another two or three extra stages if I’m being totally honest, as I just feel there was so much creativity here that a bit more gameplay wouldn’t have gone amiss. In particular, a level set in a prison that I enjoyed quite a lot! But it’s still a solid, fun set of levels nonetheless.

For a frame of reference, I completed the game on Hard difficulty on my first time around – there are 5 difficulties in total – and it was sufficiently difficult. If you do inevitably die, then there are new “game over” options. These options mean you can replay the chapter as normal, replay it with an extra life (at the cost of your score), replay it with two extra lives and so on. So there is some leeway if you just want to finish the game and you’re not bothered about score.

There is a chapter select so that you can go back and try to better your performances, although if you want to do a level on a higher difficulty you’ll have to have already finished it on that difficulty first. Story Mode aside, there’s Arcade Mode, which is nostalgia-driven, and it will certainly test your patience and concentration. ONE credit. NO saves. It’s one or done. Only the true sadists or hunters of trophies and achievements will revel in the devilish brutality; or maybe I’m still a bit too wrinkle-free to appreciate the arcade era.

Streets of Rage 4 Review Gameplay

Fighting on the dance floor.

Additionally, there’s a Boss Rush Mode that is quite literally a conveyor belt of the game’s bosses, being churned out one after another. Again, your life is precious here and the bosses do take some considerable work to put down. Finally, there’s a PVP, Battle Mode that will see gamers use the in-game characters to fight against each other. If you’re sick of embarrassing your best friend, whilst he cries next to you, then there’s always Online Mode for you to pick a fight worldwide.

Across your multiple playthroughs of the game you’ll earn lots of points that will contribute to your lifetime score. Completing levels with better grades and with different characters will earn you more points. Reaching certain milestones will unlock retro costumes and extras for the game, and there’s also an online leaderboard for you to see how your efforts rank. These are incentives to prolong the game’s longevity and it should take a while to unlock everything. 

Fight For Your Life

Streets of Rage 4 Review Gameplay

Fighter special.

The pause menu will show you all the controls that you can use and every action you can perform is available from the get-go. It’s not about flashy upgrades in Streets of Rage 4, it’s about the player being able to learn the subtle nuances that can lead to big combos to maximize your damage output.

You have a basic action button for physical attacks, a backhand attack – that is useful for enemies sneaking up behind you, a rush attack, jumping attacks, super-powerful star moves, and special attacks. The special attacks, in particular, are both my great savior and my eternal nemesis that I want damned for all eternity – still love you though. If you use a special attack, then it will take health away from you. But not permanently. Akin to the system used in Bloodborne; if you are then able to inflict standard damage to enemies after using one of these special attacks, then the health that you sacrificed will be gifted back to you. 

It encourages an aggressive ethos to help the player achieve spectacular combos and look like a god in doing so. However, I succumbed to the temptation of special attack abuse many times, resulting in a run going from A-one perfection to a damp squib with one careless mistake. It’s a fantastic mechanic. I hate it. But I love it.

Streets of Rage 4 Review

Axel, Blaze and Adam

Alluding to the combos I mentioned earlier, combos have seen a big change for Streets of Rage 4 as they’re now more noticeable. From the moment your character’s chiseled fist ripples the face of an anarchistic street thug, you begin a combo meter. So as long as you keep racking up continuous attacks that are successful; your hit tally will rise, the adjective used to describe the combo will get flashier (as do the colors), and the bigger your combo score will be.

Now, whereas in Devil May Cry you’d try and be super-stylish to earn a spectacular level score and that’s it – Streets of Rage 4 will ALSO reward you with extra lives. Traditionally you start each level with one extra life, and you have the opportunity to earn additional lives by earning enough points. You can speed this process up further by finding money strewn about the environment. It’s good because it encourages you to explore, smash open every destructible object, and ensure your survival.

Another way to do so is to pick-up a whole cooked chicken, off the floor, and eat it mid-battle. That’s why I love video games. That sentence is absolutely ridiculous, and then you do it in a game and you don’t give it a seconds thought, but I digress. Health pick-ups are well spaced out and there’s also a plethora of dangerous, environmental implements to use in your favor. Some of these items consist of: pipes, blades, bottles, tasers, and…a golden chicken (always with the chicken). They have a finite amount of uses, but they can really turn the tide when there’s multiple enemies on-screen.

Streets of Rage 4 Review

Fighting handstands

Contrary to some of what I’ve said, my overriding disappointment with the gameplay is the fact that the gameplay never gets any deeper. I said it’s available right from the start, and that’s the problem. Back in 1994, when Streets of Rage 3 came out, this was more acceptable. Games were far more limited, due to insufficient space on cartridges, and games were meant to be harder for increased rental revenue.

However we are now well into the new century and games have come a LONG way since then. Unwilling to exhaust myself, as there are so many examples, but games have become deeper, more complex, and we’ve become attuned to progressing whilst we play. Yes, some games follow a similar model of having the whole armory dumped at your feet; but this is a game that did need just something a little bit different I feel – maybe a couple of upgrades etc. As a result, the overall tone and design of the game stays interesting, but the gameplay starts to lose its luster towards the end. 

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is…Also An Enemy

Streets of Rage 4 Review

Retro Axel

Throughout the 12 levels of Story Mode, you’ll encounter a wide range of enemies that add a tonne of variety. There are basic brawlers, fast-moving ninjas that zig-zag through the planes of the level, aggressive bikers, weird robot zombies with swords, and much more. If that wasn’t enough, at the end of each level is a different boss – with some being more memorable than others. A few were very basic and underwhelming e.g a commissioner that just runs back and forth like a dog in desperate need of his walk. But then you have a Dominatrix, whip and all, controlling her slaves. I mean, that’s a remarkable visual and makes for a dynamic encounter.

The majority of the enemies pose a good challenge and it’s always fun trying to work out what your new foe is going to throw at you – a bit too literally sometimes. Now, it’s true that one of your special attacks can in fact make you temporarily invincible for a couple of seconds, but it’s not always easy to react in time. So I was a bit irked with a couple of bottle-throwing enemies because I found myself trapped in successive, explosive blasts from thrown explosives. It can make a good run go to hell very quickly. Other than that though, the enemies are top notch and feel balanced.

I didn’t find the difficulty TOO daunting when I did my Hard playthrough, that was until I got to the last couple of chapters or so when it did the classic “final act – throw everything at the player” move. Now, I was unable to test my hypothesis due to the disruptive circumstances of the current climate, but I feel this is a game that certainly benefits from having an extra player with you. Playing this in single-player feels tough at times, especially when large groups of tougher enemies converge on your position, and you’re drowning in thug scum. It can be a bit much. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you’re coping with the scenario, it just always feels like the AI can flip a switch and will hit you no matter what; breaking your combo in the process.

Graphics and Sound – Beating Up Thugs Never Looked So Good

Streets of Rage 4 Review Gameplay

Pier Level

The look of the game has been given a fresh lick of paint with its clean, cel-shaded graphics that equally manage to capture the dirtiness of Wood Oak City. The art style brings each level to life and manages to make every new chapter feel unique. In one level I ended up in a bathroom and stopped to stare at the walls. They were drenched…with graffiti featuring every inch of the rainbow. It was so artistic and delectable – yet, it was so dirgy and rotten – like the city. You’re not just restricted to the dank, overrun city though; you’ll face all-manners of danger across a moving train, an art gallery, a prison, the sewers, and even a plane. 

Many of these environments are interactable and can provide a threat to enemies – and sometimes a greater one to yourself. The Pier level has holes intermittently placed throughout which people can fall through, the Streets have live cables across the road, and the train has live, overhead cables that need to be hopped over. The levels are pretty/dangerous. They are also populated by many enemies, lots of which I remember from the earlier games, and they’ve been spruced up so perfectly that Gok Wan himself would be drooling.

As for the music, it’s an ear-pleasing return of dirty disco beats that Streets of Rage made popular in the 90’s. It’s bouncy, bassy, and compliments each level. If you’re a purist who wants more of the retro twang to reverberate around your ear-drums, then you can switch the updated music to the original arcade anthems that made beating people up so alluring.

Summary
Streets of Rage 4 is a terrific return to form for one of the best beat-em' up franchises of all-time. It's beautifully managed to transition the features that made it so desirable back in the 90's. Whilst its mechanics haven't aged too well, and the difficulty hands you a caveat late-game; it's still a very accessible title to play that can be enjoyed by multiple people for a long time to come.
Good
  • Clean, cel-shaded graphics that make the levels pop-out
  • Simple, accessible gameplay
  • Groovy tunes
  • Great longevity for the price
Bad
  • Story Mode could've done with a few more levels
  • Late-game difficulty spike
  • Linear combat system
8.5
Great

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Derek Rayner

I’ve had so much fun with this game. Hopefully, it on’t take another 20+ years to get Streets of Rage 5.

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