Streets of Rage is a household name in the beat em’ up genre. Between 1991 and 1994, it had 2 sequels and even a comic adaptation. A fourth entry in the series seemed like a no brainier given the success but sadly it was all downhill from there. Streets of Rage 4 went through several scrapped iterations including a Sega Saturn game developed by Core Design, an abandoned Dreamcast concept and a remake of the first game by Ruffian Games. The franchise had remained dormant for over 2 decades with little to no hope of it returning.
Then in 2018, something completely unexpected happened. Dotemu, Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games and SEGA announced Streets of Rage 4. I couldn’t believe it myself even though I didn’t grow up with the series since I didn’t have a SEGA Genesis or even a good PC to run an emulator. Of course in later years thanks to compilations and word of mouth, I fell in love with it and even consider Streets of Rage 2 to be my favorite SEGA Genesis game. After playing through it, it’s very much a welcome return to the series roots.
This game picks up right where Streets of Rage 3 left off. It’s been 10 years since the fall of Mr. X and his Syndicate. The city was at peace until a new crime empire arose, corrupting everything good in the city. It’s rumored to be led by Mr. X’s own children: The Y Twins. Former detectives Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding join forces with their old friend’s daughter, Cherry Hunter, along with Floyd Iraia, an apprentice of the brilliant Dr. Zan. Together these four vigilantes will try to take down the Y Syndicate on the Streets of Rage.
The story itself is told through cutscenes that play between levels, they’re animated like a comic book. There is no voice acting in cutscenes but there are some one-lines both in-game and the character select screen. I’ll go more in depth about the visuals and some surprises later in the review but overall I enjoyed the story and the cutscenes.
Streets of Rage 4 as a game is super fun to play, but what makes it even better is the amount of variety it has. Most beat em’ ups have either aged well or aren’t fun to play anymore because of it. The original Golden Axe for example has very little variety and it’s hard to go back to nowadays. In contrast, the variety in the first 3 Streets of Rage games still hold up and I’m happy to say that 4 lives up to that. Every character feels unique and have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Axel and Blaze are the best all-around but lack stamina or jump, Cherry is the fastest but lacks in power and Floyd is the most powerful but lacks in speed and jump.
You’ll notice that I have yet to mention Adam Hunter and that’s because he shows up midway through the game as an unlockable character. Much like Axel and Blaze, he’s an all-around but lacks speed. Whatever character you choose, It feels so satisfying beating up each and every enemy in many different ways. In fact one of the best things about the Streets of Rage games is the amount of items you can pick up and use as a weapon. Streets of Rage 4 has that in spades and I love it.
It has that kind old school level of difficulty and the AI will ramp up in later levels. It’s best to take advantage of the advance techniques but also carefully use the specials. Defensive, Offensive and Air specials can drain your health but can be recovered by hitting enemies. You do have the option to use an assist, this gives you extra health and star moves. However these come at a cost of your overall score. Lastly there’s the boss encounters. Each one is a spectacle that gets better and better as you progress throughout the game. My favorite is Estel, she has two encounters and both of them are sure to keep you on your toes. She throws missiles and grenades and the more health you drain, the more crazier it gets.
If you’re familiar with Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap which was Lizardcube’s previous game, the artstyle is basically that. Some people do prefer the pixel art of the original Streets of Rage but honestly I like this style on its own. The game looks great especially with all the neon and throwbacks to the original Streets of Rage games.
However the real star of the show when it comes to the presentation is the music and it’s incredible. Streets of Rage has always had a jamming soundtrack and this game is no exception. DotEmu wasn’t kidding around when they said they had an all-star lineup of composers. The main composer of the game is Olivier Deriviere along with Yoko Shimomura, Harumi Fujita, Keiji Yamagishi, Motohiro Kawashima and series veteran Yuzo Koshiro. Nearly every stage has at least one song that’s composed by them and they have a distinct style to them. If you’re curious, there is an option for a retro soundtrack which combines tracks from Streets of Rage 1-3. Both are great but I actually prefer the new soundtrack.
For this review, my platform of choice was the PC and I didn’t encounter any issues running the game. Keyboard and Gamepad controls can be fully binded and work well, plus you can even adjust the gamepad icons to PS4, XBO or Switch buttons. I was honestly not expecting much in terms of options of PC but color me surprised. I should stress that the game is also coming to those platforms along with Game Pass for XBO and PC.
The main story itself will take you about 5 to 6 hours to complete but there’s still plenty of unlockables and content that will keep you coming back. One of the main reasons is the unlockable characters and retro costumes. For unlockables you have Skate, Shiva, Dr. Gilbert, and Max Thunder. For retro costumes you have Axel, Blaze and Adam who I mentioned is an unlockable through the story mode. All of them are in their original pixel art and play exactly like they did in the Genesis games. This is the kind of retro content that I adore.
Outside of there’s Arcade mode which gives you only one credit with no saving allowed, boss rush which is exactly what you think it is and finally battle mode. Battle mode is the most interesting mode out of the 3 and it’s basically a 1v1 fighting game. Along with the online/local co-op I sadly can’t test this mode but from what I’ve seen it looks really fun.
Speaking of which, the online/co-op is quite robust even though I couldn’t test it for this review. Up to 4 people can play offline or 2 people online can play through the entire game regardless of what mode you want to play. I’ll definitely be checking it out once the game comes out.
After 25 years, I think Streets of Rage 4 was definitely worth the wait. It’s an excellent revival to a series that was once dormant and had no future whatsoever. Dotemu is currently working on Windjammers 2 which I’m equally looking forward the future is certainly looking bright for them.
Disclaimer: Review code was provided by the publisher