A few of you may remember, I was a tad sceptical when this game was announced! A lot of your shared my concerns but, given early reviews, a lot of this has been blown out of the water.
Now the game is here it’s only fair that a different AA team member tackles the review duties. So here is our Chris to give you his thoughts. And yes, you may hear what the rest of us think in our upcoming Streets of Rage pod…
For gamers of the ’90s era, there are few franchises that evoke more powerful emotions than the Streets of Rage series. Throughout every review of this new iteration (which have appeared over the last few days) there is an almost obligatory eulogy regarding this series past. This is a testament not only to the importance of the series in the history of video gaming in general but also to the deeply personal experiences of gamers.
I played the first two Streets of Rage titles a lot as a kid. Almost every other day after school, I would settle down with my Mega Drive and smack the hell out of the enemies on screen while the now iconic music reverted around the room. These titles were the epitome of the brawler genre which had originated with Renegade. Engaging locations, a variety of enemies, and a genuinely different gameplay experience depending on which protagonist you chose.
It’s taken 25 years for a true sequel to emerge. During that time we experienced the excellent ‘Streets of Rage Remake‘ from Bombergames, a fan-made title that liberally remixed the experiences of each of the trilogy to great effect. Various 3D beat em ups appeared to attempt to steal SOR’s crown such as spiritual successor ‘Fighting Force‘. However, none of these projects was the true sequel that has emerged with SOR 4.
SOR 4 features fluid attack animations, gorgeous backdrops, and a tonne of Easter eggs. The music, while subtly different from the original titles, is thumpingly good. A plethora of artists including the original series composer Yuzo Koshiro contributed tracks. These retain the synthetic vibe of the previous titles while incorporating different genres such as dubstep, funk, and elements of rock.
The gameplay core hasn’t changed, it’s a classically themed side-scrolling brawler with an overwhelmingly powerful fighting mechanic. As you pummel your opponents into bloody submission, each hit feels solid as it connects. This is made all the more convincing with the rumble reverberating through your hand as you hold your controller (it almost broke my hands off! – Ed).
Tribute must be played to the game’s animation which is incredibly smooth, there were some concerns from sectors of SOR’s fandom that the new comic book look would jar with memories of the original title. However, that is unfounded, you will be able to distinguish the familiar characters from their design such as ‘Big Ben‘ and ‘Galsia‘. Meanwhile, your jaw will have dropped to the floor as it hits home how gorgeous the sprite design is. This is absolute, complete cell-shaded beauty projected onto your screen.
Each character has a variety of moves, there are the standard light and heavy attack, a combo finisher which is triggered by attacking while pressing the forward key and a pair of special attacks that deal some serious damage but like in SOR 2, use up a chunk of your health. With this, there’s a great risk/reward mechanic, as you can gain that health back if you keep a combo going after executing a special move. However, if your opponent gets a single hit in that chance disappears.
Each of the main characters brings a unique gameplay experience. After an initial playthrough with series mainstay Axel (who is totally rocking a hipster/hobo look), I gravitated to the powerfully agile Blaze. Her somersault kick is fantastic for knocking enemies out of the air. Newcomer Floyd is another favourite. Similar to Max, he is the heavy bruiser of the group, able to use his giant metal arms to pick up two enemies together and smash their heads together. His special attack of being able to grab enemies at a distance can give a tactical advantage as well. Pulling in weak enemies and then throwing them into others, giving the player some much-needed breathing space to assess their next move.
Each stage features flourishes in their design and while the initial opening stage seems familiar, there’s a shock twist halfway through. There’s homages and invocations in the design, one level that sticks out is when you fight down a long corridor reminiscent of the cinematic classic ‘Oldboy‘. On a boat, you encounter the classic dominatrix character from the original trilogy and she literally whips her man-servants into a dangerous frenzy. Making them more powerful and meaning that they no longer get stunned by your attacks. Touches like this really help make the stages stand out.
There’s a scoring system to challenge you as you play through the ‘Story Mode’ section. It’s tough and may seem a little unfair. On your first playthrough, you may struggle to obtain a higher rating than a ‘C‘. After a few hours of familiarising yourself with the game and with a little patience, you will be learning how to dodge boss attacks and maintaining combos while waves of enemies pile on top of you. This brings a sense of intense satisfaction for those who really want to master the game.
There’s the standard two-player options and also the welcome inclusion of a four-player co-op mode. All of the multiplayer sessions I took part in connected flawlessly and were silky smooth. There are some reports in other reviews regarding issues that were faced as they played online. I experienced none of these problems.
There are also a plethora of extras just waiting to be unlocked. These range from game modes to characters from previous titles in the series in all their Mega Drive pixelated glory. I won’t spoil the reader’s excitement of discovery as they unlock these here.
Streets of Rage 4 elevates the classic genre while staying true to its roots. It (like ‘Mother Russia Bleeds‘ ) establishes the long term viability of the beat ’em up genre. Solid gameplay mechanics combined with beautiful and polished presentation should help this game sell like hotcakes. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for another iteration of this powerful series to appear.