So, now that I’ve had a few days to digest the news I thought I’d offer my two cents (for all it’s worth!) on the impending Streets of Rage 4. The hype train is well out of the station and with every further teaser, article, interview, it will hopefully culminate in a multi-platform juggernaut downloaded in the millions. Maybe.
At this point I’m struggling to get as hyped about it as our neighbours. The teaser, as you can see, looks incredibly polished. The Manga-quality intro showing a bearded Axel and timeless Blaze, just as gorgeous (as ever a video game character can be) as she was 24 years ago is followed by quick-cuts of a 2D, cel-shaded style brawler. And then it ends. How long can the appetite remain whetted yet not fully satiated?
Streets of Rage has been gone a long time and it also feels a long time since I posted a review of the underwhelming Streets of Rage 3. For those of you who don’t want to read the review my points are thus: despite looking like the seminal Streets of Rage 2 it neither retained the same fluidity nor satisfaction through a combination of poor (in comparison to SoR2) collision detection, overly complex game mechanics, a divisive soundtrack and a difficulty curve that would make hardened pros whimper. What can Streets of Rage 4 bring to the table? There are two directions this can go as far as I can see.
One, Streets of Rage 4 can be the perfect homage to the series, putting the cherry on top of a quite delicious cake. What constitutes the perfect homage? A slick 2D scrolling beat em up with the best characters from the franchise (I’m talking Axel, Blaze, Max, Adam, Skate…sorry Zan), with seven big stages (including lift and factory levels), meaty bosses culminating in Mr X with cool sidekick in tow. All in a pixel art style with no network capabilities. I’ll allow a VS mode just so one of you can pretend to be evil/robot Axel.
Two, SEGA and DotEmu do something that attempts to strike a balance between retro and current gaming. I’m talking: proper lighting; no pixel art; paid-for DLC; four-player (eight player??) online rhumble; 2.5D; paid-for weapons and dance moves; and the glitter on the turd that is a Switch version (I’m just kidding! Maybe…).
DotEmu have a good history of converting retro games directly to PC which raises the question – who is Streets of Rage 4 for? To date, they’ve mostly been concerned with bringing popular Eastern and Neo Geo titles to European/American audiences who otherwise wouldn’t have got the chance to play them. There are others who do this and we applaud them for it. The involvement of Lizardcube (Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap) and Guard Crush Games (Cyrille Lagarigue – Assassin’s Creed) adds further enigma to the project. It’s a very French affair in what is historically a very Japanese series. Three games houses are working on the title which can either be brilliant or a complete disaster. The original Streets of Rage titles were made by SEGA’s in-house team team, directed by the legendary Noriyoshi Ohba and benefitted from a singular way of thinking (and no, that wasn’t to rip-off Final Fight arcade fans!).
Forgive me for being a cynic but I cannot see the former (homage) happening. Without SEGA’s absolute participation, and no Yuzo Koshiro to be seen, what we’re going to see is a game that borrows only the characters and enemies from the series. In essence, a fan game. Fan games are far from a bad thing but are usually only sought out by the fans of the original games. Will Streets of Rage 4 deliver to hardcore fans? The teaser, the developer setup and what we know so far (i.e. not much) doesn’t inspire confidence. What we could have here is a case similar to that of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, which isn’t really a Bubsy game at all but a standard 2.5D indie platformer featuring the anthropomorphic Bobcat (try saying that after a few beers) and not much else.
I’m finding it more and more difficult to get enthused about the project but consider me first in line of people wanting to be proved wrong. This has the potential to go very, very badly, simply because of the wide range of elements different audiences want to see. The time for a 2D sequel to Streets of Rage was ten or so years ago before the successful release of the Streets of Rage trilogy (in 2012) on Xbox Live Arcade. Between generations, gaming was experiencing a lull and it’s no coincidence that was when retro gaming started to become popular again. It was also the point at which 2D indie games such as Braid, Fez and Super Meat Boy outsold blockbuster titles (oh for those days again!). What I’m yearning for now, and I’m sure a lot of Streets of Rage fans would join me, is a 3D third-person brawler much like the excellent Fighting Force (less said about its sequel the better) which of course was almost on the horizon. Given the success and critical acclaim of Tanglewood, would a brand new 16-bit game in the same mould have appealed? The Kickstarter for that would have gone through the roof.
From this mini-teaser, Streets of Rage 4 feels like a backwards step and I’m still none the wiser to whom it will mostly appeal. If DotEmu want to send me alpha access I’ll quite happily open myself to having my jaw hit the floor, but in the meantime I’ll just fire up SoR2 on my Mega Drive/Genesis and be happy with that.