Streets of Rage 4 Review — The Streets Don’t Change
Streets of Rage 4 is a great continuation of the classic series, though it doesn't do anything revolutionary.
The name Streets of Rage is a calling card back to the early days of video games. They’re days that I wasn’t around for, but from experiences in my own arcades, I understand; people lining up at a cabinet, crowding around someone who’s made it further into the game than anyone else. More than anything, Streets of Rage carries a legacy.
With Streets of Rage 4, that legacy continues in a polished, modernized fashion, although that only goes skin deep. Streets of Rage 4 looks, feels, and plays like an old school beat-em-up, for better and worse, and there’s a lot of worse. And although you can’t go wrong with the classic, heart-pumping action that comes out of a brawler like this, there are some issues that prevent it from being anything but just another entry in the series.
Pure, Aged, ’90s Cheesiness
It should be no surprise that playing through Streets of Rage 4 is something that requires a minimal amount of attention. You don’t really need to know what’s going on to have a pleasant time with the game, although playing the past titles will grant some additional context. The game’s story is chock full of throw-backs to old characters, and even brings some back to fight again.
However, since it’s in the game, I feel the need to talk about it. The story of Streets of Rage 4 is nonsensical, poorly written, and serves only to direct the player towards the next level. The cast of characters transport from one backdrop to the next, ready to beat up baddies all over again.
That said, the story isn’t all that integral to the game. If there was an attempt at building characters, having some kind of sub-plots or arcs, I would say the opposite. Instead, the game’s story is strictly utilitarian, and it does its job decently. There were times however when Streets of Rage 4 seemed like it wanted its story to do more. Nearing the end of the game, with tensions rising and fights against final bosses coming up, I actually began to get invested. That feeling ended after the final boss fight when the game promptly rolls credits before you can even think another cutscene will happen.
One thing I can’t ignore is a distinct lack of voice acting throughout the game. In between the game’s story levels are cutscenes in which the characters figure out their next move and yell at their enemies. It’s very much written like a cheesy ’90s action movie, which had me laughing a lot of the time. But every time I would see a line pop up on the screen, all I could think about was how much the game would benefit from equally cheesy voice acting. Not only would it lend a bit more life to the otherwise lifeless cast, but it’d also be hilarious.
Thankfully, letdowns in the game’s story didn’t continue over to its other non-gameplay aspects. Streets of Rage 4 is the best-looking and sounding brawler I’ve played to date. Considering that Streets of Rage 3 released in 1994, it’s not that hard to imagine its sequel looks much better. Characters are beautifully animated, and attack animations aren’t just visually impressive: they carry weight. When you throw an enemy into the ground, it’s guaranteed to look like they just broke a rib.
I also have to mention this game’s soundtrack. Every level has its own themed track, as do boss battles, and nearly every single one will leave you bobbing your head. Its retro-style synth is a great callback, while electronic tones and drums bring Streets of Rage 4’s OST into the modern age. I would personally be shocked if at least four of the tracks in this title don’t end up in a gaming playlist on Spotify.
Bringing The Beatdown
Like I said before, the story of Streets of Rage 4 is only a vehicle to take the game’s characters to new venues where they beat the snot out of baddies. Thankfully, that part of the game is well-executed and brings plenty of fun to the table. That’s not to say it’s not lacking in some departments, though.
Combat in Streets of Rage 4 is just like combat in any other 2D brawler. You go up to someone, hit the button to attack them, maybe sometimes pull out a special, and boom they’re dead, cue the “Go Right” indicator. The game doesn’t mess with that formula much, although it did change up how special attacks work. In other brawlers, using a special attack results in some lost HP. That’s not the case in Streets of Rage 4; instead, health is temporarily taken away. You can earn it back by beating on opponents, but if you’re hit once, you’ve lost a chunk of HP rather than a sliver. It’s a great mechanic that rewards players for playing well rather than punishing them for using a powerful move.
Where Streets of Rage 4 shines is in its multiplayer. I played halfway through the game solo before running back the whole story again with a partner. Suffice to say, the game is much more fun with another fighter on your side, especially in the later levels when fights get drastically more challenging. I’m not the best at beat-em-ups, but even by level four, I was having a hard time getting to a boss solo, let alone reaching them. Playing with a partner, on the other hand, presents a rewarding yet challenging time in the game, and once we turned friendly-fire off, we were popping off to 80-hit combos.
If you’re a fan of Streets of Rage, you know that there’s a decent cast of characters to play as, and in this title, that trend continues. The game presents you with 5 different characters, all with their own move sets and quirks. Each character has the same basics, but an extremely strange decision was made with a majority of the cast – they can’t run. Out of the five character cast, three are punished with only being able to walk. That makes them easy targets for groups of enemies, and impossible to dodge with. Not to mention, it’s not exciting seeing your character walk in the middle of a fight. Cherry and Adam are the characters to play as, since they have more mobility than the rest. For a game like this, I really don’t want to recommend playing as certain characters – some shouldn’t be any more or less viable than the others. That being said, I’m not sure if I could beat the game playing as Axel, Floyd, or Blaze.
Eventually, another mobility issue came up in the form of vertical movement. Naturally, you can jump horizontally, but being limited to walking up or down the 2D plane while enemies can jump that way only left a bad taste in my mouth. During our playthrough, my partner and I both remarked on how much better combat would be if we could move around a little easier, a point that still rings true after finishing the game.
Speaking of which, after finishing the game, you’re presented with a few other gameplay options: Arcade, Boss Rush, and Battle. Battle is simply multiplayer where you face off against another person, which isn’t as fun as it sounds. Combat against other players simply isn’t as intense or interesting as it is against groups of enemies. Factor in that two of the playable characters are better than the rest, and the game mode simply falls flat.
Arcade and Boss Rush, on the other hand, are well worth your time – if you’re up for a challenge. Arcade tries to recreate the pressure you feel at an actual cabinet: you’ve only got one life to beat the whole game with. It puts the pressure on and doesn’t let up, making for a genuinely challenging experience that would leave even the best beat-em-up player sweating. Boss Rush also presents a genuine challenge, and it’s just what it sounds like. Boss battles are some of the best parts of the game’s story mode, and going up against them one after the other is yet another satisfying, difficult experience.
Hanging Up The Gloves
After my eight or so hours playing and beating Streets of Rage 4, I left it feeling like I got what I expected. It’s the sequel to a beloved, classic side-scrolling beat-em-up that plays like other titles in the genre. The few changes it makes do set it apart, but questionable choices with the game’s story and some gameplay mechanics left me feeling mixed.
That being said, during my time playing it, Streets of Rage 4 was a blast. When you’re playing with a friend, shut your brain off and just try to make it through some of the genuinely difficult levels, this game hits the standard of what I expect a brawler to be. It’s fast-paced, energetic, great to look at and listen to, and simple enough to just hop on and have some fun.