Bare Knuckle Brawlin'
Streets of Rage 3 debuted on the Sega Genesis on March 17, 1994. At the time, Axel, Blaze, and the gang were as big as Sonic in terms of popularity, starring in one of SEGA's biggest franchises. Then, in the transition to 3D, 2D beat 'em ups suddenly made less sense. Eventually, we saw Final Fight get Streetwise and Double Dragon become a street fighting wannabe, but all was quiet on SEGA's raging streets. There were numerous failed attempts to revive the franchise, and fans kept the hope alive with remakes and mods for the Genesis originals. In a way, this was the wise move, because Streets of Rage 4 brings the franchise back at just the right time. In the age of true retro remakes, Axel and Blaze have never looked better.
When Does Streets of Rage 4 Take Place?
It's been a decade since the final defeat of Mr. X. Twin descendants of the crime boss have restarted his empire, using the power of music to take over the minds of citizens across Wood Oak City. Our two veteran heroes and two newcomers unite against the forces of the Syndicate in 12 stages of side-scrolling action. While it's a little bigger than some of the Genesis entries, Streets of Rage 4 is still a true beat 'em up. There are no story cutscenes in the middle of the action, no puzzles added for the sake of variety, no modern flair. Outside of the graphics, this is a game that would have been right at home in the 90s, for good and for ill.
Let's start with the good. The developers at Guard Crash Games and Lizardcube looked at what fans considered to the best entry in the series (Streets of Rage 2) and made a modern rendition of that gameplay style. They didn't even have to change all that much. You still have the delicate balance between staying alive and whipping out super moves that drain your health. Enemies can juggle you all around stages, but you can easily outmaneuver them if you pay attention. The finesse comes with the different moves each character has at their disposal.
Mining 90s Nostalgia The Right Way
More than a lot of games in the genre, you really feel that each hero in Streets of Rage 4 operates differently. Within a relatively small move set, you get the nuance and strategy you want from a game like this. Sure, you've got a buff slow guy with robot arms and a woman who does a lot of flips, some pretty standard character archetypes if I've ever seen them. Even so, you can't just mash buttons, you have to explore the full range of every brawler's abilities and use it to its fullest potential. Trying to conquer each situation with each character is a fun challenge that adds tons of replayability, and that's before the unlockables.
Not only is Streets of Rage 4 respectful of its past, but it's also downright sentimental. As you continue to complete levels, your scores contribute to a single meta progression. Hit pips on that bar and you'll begin to unlock retro renditions of characters from past games. These aren't redrawn sprites, these are pixel characters rejoining the battles with all the abilities they had in their original games. Even characters otherwise absent like Skate and Dr. Zan from Streets of Rage 3 are unlockable. In essence, they're all entirely new characters, adding even more replayability to the proceedings and introducing retro tributes that equal Nintendo's most nostalgic tributes.
How Do Streets of Rage 4's Graphics Compare To The Genesis Originals?
The entire graphical style of Streets of Rage 4 deserves heaps of praise. From beginning to end, this is some of the best 2D artwork of modern times. Lizardcube, having previously wowed players with Wonderboy: The Dragon's Trap, prove their skill at making old school experiences that feel completely fresh. Integrating the retro characters could have been a misstep, but they somehow fit right in alongside painstakingly crafted versions of every enemy you remember from the Genesis classics. It's so refreshing, I honestly feel that the developer could go to work on a remake of Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt and still make something beautiful.
This also extends to the soundtrack. Although not as immediately breathtaking as the graphics, the tunes that accompany each level feel perfectly in sync with the franchise and what came before. While many games in this category settle on some sort of radical rock and roll or a cinematic flair, Streets of Rage has always had a unique vibe. It's not concerned with sounding like a movie, it's designed to feel like the actual backing track of a city street infested with crime. You can hear the disco just around the corner with bass blaring out onto the sidewalk, you can see a skater passing by with a pumped-up jukebox. While keeping with that tradition, the electronic tunes here don't quite match up to the legendary tracks of the Genesis days, and that's fine. If you're a purist, you can listen to an entire retro soundtrack with just a flick of a switch in the settings.
Raging At The Change Machine
All that being said, if you're not fond of some of the quirks of old-school beat 'em ups, Streets of Rage 4 isn't going to change your opinion. You can feel the game's lust for nonexistent quarters with every cheap boss fight and difficulty spike. Even at its easiest, this is a game that will keep you on your toes, and losing all your lives bumps you back to the beginning of a stage no matter how far you've gotten. That's the way these games have always been, but it feels harsh in a modern context. You're expected to clear games in 2020, so finding yourself repeating content on a first playthrough doesn't feel right.
This is especially strange since the developers give players plenty of reasons to keep coming back. Outside of beating the game on harder difficulties and unlocking new characters, there's an arcade challenge where you have to go as far as you can with a single life. If your friends get tired of helping you out in the game's robust co-op options, you can always challenge them in the traditional 2 player battle mode, which returns from the Genesis days in perfect condition. Most of this is unlocked when you beat the story, and you also get a level select when you finally take down the final boss. I would have loved to see this unlocked sooner, as well as easier ways to change characters between missions, but I guess that's really not the point.
Streets of Rage 4 Review | Final Thoughts
If you're looking for brawlers to evolve, Streets of Rage 4 doesn't fit the bill. There are plenty of great games looking to move things forward and change things up, and that's rad. What Streets of Rage 4 provides is a perfect continuation of one of the founding fathers of the genre. It brings back a Genesis experience that never once feels outdated. It's the type of game that reminds you why you love a genre in the first place, a new standard for other games to strive for. Axel and Blaze are back, and they're still kicking ass. Let's just not wait another two decades for another return trip.
TechRaptor reviewed Streets of Rage 4 on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
- Stunning Best-Of-Class Graphics
- Precise And Varied Gameplay
- Nostalgia That Doesn't Feel Cheap
- Quarter Munching Difficulty
- Level Select Locked Behind Story Completion