When I was young, beat ’em-ups were one of the most common types of video games out there. There were Ninja Turtles ones, Power Rangers ones and many more. The genre efforts I had most fun with, though, happened to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time and Final Fight, on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was my first console, and was something I played far more than the average person, but it wasn’t my first foray into gaming. No, I spent quite a bit of time playing such interactive experiences at my cousins’, including the infamous Turtles game with its underwater level(s) full of electric seaweed.
Those days are unfortunately long gone, but the memories remain, as does the nostalgia. Every once in a while, I’ll get to play one of those retro games or play something similar but new, and will get to revisit some of those feelings and lost days spent playing in front of a standard definition television. One such experience occurred today, when I downloaded and played through our review copy of Streets of Rage 4 from DotEmu, LizardCube and Guard Crush Games. Playing something of that ilk instantly took me back to the 90s and all of the times that I rented Final Fight. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever actually owned that game.
Of course, Streets of Rage has been around just as long as many of my favourites, having begun its life in 1991 as a SEGA Genesis title. Since then, what’s referred to as Bare Knuckle (or Bare Knuckle IV) in Japan, has appeared on multiple different consoles and handhelds, including the Game Gear. Sequels are the big reason why, but the original game was ported to the Xbox 360, and likely PSN, as a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade title during the last generation. I’m pretty sure that’s where I finally got to play it, as I’d never gotten to before; at least not for long. I was a Super Nintendo guy through and through, and my parents only purchased that console for me as a kid. Friends had the SEGA Genesis, but I didn’t get to play it very often, so I don’t really remember playing much, if any, Streets of Rage back then.
This series is known for its campy and colourful gameplay and storylines, as well as a playable kangaroo who happens to be one of its main characters. To my knowledge, though, said boxing kangaroo is not playable here. He does make a cameo, but that seems to be it.
Streets of Rage 4 continues a story that was almost alien to me, and picks up after the death of Mr. X. His twin adult children, Mr. and Mrs. Y, end up as the main villains here, having picked up the mantle from their fallen daddy. They’re insufferable assholes, too. The story itself also leaves a lot to be desired, but it doesn’t need to be good or great given the type of game that this is. All we needed was an excuse for beating the crap out of oddly named grunts.
The main draw here is the story mode, which spans the course of 12 five to ten minute-long stages, but also offers up to four bonus levels (from what I read, since I didn’t actually discover them). This narrative begins on the dirty, dangerous city streets, then moves to a jail, a police station, a Japanese garden, a moving train and the rooftops above a concert, before going airborne inside of a plane. Those are just some of the levels you’ll fight through, but none of them will take you very long to complete. Overall, this is maybe a two hour game at most. I didn’t time myself, but would say that’s fair.
From the onset, you’ll get to choose from several different fighters. There’s Blaze Fielding, Axel Stone, Cherry Hunter (series regular Adam Hunter’s guitarist daughter) and Floyd Iraia who’s a cybernetically enhanced heavy. Don’t worry, though: Adam Hunter is an unlockable character, as are retro skinned versions of the main characters from Streets of Rage through Streets of Rage 3. I started with Axel on normal, but then quickly changed to Blaze on easy, because normal was more difficult than I had hoped. To be honest, easy was a bit too easy for most of the game, whereas normal was too difficult. I didn’t have a ton of trouble until the last level, but knew I might not be able to beat it on normal so that’s why I went with easy. It was only the final bosses who caused me to end up on my last of six given (and potentially earned, through collecting cash and picking up food) lives, but they thankfully died before that life was over.
That said, it’s been a long time since I’ve played one of these games, and I was never exceptional at them. They were always somewhat difficult too. If you’re a veteran who eats beat ’em-ups for breakfast, you’ll be happy to hear that there are multiple difficulties including hard and mania (which is locked at first).
Each of the main characters has his or her own fighting style, including special moves and sometimes the ability to run/dash. This is how games like this entice people to return and play again, outside of the simple enjoyment one gets from knocking their baddies around. When I have the time, I’ll probably go back through as a different character on a different platform. What I didn’t know before was that Streets of Rage 4 is an Xbox Game Pass title, making it free to download for quite a few people. I played through the PS4 version for the purposes of this review, but may check it out on Xbox someday.
Along with their basic attacks, jumps and low kicks, each hero has a star move. That’s just a fancy name for a super special move, which does quite a bit more damage than anything else. Star moves are limited, though, and you’ll have to find stars to be able to pull one off. The game will give you one at the start of each stage, but others can be found under crates and other environmental objects. After all, as was the case with Final Fight and the early Streets of Rage games, one must break things in the environment to reveal food items (for health replenishment) and occasional weapons. The same is now true with stars.
Side note: You can actually customize which food items appear. If you go into the menu, it will let you customize the small and large food types. It starts out with apples and turkey, but you can pick pizza slices and numerous other things. I thought that was kind of neat.
This time around, pulling off one of your more basic special moves will cost you health. The meter depletes, but it remains green to show what was lost. That’s because, instead of being completely gone, the green portion of your health bar can refill if you punch enough bad guys without getting hurt. It’s a system that works pretty damned well.
As mentioned above, there are weapons and many of them. Almost every level will introduce something new, be it a knife, a baseball bat, a crowbar, a broom, a spear, a long knight’s sword, a morning star, a grenade or a ninja’s throwing star. You’ll even find vials of poison and electricity that can be tossed to create an area of effect. Of course, enemies will come packing, and most of your weaponry will come from them, just like before. Make sure to pick up as many as you can, because they make a big difference.
Being that this is not only a sequel, but also a revival and an homage to the days of yesteryear, one must not expect something very modern from Streets of Rage 4. It looks, feels and plays like something straight out of the 90s, and that means pretty basic combat and some stilted movement. It’s something I appreciated, because it took me back to a better time and filled me with nostalgia. That said, it did feel dated and got repetitive pretty quickly. I had fun and enjoyed the game for what it is, though, and kind of expected it to be as it is.
The campaign was fun, cheesy, classic and colourful. I played it by myself, but did try online co-op twice. Both times, only one game showed up on the matchmaking list, and each time those games ended up being laggy. I’m not sure if it was the game or my mediocre connection, but I didn’t have trouble playing NHL 20 online afterwards. That said, the first time I played online co-op in Streets of Rage 4, a download was in progress. That game was actually less laggy than the second one, at which point I’d completely paused the download. Hopefully this lag will be addressed quickly with a patch.
Alongside its campaign, this walk down memory lane offers an arcade mode (which only gives you one credit to complete the entire game with), a two player battle mode that I could not play because I didn’t have a second person sitting beside me, online co-op and a boss rush mode. Those, alongside its several different difficulties, one of which needs to be unlocked.
Presentation-wise, DotEmu’s classically-inspired sequel does a good job of mixing the 90s with now. Its characters and environments all look hand drawn, or at least drawn with a computer’s assistance, and feature a cel-shaded style. They look good, and there’s tons of colour to be found in what are some pretty creative and impressive environments for a beat ’em-up. The music is also a great mix of retro cheese and modern electronica, which does a good job of getting you pumped for some fighting. Don’t expect any voice acting, though, because there never usually is in these types of games. The story is told through short, animated comic panels, and there’s very limited written dialogue.
With all that having been said, it’s easy to recommend Streets of Rage 4, especially to people who grew up playing beat ’em-ups on the NES, SNES and/or SEGA Genesis. This is a nice homage to a different time, and it’s one that’s well crafted. There are some issues, like repetition, online lag and basic combat, but the latter is only something that stands out in comparison to more modern releases. I’m not going to dock this game marks for that, because it’s trying to emulate days gone by, and its combat is good for what it is. That said, I do wish there was more to the package, as it feels a bit short and light. It’s also surprisingly expensive at over $30 Canadian on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
- Lots of nostalgia
- True to its roots
- Classic style campaign with a good challenge
- Lag during co-op (online)
- A bit too difficult on normal, and a bit too easy on easy
- Quite expensive