My first encounter with Streets of Rage was during the Sega Genesis era. Video games weren’t exactly cheap back then and on whatever title you got your hands on, you had to hope for the best (read: pray it wouldn’t be some garbage). The first entry in the series was also the first co-op game for me in general, and oh boy did it felt like a whole new world. That was almost 30 years ago and the series is still alive and kicking. But how good is it with its latest entry? Do we still need a small fortune of coins to play it and get to the final boss? Let’s find out.
The story is there as a simple excuse to clean up the streets from the hooligan scum, rack up some fisticuffs combos, stab your enemies with knives, broken bottles, and hit them with lead pipes. There’s something about some crime syndicate ruling from the shadows of Wood Oak City and who is a better candidate to dismantle it than Axel or Blaze. Yes, certain veteran characters from the series are back, along with some newcomers. The big baddie of the series, Mr X, is out of the picture but there are rumors on the street about a new criminal enterprise led by Mr X’s own children: the Y Twins! While the premise doesn’t leave much to the imagination, in later portions of the game you’ll be surprised with a good number of twists and turns as you move forward with the story.
The gameplay loop is pretty straightforward. side scroll from left to right on the mean streets of Wood Oak City, dispatch a small army of hooligans, and face off a mini-boss at the end of each level. Beside your fists and kicks, you can perform grab attacks and special moves that will send a large number of surrounding enemies flying off in all directions. There are also occasional pickups in the form of health replenishment as well as plenty of melee weapons. There is some decent enemy variety and later on, you’ll have to learn their attack patterns if you want to make it to the end. The game does that thing where they just increase the number of them instead of making them more challenging or stronger. I could joke and say that it is trying to invoke the feeling of unfair difficulty in video games from the era coin-operated arcade cabinets, but it’s just bad game design at this point. With that said, it’s clear that the game is made with a slight focus for co-op game sessions since it flattens the difficulty curve quite a bit when you have someone watching your back.
Now, this is a part of the game that took some time to get used to. Considering the previous games in the series (and their style), I expected something retro oriented with high detailed pixel art so I was kinda taken back with the new visual direction that they went with. It’s far from bad, just…..different. The faux comic book style didn’t sit well with me for the first level or tow, then it just sort of all clicked together. Coupled with smooth gameplay, polished animations, and detailed background art as you explore the city, it really felt like the new art style compliments the other segments of the game.
There are some games where I decide to have toned down expectations in advance and it’s mostly tied to the production value. Shallow, I know. If it’s some AAA release, I expect much more. Something from an indie corner will have me think “eh, whatever goes”. Streets of Rage 4 is the exception to that rule, especially when it comes to the soundtrack. It is exciting, diverse and almost every stage has a memorable and catchy theme. Never judge a book by its cover, folks!
How do they say it, “the kind is dead, long live the king”? In this case, it should be seen that the king has been in exile for a decade or two, and now it’s back and better than ever. To put it simply, Streets of Rage 4 is a great new and revamped entry in the series, attaining all of the fun gameplay that made it so acclaimed in the first place. Grab the game, grab a friend while you’re at it and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best beat ’em up releases this year.
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