When the unexpected announcement that Streets of Rage 4 would be a thing that would exist got out, it would’ve been 24 years since a new Streets of Rage game released. Somehow, this then major SEGA franchise had laid dormant for two decades and a half with not even a spin off to its name. It certainly isn’t now, but when the Genesis was a force for Nintendo to reckon with, Streets of Rage was a big deal. While its brawler colleagues such as Double Dragon and Final Fight would go on to have some successes and some pretty upsetting failures outside of the genre’s heyday, Streets of Rage remained a series batting a thousand with three fantastic games and two forgotten Game Gear ports. To me, Streets of Rage is at the top of the brawler genre. The series did what it needed to do for the era it existed in. I still find the atmospheric, seedy neon lit streets and satisfying combat of the first two games impressive and gratifying today. So my knee jerk, cynical reaction in 2018 to the announcement of a Streets of Rage 4 co-developed by a team that made a bizarre looking XBLA brawler was, “Uh, good luck with that?”
I wasn’t the only person who didn’t give the game the benefit of the doubt upon announcement. If it wasn’t a lack of faith in collaborators DotEmu, Guard Crush Games, and Lizardcube in delivering a game that felt as quality as what came before it, there was a feeling of, “They haven’t announced if they have Yuzo Koshiro onboard? How do you make a Streets of Rage game without Yuzo Koshiro?”
Koshiro of course being the legendary series composer whose thumping and grimey, late 80s club beats elevated the series to greatness. I even sort of asked Ben Fiquet, Lizardcube Art Director, this question when I spoke to him in person at PAX East 2019 with the hope that he would tell me who was actually composing it. All of this is to say that I went into Streets of Rage 4 with many doubts if this team could actually do it, and I’m here to announce that this team has swung a lead pipe into those doubts and shattered them. Streets of Rage 4 is a wonderful surprise that rivals even some of the great games that came before it. Even in the ways that it excels, does it go against my expectations.
I would have bet at least a twenty dollar bill that the final game that would be Streets of Rage 4 would try to add some major modern system. RPG mechanics, a store, or perhaps some sort of meter system. Not that these additions would have been necessarily bad, but I assumed it would’ve been a choice made in order to make Streets of Rage more palatable for 2020. Instead, this team was up to the task of focusing and improving on the series’ core strengths to deliver a refined Streets of Rage experience.
The changes made include tightening combat enough to complement the addition of a combo system, adding a ultimate special move to each character that can clear the screen if timed well, and push-forward combat health regeneration for your regular special move that consumes a bit of your health. In order to get the health you lost doing your special back, you need to go and get it from enemies by beating it out of them. Really, this is one of the most clear modern additions to Streets of Rage 4, as it’s reminiscent of Bloodborne and the modern Doom games. But this is all still built on legacy, as it’s clear after only throwing a few punches and kicks with series favorite Blaze Fielding, that these developers worship at the same alter us fans do.
This mission to improve on the fundamentals of the series is also present in the way the game uses space and its enemies. The brawler genre is known for producing games that are not always fair. Back in the arcade days, many games had deliberate cheap enemies and stage hazards made to eat quarters. I personally always found Streets of Rage to be one of the more fair series, apart from that annoying knife wielding guy that runs across the screen. But Streets of Rage 4 takes it up a bit by more clearly signaling the behaviors and patterns of its enemies. You may need to restart a level once or twice, thankfully they’re just long enough, but once you understand the weaknesses and mannerisms of the game’s returning cast of colorful characters, you might find yourself cleaning house with lives to spare. It’s those hectic moments of playing chess with the enemies on screen, quickly deciding which to take on next and thinking about how much space you’re giving the baddie next to him, that make Streets of Rage 4 a thrill. Is that guy with a knife that runs across the screen still the absolute worst? Yes, but more than ever he is there to teach you early on to always be moving. Taken all together, including the unique moveset for each character, this entry comes closest to resembling a fighting game in a way that no game in the series has.
One aspect of Streets of Rage 4 that still has this old, curmudgeon fan divided comes from one half of its presentation. It’s certainly not the visual aspect. Without going on an exhausting complimentary tangent, I find its character art, backgrounds, lighting, and the added post-processing effects to be too good for even Streets of Rage. Not that Streets of Rage isn’t deserving, but I just never thought that this series would get a comeback looking this good. But that big question we all had upon the announcement of the game, the soundtrack, is what has left me wanting more. Streets of Rage 4 has an original 36 track soundtrack mainly helmed by Olivier Deriviere (A Plague Tale: Innocence, Vampyr) with guest appearances from artists such as Keiji Yamagishi (Ninja Gaiden), Groundislava, Yoko Shimomura (Street Fighter II, Kingdom Hearts), Scattle (Hotline Miami), and of course the most requested original series composers, Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima.
Here is where my critical distance is challenged. Does the Streets of Rage 4 soundtrack have well composed music that makes you want to get up, dance, and beat up some crime doers and corrupt cops. Yes. Is it wholly consistent throughout in tone and proper representation of what I expect from the series? I don’t think so. I think this a result of having too many collaborators, but pieces of the soundtrack to me feel out of place. Some feel like they got that late 80s, filthy neon-noir club vibe that the series is known for. While others feel like they’re pulling from more modern aesthetics- maybe a little too John Wick or Kavinsky. Others just feel like they should go in a different game. Which hey, if the worst thing one has to say about something you made is that it reminds them of John Wick, you’re doing pretty good. And this is again me judging this OST with the very heavy expectations that come from being the soundtrack to the next Streets of Rage game, this is a great soundtrack with some bangers. It’s probably better than Streets of Rage 3. This is just the one thing I can poke holes into.
I’m absolutely delighted that at the end of the day, I had no cause for concern when it came to the hands Streets of Rage was put in. It’s a series that has followed me throughout the 26 years of my life, about the same time since there was a new entry. From childhood, teenagehood, to adulthood. Like the games that came before it, Streets of Rage 4 is a game worthy of being played for years to come.
Code for this game was provided by a PR representative for the game.