Legacy of Rage a Street of Rage 4 Review

By Jre Best

I have a deep appreciation for the Sega Genesis despite not being alive during the Nintendo and Sega console wars. But one thing Sega is notoriously good at is preserving their history through brilliant collections. One of the cornerstone games of my childhood was the brilliantly constructed Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection. A compilation of over 40 different Sega Genesis and Master System games that I played vigorously. Through this, I got to experience so many classics that would have otherwise passed me by. I ran through the levels of Sonic, did battles in the canyons of Golden Axe, delved into the dungeons of the original Phantasy Star and waged war on the fields of Shining Force. I got to explore so many different and fantastical worlds through this collection but oddly enough the one that stuck with me the most didn’t feature the spectacularly colorful and surrealist worlds the Genesis did so well. The three games that I came back to the most, tried to reflect the world they were being released into. It featured dark alleys and dangerous criminals doing battle with gritty ex detectives all set to an unmistakably 90s rave influenced soundtrack. This was the Streets of Rage trilogy in mine and many others opinion the best beat em up series ever. One of the most important franchises of its era, infamously unable to escape the 16-bit era in which it dominated, until now. Finally getting a new installment in the franchise for the first time since June 1994. So how does the newest game carry on the series’ prestigious legacy of rage?

Streets of Rage 4 takes place ten years after the last game and the defeat of the previous trilogy’s villain Mr. X. Mr. X’s children: The Y Twins, have started a new criminal organization and seek to take control over Wood Oak City using mind-controlling music. This leaves former detectives Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding and Adam Hunter to come back together to save the city. This is the first time since the original game that all three of these characters have been playable in the same game. It’s not just the original three for this adventure;Adam’s daughter Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia the apprentice of Dr. Zan from the third game are also along for the ride.

It’s this reverence for the old but willingness to step forward that comes to define much of Streets of Rage 4. The developers are clearly massive fans of the original trilogy especially Streets of Rage 2 but don’t want that affection to obstruct the franchise’s development. Take, for example, the art style. Most deliberately retro feeling sequels or reboots like Streets of Rage 4 tend to give themselves a pixel art aesthetic as a visual homage to their roots. Instead, The team at Dotemu chose to use a similar art style to their Wonderboy 3 remake, the project they worked on previous to SoR 4. A highly saturated saturday morning cartoon meets 90s shounen anime aesthetic with a high emphasis on fast and fluid movement. The developers stated that they had a great fondness for the original Streets of Rages pixel art aesthetic but didn’t just want to imitate it for the sake of nostalgia. They wanted to give their artists the freedom to pursue an aesthetic that would allow them to bring the most passion to the project while still showing respect to the past, and it shows. This is a gorgeous game. Besides a less-than-ideal redesign of Axel, all the playable characters redesigns feel modern while still possessing an appropriate amount of 90s non-edge. And the already iconic rogues gallery of the series has somehow been injected with even more character. Streets of Rage 4 accomplishes its goal of looking like the original games given no technological limit and it’s simply beautiful.

The only real complaint I have with the visuals of the game come with its backgrounds. Not to say that they’re bad, they’re fantastic looking, but towards the latter half of the game strives a little too far away from the aesthetic of the franchise. Visually Streets of Rage has always been about dirty streets blanketed in shadow and motor run off. The environments of the series have been, while rich with color and fun to look at, a little ugly. The 16-bit art style was always so great at capturing that. Streets of Rage 4’s art style is so nice looking that it seems to be fighting an uphill battle to evoke that sense of grittiness, and for the most part it succeeds in doing so. At least for the first half of the game. Near the halfway point of the game locations start to feel a lot less distinctly like Streets of Rage and like more generic locations you would see in a few. Lots of the levels are set during the day and it just doesn’t feel as dirty as you would want from a Streets of Rage level. Like I said though these areas still are gorgeous looking and plenty fun to explore but original series purists might start to feel a little disappointed in the scenery towards the back half of this adventure.

Streets of Rages’ most defining legacy in the broader sweep of gaming history is it’s simply timeless soundtracks, with Streets of Rage 2 having unquestionably the best soundtrack on the Sega Genesis and possibly the greatest of it’s entire era. The soundtracks were inspired by the then burgeoning rave scene in which the original games composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima were heavy participants in. So, to make the games be more relevant to their times, Streets of Rage leaned heavily on industrial sounding techno and synth which proved to be one of the strengths of the Genesis sound chip. If there was one place where Streets of Rage always broke down barriers it was with it soundtracks. Streets of Rage 4 composed by Olivier Deriviere doesn’t quite reach the atmospheric heights of its forebears but does an admirable job trying to reach them. This is perhaps the one area in which Streets of Rage 4’s reverence for the original trilogy gets the best of it. A large number of composers and musicians from in and outside of the game industry were gathered for this soundtrack, including Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, the composers for the original series. Everyone does a fantastic job. I can’t remember a single dud track while I was playing and there’s a nice balance between original and remix tracks but there was always something missing for me. 

It was hard for me to figure out exactly what that was but I think I figured it out. Like I said, the original Street of Rages’ OSTs we’re trying to do something different. They were scoring a game that was meant to be an exaggerated reflection of the present times so they took influence from the trends of that time. Streets of Rage 4 doesn’t feel contemporary. Don’t get me wrong, an over 20 year later revival of Streets of Rage was always going to feature some nostalgic tracks, as it should. But for a modern-day Streets of Rage game shouldn’t the OST strive to feel as contemporary to the 2020s as it once did for the 1990s? The rest of the game does such a great job at blending modern and old sensibilities it seems like a bit of a shame that the music of the game feels so preoccupied with sounding like a bunch of suited up Genesis tracks. Then again would a soundtrack that borrows more from modern day music trends like for example Tekken 7’s work for this game? I’m not sure. Don’t let my knit picks make you think that the soundtrack is anything less than great though. All the level and boss themes are very appropriate and fun to listen to tracks and the main theme of the game is an infectious earworm. My reservations aren’t born out of a dissatisfaction with what we got but from the wonder of what we could have gotten.

Beat-em-ups aren’t a terribly common genre nowadays. While their influence can certainly be felt in the works of Platinum Games and the Yakuza series, the fourth console generation was pretty much the last era where a Beat-em-up could be considered a tent pole release especially after the death of the arcade. Most attribute this to their simplicity. The genre’s detractors will say “All you do is just walk to the right, punch, kick and throw dudes, doesn’t it get old?” Well these people are both wrong and right in a way. The genre is very simplistic; it is mostly walking to the right punching and kicking dudes. What these people fail to understand is a good Beat-em-up, while not very complex, should be able to create an ocean of death in its simplicity. 

Streets of Rage 4 has one normal attack button, a special attack button that consumes some HP, a jump button, a button that allows you to pick up and throw items, and if you press the special and item buttons at the same time, you perform a character-specific limited special move. But with these small amounts of actions you have access to a deceptively large pool of techniques you can use. Along with the basic combo you get with your normal attack, you have at least three different moves you can do by either holding the button or using it in combination with the d-pad. 

A key aspect of the game is being able to throw your enemies By walking into them at an angle you can grab onto them and either beat on them or throw them. Pressing jump while holding  an enemy allows you to vault over them to get into better positions to throw. Throwing your enemies into other enemies becomes an invaluable maneuver. Of course no good Beat-em-up would be complete without weapons you can find during the level –each of which having their own pros and cons. All this depth without even getting into all the various differences between the characters like Floyd’s ridiculous grabbing ability, Blaze’s special knife combo, Cherries ability to run and bounce on enemies heads or the fact that you can play the whole game with your friend via local or online multiplayer.

To me, what really makes Streets of Rage 4 stand out from a gameplay perspective is all the little refinements to the usual formula. For example, when items are flying around everywhere you don’t need to wait for them to hit the floor for you to pick them up you can snatch them right out of the air, a seemingly small change but it affects a lot. It gives you a good counter to enemies with grenades, it allows you to combo off knife throws and as I’ll explain later those are very important. There’s other small touches like the ai behavior. You see, your gang of crime fighters aren’t just doing battle with the gangs of Wood Oak City; they’re also on the run from the law. Because of this, when police enemies are near they’re not just attacking you, they’ll also make an attempt to attack the same criminals that you are. But the most important addition to the Streets of Rage formula is the combo system. SOR 4 has a heavy emphasis on point collection; it’s the only way to gain more lives during a level and your accumulated point total becomes very important in the post-game features. Collecting things like food when your HP is full or bags of money will also add to your points but the best way to get them by far is through combos. It’s pretty simple: the higher you can maintain your combo the more points you acquire and all the characters movesets are very geared towards stringing along combos between large and small groups of enemies. And it is this point system which encourages a player to become truly skilled with the combat and keeping their combos hype that gives the game its strongest weapon, it’s replay value.

After you beat the main story of Streets of Rage 4 the first time the game opens up immensely, introducing a myriad of different modes. A stage select that allows you to replay any level at any difficulty you choose, an arcade mode that has you going through the story mode again in one straight shot with only one credit, and the boss rush mode. All these different modes are very fun and worth trying out if you’re a fan of the game but they’re not the main attraction of the post-game. As you gain more points you start unlocking characters from the past Streets of Rage games. Almost every version of every character from the entire series is playable. Not only that but they’re all in their original art styles and control in the exact same way they did in their original game. The Streets of Rage 1 characters will play like Streets of Rage 1 characters, the same goes for the Streets of Rage 2 and 3 cast and somehow it all works and feels balanced. You don’t feel like you’re at an unfair advantage or disadvantage. This is a frankly stupendous amount of replay value as you can play as nearly every character on whatever difficulty setting you like on whichever stage you like. If you’re like me, a feature like this is worth the cost of the game all on its own. Some of the best post-game content I’ve ever seen.

Streets of Rage 4 is a modern classic, a love letter to Beat-em-up fans and the worthy successor to the legacy it seeks to honor. For years it was just accepted by many that Streets of Rage 2 was the best in the franchise and while I’m not confident enough to say that 4 is better it makes a hell of a case for itself. A game so remarkable in its construction that the only criticisms I can think of are more rumination on its artistic consistency with its esteemed ancestors. A riot of joy for your eyes, ear drums and fingers. It does everything it wants to nearly perfectly and it’s so far the best game of 2020 which I guess means it’s the best game of this decade.


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