I grew up in the 90’s; the era of Arcades and DDR competitions. Consoles themselves were home to titles whose sole objective was getting the highest score. Double Dragon and Streets of Rage were two franchises I frequented. The game-play was so addictive. It was also nice to be unlocking extra additions simply by playing the game. Something that these days is quite a foreign concept. A few years have come and gone, and an old favourite has come back. Will Streets of Rage 4 make a triumphant return in the modern era, or is this a throwback that should’ve stayed behind?
A category you’d want any brawler to be flawless in. After all, any sort of stutter or input delay could be the difference between getting your ass kicked or doing that ass kicking. Thankfully, neither are a worry with Streets of Rage 4. Every move that I made was buttery smooth. My punches glided through the air and my kicks impacted against a stomach beautifully. The grapples and throws were equally as flawless. Even at moments that Streets of Rage 4 decides to toss several enemies at you, it never struggled.
I’m reluctant to say it in fear of sounding like a broken record but Streets of Rage 4 is so 90’s. I love the colour choice on display. everything is bright and vibrant, popping off the screen. The character sprites are crisp, with sharp lines and detailed models. With every special move pulled, flames will surround whomever you are. I’m absolutely in-love was the hand-drawn visuals Too. It really goes a long way with making sure every action pops.
For example, if given the choice, I much prefer playing as a female. I find them to be much more graceful and agile. During my time with Blaze, I couldn’t help but notice how natural they made her movements. Even something as simple as whipping her hair back. It was all so fluent. Another character I’d like to point out is Cherry. Her weapon of choice isn’t just her fists, but she loves beating fools with a guitar. From bluntly smacking them to strumming and causing a shockwave around her. Or how with Axel, his clothing moves as he bounces, hyped and ready to rumble. The developers paid close attention to the small things, and it went far to making everyone feel alive.
Streets of Rage 4 is a love letter to the – you guessed it – 90’s and early gaming. DotEmu, LizardCube, and Guard Crush Games nailed it. Combat is standard fare. You’ll be facing off with several different enemies. Brutes, Rockers, Agents, or Whip-Wielding Vixens. It’s tremendously fun, but I’ve a few gripes. For instance, in order to dash forward, you’re required to press in one direction twice in quick succession. While it wasn’t too difficult, I found it uncomfortable after using it a few times. I’d be fighting enemies, quickly dodging strikes, only for my arm to feel constricted and tired. Now, I was on a Nintendo Switch Lite, so this probably played a factor. I have larger than usual hands. I tried entering the button remapping option but to my surprise, dash isn’t an option. What’s more, the bumpers do nothing. While not game breaking, it would’ve been a game changer. By default, my pointer fingers hover over these. I feel like being able to alter it would‘ve been a great Quality of Life enhancement in comfort.
As I’ve eluded to in the beginning, you unlock characters by simply playing. These include pixelated versions of default fighters, to others across the franchise. Rank up your total high score to a certain point and presto, fighter unlocked. This simple aspect provides loads of replay-ability to Streets of Rage 4. It’s a good thing too because it isn’t very long. In fact, depending on your skill, it can take an hour or two. The longevity comes from tallying up the points. However, it isn’t always easy and here lays my gripe.
Streets of Rage 4 is bloody hard. You’ll learn tricks for survival as you play. Eventually, you’ll pick up on your enemy’s pattern to telegraph the coming strike. Until then, the game’s ruthless. It has no issue overwhelming you with opponents. That isn’t enough though. To spike the difficulty even more, some will be wielding weapons. I couldn’t keep track of them all in a sea of bodies. With three difficulties above normal, I’m a bit scared to go further.
There is a way to cheese dodge. If you jump continuously, you can avoid most hits. It’s much easier on the arms. Only downfall here is that most enemies can cover tons of ground rapidly. Again, remapping dash would come in super handy here. Oh and little tip, don’t be afraid to use specials. Although it requires health as sacrifice, it does good damage. Streets of Rage 4 is also generous on the healing items.
Oh, and also, enemies can’t attack diagonally. It’s a blind spot. Take advantage and you’ll find it helps a lot. Took a colleague of mine to tell me but it erases the frustration I felt dying over and over.
Listening to the music is like a journey into my youth. Alright, shut your eyes and imagine this; you’re at your grade 8 dance. You’ve awkwardly found your way into a corner as music plays. There’s no hip hop, and there’s no rock. Instead, the DJ seems to be on a techno phase. Weird analogy, but it perfectly describes what’s here. Throw it on a sound system and listen to the hard hitting base. For a beat’em up such as this, it’s perfect. Couple the excellent bass with the impactful strikes and it’s very satisfying. In the absence of a story, it falls on sound design for immersion. If you’re playing on the standard Nintendo Switch, the HD rumble aids in that even more.
Streets of Rage 4 is a time machine for the virtual world. Everything it does, it makes sure to infuse the era that saw this franchise truly raise to dominance. The animations are all so fluent, while the hand drawn visuals are really well done. The music fits perfectly with the aesthetic and that heavy bass does a lot to emphasis each punch. This is a game that’s perfect for small hour sessions. Sessions that can easily see you completing the entire game. To help with the replayability, there are many unlockables that you gain access to simply by increasing your high score.
Its not flawless though. Not being able to utilize the bumpers really makes doing some actions extremely awkward, especially if played on a Switch Lite. For me, I truly never found myself using the dash feature because I’d tire quick. It just didn’t feel natural. This is a brawler, so fast reflexes are essential. Having to press a direction twice in quick succession did me no favours. I expect great controls to give me a seamless transition between moves. This offers a clunky one.
At the end of the day, Streets of Rage 4 is amazing. I do feel the price tag is a tad too high. If it were 15-25% cheaper, I’d say it’s a no-brainer. For the experience, it’s truly worth it. As such, I have to say…
STREETS OF RAGE 4 IS RECOMMENDED
Streets of Rage 4 can be purchased digitally for PC on Steam or Humble Bundle. It can be bought digitally for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation or XBox store via the respective consoles.
Many thanks to DotEmu for the review copy.
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Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.