I’m as guilty as anyone of looking back at the games of my youth with some strong rose-tinted glasses. Growing up, I was always a Sega kid, taking that side of the playground war. I still remember my time playing on the Mega Drive fondly, with some classics such as the original Sonic trilogy, Aladdin, Desert Strike and many more. Of course, Streets of Rage is included in that nostalgia, and playing this long awaited 4th entry feels as though I’ve somehow gone back in time to those days. Outside of the (initially controversial) visuals, this feels like Streets of Rage, rather than a homage or re-imagining.
Yet, it doesn’t feel like a title out of time. Perhaps that’s a testament to just how good those original games were, but if someone were to tell me this was actually a long lost mid 90’s game with new visuals, I’d believe it. Despite the 20+ years since the third title, everything from the flow of combat, to the amazing soundtrack is about as perfect as a fan of the series could ask for. Hell, it’s about as perfect as a non-fan could ask for too.
The blend of old and new is pretty much baked into every corner of SOR4. Picking up the pad as series veteran Axel feels like putting on a comfy old pair of gloves, and we’re GRANDUPPER-ing within moments of starting the game. Despite putting on a few pounds since the 90’s, he’s still more than capable of dishing out quick jab justice, or flaming roundhouse punches.
Newcomer Cherry – daughter of original SOR character Adam Hunter – soon became a favourite. Her faster style felt like a combination of SOR2’s Skate and her father, with some quick hits complimented by a thunderous guitar attack that, quite simply, never got old. Veterans Blaze and the aforementioned Adam feature too, alongside Max fill-in Floyd filling out the rest of the main cast. Whether old or new, each have a unique feel to them, allowing a variety of styles to be played no matter your preference.
The trio of dev’s on duty here clearly have a lot of love for the series, as every single moment feels so lovingly crafted into what Streets of Rage is that it’s almost overwhelming. The opening stage instantly reminds us of the opening of SOR2, from the neon soaked lighting reflecting in puddles to that amazing homage of a musical track. But it’s completely its own thing too, merely crafting a feel of the old, while bringing it into the modern day.
This feel continues throughout, each new area both refreshingly new and brilliantly crafted, while keeping in line with what we’d want from a new title in the franchise. Many enemy types return, and are handled in much the same manner as before; from that sneaky bastard Galsia with his little knife shuffle, to the rotund Big Ben and his flame breath, tactics learnt over two decades ago still fly here. That’s not to say it’s easy, mind. The difficulty even on the normal is high, and those 3 lives have never disappeared so fast before. At least we now only need to restart the current stage, rather than the whole game. We can also add in extra lives after dying, at a cost to our overall score if we just want to get through the levels.
That score is all important though, so it’s best to avoid affecting it if we can. Not only are we graded at the end of each level based on it, but it adds to our lifetime cumulative score, which has milestones assigned in order to unlock the pixel art versions of classic characters; once again, they play and feel exactly as we remember them.
I must admit I was in the sceptical camp when I first saw the screens of SOR4. Something about them reminded me of the smoothing filter used on the ports of Mega Drive titles to modern systems, where it basically smears Vaseline over the screen to hide the pixel nature. I jumped the gun in judging them though; Streets of Rage 4 looks incredible. Not only are the character designs updated in brilliant ways, but the amount of small visual touches in just amazing; neon lights highlight the all people on screen perfectly according to where they are, the colours pop off screen, the animation is brilliant and really, that’s where it seals the deal. I could watch the idle animations for hours, noticing extra little movements in clothing and hair that just help accentuate the larger than life characters that Axel, Cherry and co are.
But even if the stylised visuals aren’t winning you over, the act of playing surely will. Yes, there’s not all that much to it – we’re still walking to the right and punching everyone in the way – but there’s just the right amount of variety in attacks to stop it becoming tedious. Combos feature more heavily now, encouraging constant attack to bump up the number and it’s resulting score. And while it’d be simple enough to stick to mashing attack, there are little extra touches that reward experimentation. Jumping and attacking is well and good, but hold down as well and we’re treated to an extra attack. Grappling in close means we can wail away for a few hits unaffected, but time it right and we can flip behind them for a few extra hits before throwing them into approaching foes. Using one of each characters specials still drains some of our life bar, but manage to dish out enough standard damage after (and not getting hit) and we can refill it. A new extra attack, governed by collected stars dotted around the levels, smacks foes for massive damage, but we need to be in range lest it go wasted. SOR4 is more than simple enough for new players to get involved, but dig a little deeper and there’s a fun, rewarding flow to the combat that is not only reminiscent of the old titles, but improves on it brilliantly.
There’s very little to dislike then. It can at times be too easy to get cornered, and with no block option we end up seeing our life bar drained before we can do anything about it. 4 player co-op features for local play, but online is sadly limited to 2, though there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for this. But these are minor niggles in an otherwise outstanding product. It’s even a Play Anywhere title, and for once I was able to use this function; my ageing Surface Pro 3 ran it practically flawlessly. And it’s on Gamepass too; it’s been a long wait, but Streets of Rage 4 is doing all it can to make it worthwhile – and it does so successfully.
Whether you’re a fan of the originals or not, Streets of Rage 4 is a blast from start to finish. Satisfying combat, incredible music and visuals and tons to unlock mean this should be sticking around on your hard drive for some time yet. A lack of 4 player online is a disappointment, but otherwise what’s here more than makes up for the long wait.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.