It’s been a pleasant couple of years for the Sega fanatic. First, we were treated to Lizardcube’s wonderful Wonder Boy 3 remake, followed by what is arguably the best Sonic game to come out since the early 2000s. Now, after a nearly 30-year wait, we finally have an (official) successor to fan-favorite brawler Streets of Rage(SOR). Admittedly, Streets of Rage 4 has some mighty big shoes to fill considering the relatively large fan base of the Sega Genesis trilogy. Can Axel and the gang still pull some punches after a decade long slumber? Let’s take to the streets and find out!
The plot of SOR4 is as wafer-thin as you’d expect for a game of this genre. This title takes place ten years after the gang took down Mr. X in Streets of Rage 3, with his children (known as the Y’s) continuing their father’s criminal antics. As to be expected, it’s up to Axel and co (as well as newcomer Cherry) to pull the plug on the Y’s and restore civility.
Having proved themselves with Wonder Boy 3, Lizardcube has brought their distinct art style to the world of Streets of Rage. Going from the bright, fantasy realms of Monster Land to dark, gritty suburbia is quite a change of pace- but they nailed it. The presentation is nothing short of stunning, and there are a ton of additional touches in the backdrops and character design that series fans are going to love.
Axel and Blaze look significantly older now, suggesting that some time has passed from the last game. Also, there are several cameo appearances, including the kangaroo from SOR3 who now appears to have retired and picked up a side job as a backdrop bartender. My only gripe in terms of art direction would have to be the Y’s. IGN’s already said it, but I definitely can’t shake it- they look like Scott Pilgrim wannabes.
As much as I enjoyed the presentation and funky, techno-driven soundtrack…I have to be honest here. The gameplay simply wasn’t up to snuff with the few existing modern beat ‘em ups such as Fight N Rage.
The biggest gripe I had (which also appears to have surfaced on numerous message boards since launch) is the removal of dashing and rolling- something introduced by SOR 3. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this change (some of the team did favor SOR 2 after all), many of the enemies and bosses in SOR4 seem to have been built around the player being able to perform these moves.
I initially started story mode off as Axel, but after finding that he’s just a bit too slow and underpowered in comparison to how he handled in the Genesis games, I quickly switched over to Cherry as she’s the only character capable of dashing (it’s just a plus that she also handles similarly to Gal from the aforementioned Fight n Rage). While this immediately shot the fun factor up since I could zip around the playing field at roughly the same speed as the enemies, it didn’t necessarily alleviate some of the other issues I had throughout the twelve boards making up the main game.
I do my best to avoid in-depth discussions of difficulty in my reviews. Everything is subjective in this department, after all. However, there are some truly cheap aspects of SOR4 compared to its contemporaries that simply cannot be ignored. Enemy and boss patterns aren’t necessarily tricky, but even in the beginning, they’re thrown at you in greater numbers than in the classics and (more often than not) with several health bars to knockdown.
This would make some sense towards the end of the roughly 2-4 hour campaign, as such a practice was fairly common with classic SOR games and classic brawlers in general, but to have it so early on is overkill. Couple that with the aforementioned limited mobility and no way to defend or parry attacks, and you have an experience that (literally) belongs in an arcade. If a relatively new beat ‘em single-handedly designed by one person can provide a challenging (and rewarding) brawler experience without resorting to outdated tactics to rob the player of lives…there’s no reason a much larger team couldn’t do the same.
Then there’s the special attack system. On the surface, it’s a novel risk-and-reward based mechanic. Essentially, to do each character’s special defensive/offensive/aerial move, you’ll need to sacrifice some health that can be gained back if you deal damage after performing the special. However, if you get hit, that health is gone forever (until you find a turkey leg or apple of course). This would be an interesting spin *if* the aforementioned balancing issues and pacing weren’t so prevalent. As much as I wanted to experiment with this system, I didn’t want to waste precious life (and lives) only to have 10 minutes of progress flushed down the drain to the stage boss as I made it towards the last quarter of the story mode.
A lot of love and labor went into the presentation as well as the fan service, the latter of which truly shines between the amount of returning faces and unlockables (which include the original sprite-based incarnations of the cast). However, as it stands, SOR 4 has some serious flaws that keep it from reaching the heights its predecessors did. The slower pacing, unbalanced encounters, and special attack system make for an experience that’s more frustrating than it is fun. With the amount of criticism currently circulating on online message boards, I hope some patches are issued out to help increase this game’s quality of life.
For now, I can only recommend this to the diehard SOR fan at its $24.99 digital asking price. Everyone else would do well to check out Fight n Rage and (if you somehow haven’t already) Castle Crashers for a substantial modern beat ‘em up experience that’s both challenging *and* satisfying to master. It’s also worth mentioning that the game is currently on Xbox Game Pass if you happen to have an Xbox One and would like to try it out (along with dozens of other titles) at a significantly lower asking price.
The final verdict: six grand uppers out of ten.