I’ve told the story of how much the Streets of Rage (Bare Knuckle) series means to me. That’s why I was really, really, really anticipating the arrival of Streets of Rage 4.
I’ve spent the whole day yesterday playing it, finishing it twice and unlocking a handful of characters already.
So what did I think?
Keep reading and find out.
What is Streets of Rage 4?
Streets of Rage 4 is a 2D beat’em up developed by Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games, with publishing duties handled by Dotemu.
The game supports local or online multiplayer, with up to 2 players online, 4 via couch co-op. Apart from the Xbox One, the game is also out on the PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. On the Xbox One, the game is part of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass program, which means it’s free to play for those with a valid subscription.
I was honestly mightily surprised by that, having expected it to be just retail only. It just reinforces my belief that the Game Pass program is one of the best deals in gaming currently.
Streets of Rage 4 picks up 10 years after the events of Streets of Rage 3. Mr X’s gone but his Syndicate’s returned, now controlled by his two kids; Mr and Miss Y. Like their father, they’re out to gain control of the city, with only Axel and his friends standing in the way.
You’ll be beating up the Syndicate through 12 stages of varying length. A few (like the Police Station and the ship) are some of the series’ best; cool enemies, great background art and a fun boss fight at the end. A couple are lame though (the concert and the island) and there’s none that even reach the awesomeness of Street of Rage 2’s amusement part stage.
Unfortunately, the game ditches Streets of Rage 3’s branching stages and the series’ multiple endings as everything’s now linear.
There’s also the hint that the game might’ve incorporated more set-pieces (like Stage 1’s car ramming the wall) but nothing similar ever came about in later stages, which was a disappointment. The only other stage to break up the routine move left to right gameplay was the one on top of the subway train, which was fun but too short.
Streets of Rage 4 might be a new game, sporting an all new gorgeous art style but make no mistake, you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of it if you’ve played the SEGA Streets of Rage (Bare Knuckle) trilogy. You know the game’s catered to old school when there’s even an option to change the soundtrack to the older games’.
I really appreciated that option, as it makes the game sound exactly like the older games did.
That’s not to say the game’s not been updated for modern tastes.
Old school but new.
The characters (from Streets of Rage 4) are incredibly versatile, with new moves, combos and special attacks. Returning fighters, like Axel and Blaze, now incorporate moves from their Streets of Rage 2 and 3 counterparts into their offensive repertoire, such as Axel’s dragon punch and his burning fist move that hits everything around him.
The new combat moves are awesome, plus, unlike the versions in older games, don’t drain your HP every time you use them. Ok, that’s not exactly true. They do drain HP (shown onscreen by a green bar overlaid over the regular red HP bar), but if you hit enemies (and don’t get hit in return), you can steadily refill that used green portion. Get hit though, and that chance’s lost.
It’s a great risk/reward gameplay feature that I love. You get to overpower foes if you’re good, but there’s a risk that you’ll be worse off than you were before if you get tagged. Skill’s (and maybe some luck) definitely required.
While there are no RPG elements in the game, it does feature a persistent score feature that steadily unlocks new characters at set thresholds. I’ve managed to unlock all three Streets of Rage 1 characters, with characters from the sequels coming up next.
The neat part about using the old school characters (who are all featured with their old school sprite artwork) is that they also bring into the game their old movesets. Characters from the first game for example, don’t have a ton of moves. To offset that, they have a special ability to call in artillery support from a police squad car that can damage everything onscreen.
It’s awesome to see the developers acknowledge the legacy the series has by incorporating something like this.
Most enemies from the older games are back, complete with their old school movelists. They’re also joined by a ton of new foes too, which gives the game some much needed variety. Shiva (the bane of my gamers) is also back, as both a boss and selectable character.
Speaking of bosses, they’re a mix of old and new. Veterans will recognize a couple of them (like Shiva) but the rest are new. One complaint I have is that some bosses repeat for multiple levels, which is a bit of a letdown.
That’s not a complaint for the art style though, because it is beautiful. While it’s a bit tame in the latter stages, the earlier ones are vibrant and very colorful, evoking the original games to a T.
Character animation is especially noteworthy; it reminds me the first time I saw Street Fighter III (and its silky smooth animation) in action. Axel particularly, reminds me of Ryu, both in how he fights and his movements.
The music’s just as good too. With the option to use classic tunes from the older games, it’s just too awesome to pass, especially since the soundtracks from the original games are considered some of the best of the 16-bit era. It’s amazing that they’re just as good today, as they were in the 90s.
The Bottom Line.
Streets of Rage 4 is a worthy sequel to the storied series. It’s not the perfect sequel as there are some issues but it’s definitely a great effort that’s respectful of the original trilogy.
Hopefully, the game sells well enough that we get to see an even more ambitious sequel; one that incorporates Streets of Rage 3’s branching story, the series’ multiple endings and (I wish) Guardian Heroes‘ RPG progression. Now that would make the game perfect.
Great for the old school and the new, with a few issues.
- Awesome art style.
- Great animation.
- Tons of selectable (and distinct) characters.
- Solid gameplay.
- No branching stages.
- No multiple endings.
- Some bosses repeat.
- A few stages are boring.