When Streets of Rage 4 was first announced, I was wildly skeptical. The little I saw didn’t immediately live up to expectations I’d developed for a 2D brawler series that had its last official last entry in 1994. I feel a lot better about it now. I’ve played Streets of Rage 4 for 15 hours, and, I’ve fallen in love with it.
This game is magnificent. Whether you’re a fan of the originals or a newcomer to the series, knuckle up and get ready for a great time.
Watch my video review above or read the video transcript below:
Streets of Rage as a series has always meant a lot for me.
Some folks might prefer Double Dragon, Final Fight, or the countless other games from that era, but the Streets of Rage series has always been my personal favorite. Streets of Rage, known as Bare Knuckle in Japan, started as Sega’s entry in the beat ‘em up genre that became so popular in the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s.
For me, it came at a time when my world revolved around martial arts movies. Streets of Rage turned my living room into an arcade with some of the coolest music my tiny brain had ever heard at the time.
The formula has always been simple: it’s a multiplayer side-scrolling action game that challenges you with wave after wave of enemies, in a series of progressively difficult levels that give you a variety of weapons to use and obstacles to navigate.
The stories in the original Streets of Rage games were never meant to be anything more than echoes of B-grade action movies. You’re out to put an end to an evil mastermind or rescue a friend who’s been taken hostage.
Streets of Rage 4 has the nearly impossible task of taking a genre that’s nearly 40 years old and retaining what those games did so well while somehow making it feel fresh by today’s standards. It’s a formula that worked when people still got together in these ancient spaces called “arcades,” or sat together in front of clunky tube TVs long before the days of online matchmaking.
There aren’t any skill trees or numbers to concern yourself with as you play. It’s just pure brawling with a couple of tiny formula tweaks thrown in for longterm fans to notice and newcomers to appreciate, if they choose to revisit the first few entrants in the series (which they definitely should).
Streets of Rage games feature a wonderful mix of being mindful of your surroundings, learned knowledge of enemy attacks and weaknesses, and utilizing your own arsenal of attacks. There’s also the unspoken synchronization that can happen between two players cooperatively wiping screens clean of computer-controlled baddies.
When you and a partner are in sync with one another, it can feel like a dance. This series has always been about jumping right in and mashing buttons in a constantly randomized sequence of scenarios for you and a potential partner to rock-paper-scissor your way through.
You have a d-pad or an analog stick and four buttons to help clear your way. Your main attack lets you combine a small but useful selection of combos to chain together on enemies. For example, you can perform a quick dash by double tapping left or right before your main attack. That lets you rush and knock a few goons on their backs.
Holding that same button lets you unleash a strong attack to catch any foes who come into striking distance. You can do that at the end of a string of combos or any time, really, to quickly knock an enemy back in one hit.
Jumping and then attacking will let you dish out mid-air attacks in either direction. Walking right up to an enemy gives you the chance to grab them for an up-close thrashing or a throw. A defensive move helps you break out of a tough spot in case you get surrounded. Like in previous games, this move comes at the cost of a tiny chunk of health.
However, if you can follow up with an uninterrupted chain of hits on enemies, you can gain that health back. It’s a small but welcome improvement that introduces a nice risk/reward mechanic. It used to be that I would avoid the defensive button at all costs in previous Streets of Rage games. Now it feels worth the risk.
And last but not least, your special move lets you deploy a huge unblockable attack that feels like something out of Street Fighter. Using these special moves can allow you to land huge hits on tougher enemies like bosses, but holding onto them also adds a bonus to your overall score too.
The core loop remains the same: identify enemies based on their attack patterns and find the moves that will interrupt them and knock them out. Bosses have unblockable attacks that must be avoided while simultaneously fighting off endless extras who only serve to get in your way.
Each playable character has their own arsenal of attacks that lean in to their respective strengths.
- Axel, the series’ mainstay, packs his patented “grand upper” uppercut and bodyslam to handle the game’s larger foes.
- Blaze makes her return with her beautiful balance of speed and power, giving her a good mix of aerial attacks and kicks to the head.
- Cherry, this game’s equivalent of Skate (my all-time favorite character), is quick on her feet. That makes her attacks weaker overall, but her mobility is key for fighting enemies who dash around the stage. She’s also got an amazing downward attack that lets her pogo off of enemies’ heads. It never gets old.
- Floyd plays more like Max from previous games and moves slowly like a tank, but he makes up for it with his ability to pick up more than one enemy at once and bash them together like toys.
- And Adam Hunter also makes his return as a playable character, offering a nice mix of everybody’s strengths for players who might want a sample platter of ways to wash enemies in style. I mean, just look at those suspenders.
Streets of Rage 4 now supports up to four players, locally, and two-player co-op online, which is a godsend these days. Can the combat sometimes feel cheap when you’re swarmed by enemies who move way faster than you? Sure.
Are some enemies clearly overpowered? Absolutely. But that’s usually the case with brawlers, and playing with friends can alleviate some of those hurdles.
If that’s not enough for you, playing the game gives you the opportunity to unlock Every. Character. From. Every. Streets of Rage Game. So even if I don’t get to see a new version of my friend Skate after all these years, I can at least play as a pixelated time-capsule version of him, and I’m happy to report that all of his moves still shred through fools with ease.
Here’s where this game’s reverence for its predecessors is most apparent. These characters with movesets that date as far back to 1991 still snap into place perfectly in this game and don’t miss a beat.
Streets of Rage 4’s design treats the core gameplay loop as a precious formula, even as it also understands where to improve upon archaic arcade-like mechanics, updating them to feel modern and less punishing. If you lose all your lives, you can just pick up at the start of the level where you left off.
No more worrying that you’ll run out of your precious continues. Need a boost? Change your character before jumping back in, or balance out the game’s difficulty by giving yourself a few lives in return for a reduced overall score.
The game even lets you pick levels à la carte so you don’t have to climb all the way back up from the bottom in Story Mode. And if you want that classic hardcore feel, it’s here too.
For the bold, play in Arcade mode where you only get one credit to beat the entire game. Face off against every boss back-to-back in Boss Rush mode to practice different combinations of strategies, either alone or with a friend. Play against a friend in Battle Mode for 1v1 competitive fights.
Streets of Rage 4 is filled to the brim with replayability and adds a healthy dose of fan service as a cherry on top. The game’s visual and auditory choices are what vaults the series’ gritty cartoon aesthetic into the 2020s, making it feel both new and familiar all at once.
Watching this game play out can sometimes feel like you’re in control of an anime, but watching all of its modern day lighting techniques and particle effects reminds you that you’re experiencing something new at the same time. The game’s music has always been where the mix of old and new feels the most apparent.
The original soundtracks elevated these games to something more than just another “beat ‘em up” back in the day. Streets of Rage 2 introduced me to Yuzo Koshiro, who made the kind of house music that originated in Chicago and spread to other cities like London, New York, Detroit. This genre of music made its way into my life via this legendary composer all the way from Japan.
And Streets of Rage 4’s music does not disappoint.
The game’s soundtrack includes new music made just for the game from series composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima along with a legendary roster of composers who feel like their own band of badasses. The credits include names like Yoko Shimomura, Harumi Fujita, Keiji Yamagishi, Olivier Deriviere, who have composed music for games like Street Fighter II, Kingdom Hearts, Mega Man 3, Ninja Gaiden, Gitaroo Man, Vampyr and more.
This soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission, and it needed to be in order to build on the legacy that Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima created with the original games. Each level comes with songs that make every moment feel like an action-packed encounter you’d see in a movie.
It’s clear that Streets of Rage 4 has been paying attention to all of the great action films that have come out since we last saw an official release, with one portion of this game feeling like a scene from Old Boy as you and a friend square up back-to-back to fight off enemies coming from both directions. (Other games like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 have also done back-to-back fights, but setting it in a Streets of Rage game feels like the designers doing some catching up on action movie canon. If you want some of those classic giant elevator fights, they’re all in here too.)
The game is packed with tiny details and dozens of easter eggs that celebrate the history of the series, like murals that pay tribute to scenes and characters in the old games, and arcade machines that let you replay old portions of previous games.
And just when I thought this game couldn’t offer more reasons for me to love it, I saw a menu option that allowed me to experience this game in what I think might be the only way to play it. There’s a CRT filter that simulates what the game would look like on an old tube TV with scan lines. It makes the game look and feel like the lost sequel we should have gotten decades ago.
You can also hop into the audio settings and enable original music from the old games. Streets of Rage 4 feels like something more in line with Sonic Mania with this enabled, because it retains the essence of what made the originals so great and finds new ways to continue unraveling what works.
Enabling this mode made me retroactively appreciate what I originally saw as a “new” art style after first seeing the initial trailer, and highlights how much care went into preserving the original style while a new take at the same time.
The added addition of online play cements this as a worthy sequel to the games that I love so much.I hope newcomers can also appreciate the game with friends as a fun, slightly messy, mashup of nostalgia with simple yet rewarding gameplay.
These kinds of games never really went anywhere, and you can find a ton of excellent examples of new takes on its style. Streets of Rage 4 feels more like a celebration of that history inside of a new and updated world.
I will continue to play an absurd amount of this game in the years to come, and I’m glad to fit it into rotation when deciding which in the series I want to dive into with friends.
Streets of Rage 4 is available on PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.