I've been working as a game editor for more than ten years, and I've had a lot of great games during that time. But nothing could trigger such a childlike anticipation as Streets of Rage 4. Since the announcement, I have been extremely excited for the title. But can the big expectations of a fan boy be met at all?
Beat 'em ups have been one of my favorite games since the early 90s. But it was not Double Dragon or Final Fight that sparked my enthusiasm for virtual street brawls, but Streets of Rage 2. Out of curiosity, it was pulled out of the video store at some point, and it immediately grabbed me and my best friend. At some point, the video store employee suggested maybe just buy the game – we had borrowed it so many times …
In fact, we mostly gambled in pairs. Mixing up the punks and rackets together had this team aspect that we both liked. Keeping each other's backs and doing it together was more fun than doing it alone. With Streets of Rage 3 from 1994, however, the series ended. Over the years, only collections with the three classics appeared on different platforms such as the PS3 or Steam. In addition, there is only a fine, albeit unofficial, PC remake. A real fourth part was left out.
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Accordingly, I was thrilled with the announcement of Streets of Rage 4 in August 2018 because, like many others, I no longer expected a sequel. After I was able to play rehearsal for the first time in November of the same year, I was very confident: The project seemed to be in very good hands with publisher Dotemu and the developer team Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games. But all advance laurels are of no use if the finished game does not deliver …
Back on the streets
I'll send it straight away: Streets of Rage 4 is primarily made for fans. The Keilerei only unfolds its true fascination if you know the three predecessors and generally appreciate beat 'em ups. The two studios packed Part 4 with innuendo, funny Easter Eggs and lovely details up to the top. Some are obvious, others are somewhat hidden – it is really worth keeping your eyes and ears open.
It starts with the intro with the skyline in the background and the scrolling text – both of them create a cozy retro atmosphere. In the character selection there are two absolute cult figures with Axel and Blaze that simply have to be there. In addition, the young Cherry and the muscle man Floyd are both fast and strong fighters. After a short time, Adam also joins him, who is playable again for the first time since Streets of Rage 1.
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The first steps and blows on the streets seem completely familiar and completely new to me. I start with Blaze and have it under control again immediately because throws, combos and special moves are almost the same as before. All punches, kicks and handles work precisely and are really powerful. It feels great, but still not like a simple copy of its predecessor.
This is ensured by the new graphic style. Characters, enemies and levels were drawn by hand and therefore appear very artistic and smooth. So I experience the well-known maneuvers in a new way. I know exactly which movement is coming, but nevertheless every kick and punch looks fresh and really sexy! The developers also hit the right nerve with the other characters: Adam, Cherry and Floyd were staged in a great way and play as differently as they are first-class. The stages alternate completely new environments and interpretations of earlier locations – this mixture definitely works.
Punch with harmony
However, after some time I realize that familiar tactics and movements alone are of little help to me. Because the combat system spiced up the developers with some innovations. So opponents bounce off the edge of the screen and the ground to enable juggle combos. In line with this, many strokes and throws can be broken off or seamlessly connected. There is also a so-called star move: a particularly difficult attack that is only possible by collecting items with limited availability.
The newly gained dynamics take some time to get used to, but it's tremendous fun because it enables me to work on my opponents better than ever. Knocking whole groups through the air and driving up the hit counter with the score is extremely motivating. So I take Galsia, Signal, Donovan and the other acquaintances apart, who in turn attack with their usual attacks. In between, however, there are also some new opponents whose looks and actions go very well with the old team.
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Mastering the characters and the combat system is the big challenge in Streets of Rage 4. Apart from the basic controls, the game hardly reveals any tricks, so I have to discover and learn some techniques and peculiarities in the classic way. Only when everything is in place does it make sense to switch from easy or normal to difficult, violent or even mania.
The perfect combo
But I get reinforcements for that. Because just like the predecessors, Streets of Rage 4 really turns up in the team. Up to four players are possible locally, but that is not feasible given the Corona crisis. Fortunately, there is an online co-op mode for two beating fans. The first PS4 session with my best friend lasts around eight hours. On the one hand, this is because the juggle and combo system in the team is even more fun than alone. Together we sweep several opponents off the screen at the same time or cover a boss from left and right with attacks without giving him a chance.
On the other hand, new characters are regularly unlocked with the collected points. And they are the absolute hit: These are all fighters from the three predecessors, including their classic animations, attacks and sound effects. We can't believe it at first, but the warhorses only fall out of line because of their retro appearance.
On the other hand, the makers playfully managed the feat of integrating the old figures almost perfectly into the revised combat system. Because the character can be changed after each level, we cheerfully mix the team and thus ensure variety. Unlockable graphics filters provide even more old school feelings, which, among other things, envelop the game in a cool 16-bit pixel look. In addition, the soundtrack can be switched to the sounds from Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2.
The version for Xbox Game Pass on console and PC does not currently support the retro filter. This function will soon be delivered via patch. In addition, (as of May 5) it was hardly possible for us to set up an online co-op game on Xbox One. This did not work through a direct invitation or the public search for players, instead a connection error was constantly displayed – this must be corrected as soon as possible.
More than just a story
No matter who we are playing with and what level we are in: the action is always wonderfully direct, energetic and smooth. Healing foods such as apple or chicken are fairly distributed and the use of weapons such as a blowpipe, baseball bat or knife makes sense in some places.
This first-class game flow ultimately impresses me the most. With hardly any beat-up, a game run takes a really long time. If I don't feel like it after the first one, a lot goes wrong. But the fun of massive shots, fat combos and plenty of points remains undiminished, the developers have hit the right note. And that's exactly the case with Streets of Rage 4!
But I don't always have to gamble the story. First there is the battle mode known from the predecessors. Here I can fight with up to three other human players in different arenas. On the other hand, a maximum of two fighters compete online here. Boss rushes one after the other all bosses for which I have only one life. The same applies in arcade mode, where all stages want to be completed with a continue.