It’s been over 25 years since we’ve last heard from the Streets of Rage franchise. Throughout the Genesis era, Streets of Rage was one of the definitive beat-em-up franchises, with the original trilogy beloved by fans and critics alike. Despite decades of dormancy, publisher DotEmu has teamed up with SEGA to produce and release a fourth entry in the series, and based on the one-stage demo we experienced at PAX East, players are in for a faithful and fierce return to this classic style of gameplay.
At its core, Streets of Rage 4 plays just like the original trilogy you know and love. To keep things fresh in this newest entry, developers Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games have tweaked the core gameplay to make it even more gratifying and addictive. Special attacks no longer permanently drain your health; after using a special attack, part of your health bar will become shaded, and beating up on enemies will restore the health you temporarily lost. In addition, enemies will no longer fly off the screen, instead bashing off an invisible wall and remaining in play to endure further abuse. Weapon-wielding has become more robust, special moves have been tweaked, and the entire core gameplay loop has been refined.
The end result is an old-fashioned beat-em-up that’s damn fun to play. Laying the smack down on enemies feels very satisfying; watching them fly and bounce around the screen after taking hits never gets old. Movement and fighting controls are precise and responsive, with no significant issues to speak of. Our demo featured the first stage of the game, a clever callback to the first level of Streets of Rage 2 with lots of fun references for fans – chicken pops up in familiar places, for example. According to the developers, this self-referential stage is meant to show players that they are serious about respecting the franchise; later levels will introduce new environments and give the game more of a unique identity.
Part of this identity comes thanks to the gorgeous hand-drawn art style, which retains the spirit of the original trilogy while updating the presentation for the modern day. Environments are lovingly rendered, with excellent detail and effects work throughout. The hand-drawn art style was a priority for the developers from the beginning; instead of returning to the retro, pixel-driven art style of the previous trilogy, they wanted Streets of Rage 4 to feel more tuned to current-day visuals. After seeing the demo in person, I believe they made the right call – the graphics are stunning in motion.
Lots of people appreciate classic beat-em-ups, and if you fall into that camp, Streets of Rage 4 is right up your alley. The core gameplay is as tight and satisfying as ever, the presentation is fantastic, and the game is respectful of the franchise’s past. The original trilogy’s polished gameplay has held up remarkably well over the years, and if the final product maintains the demo’s level of quality and fun, then I wouldn’t be surprised if this entry enjoys the same fate. It’s not often that a long-dormant franchise is revived in this way, so definitely keep an eye on this one.
Streets of Rage 4 launches later this year, with platforms to be announced.