When I was younger, (much younger), my brother and I were gifted a Sega Mega Drive one Christmas. We had the present in the afternoon, rather than the morning, in a bid by our parents to keep us away from playing video games all day. We suspected we might get it, so the morning disappointment was a distant memory once we unwrapped it and plugged it in. No accounts or patches in those days, unwrap, unbox, plug in and off you go. We had Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage. Sonic could do one. It was time to bust some heads.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table playing this in two-player mode. I remember it being amazing. Then Streets of Rage 2, which introduced some new characters and abilities. And 3, is a less clearer recollection but I still remember the characters. Many, many years later, Streets of Rage 4 is out. On a console generation 4 or 5 iterations removed from when it was last out. Could it possibly be any good? Spoiler: yes.
I don’t know where to start. It’s brilliant. Is that nostalgia talking? Probably. You select from a handful of characters, some old, some new. Axel is back, of course, but he’s all ‘roided up with muscles and a belly. He’s got a beard now, all gristly. Blaze returns too, she… looks exactly the same. Maybe she’s had some work done, the animation suggests she may have (Dead or Alive fans will know what I mean). There’s a couple of newcomers too, a weird guy with robot arms who plays a bit similar to Max the wrestler from the older games, and a guitar wielding girl (daughter of original hero Adam in Streets of Rage 1).
They all play slightly differently to, with moves, speed and range at play. Hitting the same button does a combo, you can do a special with a sacrifice of a bit of health but by doing some more hitting you can recover this. You can jump, grab – that’s basically it. It’s simple by today’s standards but it still works well, and the gameplay feels nostalgic but not completely outdated whilst the updated visuals make you feel like you’re playing something new.
The visuals. Wow. Streets of Rage 4 is heavily stylised. Hand-drawn characters with thick ink lines, beautifully animated at a solid 60 frames (I’m informed across all systems but certainly on PS4). Colours are vibrant, and levels varied as you make your way through a city, a police station, docks and the obligatory elevator level. It’s literally like you’re watching a comic book move.
I can’t remember exactly who are old and new enemies. The fat guys are back, the punk rockers, some of the bosses return. There’s a nice blend, but I’d forgot how violet it us. Punching, throwing and smashing are a given, but early on you get your first weapon – a knife – and just go stabbing. There’s no blood but still. Environmental effects add to the complexity; electricity from open wires, a weird green goo which slows you down are two examples. It’s all fluff though, welcome fluff, but fluff nonetheless as Streets of Rage is about beating your way through hordes of bad dudes to prove that you are the baddest dude.
It isn’t quite about that – there is literally a plot, some weird thing about two kids from a previous game boss with stupid names. Who cares, you basically just need to go and punch stuff. It’s pretty ludicrous at points with some of the boss fights taking liberties with how ‘science fiction’ Streets of Rage is supposed to be but I think some of that is just an excuse to show off the graphics. Each character’s special has a nice little graphical flair, and they have an ultimate which isn’t quite a screen clearing job, but does a reasonably high area-of-attack damage with some cool visual effects.
There are also some cool throwbacks. Original characters in all their pixelated form (with moves) are unlockable, as are some secret retro levels. Co-op play is available locally (4 player) or online (2 player) as well as vs. modes, and original difficulty (one credit for the whole game!) You can even turn off friendly fire, but I did appreciate being able to smack my mate occasionally to keep them in line.
Streets of Rage was released in 1991, with Streets of Rage 3 out in 1994. It’s 2020 and 26 years later, Streets of Rage 4 is released. Last night I spent hours playing through the story once again with another person albeit remotely. It’s as brilliant as I remember it, the upgrades they’ve made make it feel fresh but familiar. Ok, so it’s all over in 3-4 hours but it’s great fun.
Reviewed on PS4