While other kids played outside or enjoyed a social life, I spent the late ’80s and early ’90s sucked into a genre of video games called “beat ’em ups,” 2D side-scrolling affairs that forced you to punch, jump and kick your way through a battery of enemies before progressing through the levels, often alongside a partner.
I played all the classics: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Double Dragon, Final Fight and, of course, Streets of Rage for the. My excitement surged when I heard Streets of Rage was getting a modern update that paired the classic gameplay with a revamped, almost cartoonish art style.
Streets of Rage 4
See it on: | * | |
*included on Xbox with Game Pass Ultimate
Streets of Rage 4 is the latest in a wave of classic video game remakes that includes Resident Evil 3, Trials of Mana and Final Fantasy VII Remake. It’s part of a bigger push to tap into the warm and fuzzies from our childhood, often in a new, slick package — from gadgets like the cuteto flicks like the live-action versions of Disney classics such as and .
But would this specific attempt to tap into my nostalgia work? The beat ’em up genre, which looks downright primitive next to modern 3D games, has largely faded away. Maybe those fond memories of clearing wave after wave of 16-bit character sprites with my younger brother had grown rose-tinted over time?
I’m pleased to report that my fears were overblown. Streets of Rage 4 (played on the) is a fun romp that embraces nostalgia and adds modern tweaks to keep things interesting. Its new, hyper-stylized art informs the look and feel of the game, from the static comic book cut scenes to the cheesy story and character. The game knows it’s a bit silly, and fully embraces the fun. It’s not perfect and suffers from repetition, but at $25, it’s good value for an indie title.
Glorious beat ’em up fun
Streets of Rage 4 is similar in scope to its predecessors. It’s short, punchy and never outstays its welcome. Brought to you by independent publisher Dotemu and developer Lizardcube, it sticks to a tried-and-true format. I was able to clear through the game’s dozen levels in a few hours in between feeding my kids and putting them to sleep.
You start out with the option of four players. The first two, Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, are mainstays from the previous three titles, and are the familiar, well-rounded options.
Two new characters, Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia, offer something different. The smaller Cherry, with a guitar strapped to her bag, zips and hops around the screen and offers a number of aerial attacks. The slower Floyd lumbers around and is essentially a tank who can barrel his way through enemies or toss them around like rag dolls. Their varied play style helped break up the repetition, and I appreciated the puzzlelike aspect of figuring out which player worked best for each level.
Each character gets a set of standard melee and aerial attacks, as well as a strong attack. There’s also a special attack that takes away a bit of your health — a mainstay of older brawlers — but Lizardcube added a new wrinkle that lets you string together a combination of hits immediately after to recoup your life. Once I got comfortable using this technique, it added a nice little metagame that forced me to use those special attacks strategically.
Lastly, you’re given a more powerful, ultimate attack that costs a star icon — you typically start with two but pick up a few more throughout the levels. These attacks, which include a nice visual flourish, are best saved for the bosses.
I had a blast going through the game, despite some hiccups throughout. After playing modern 3D games with precise camera and motion controls, I found it frustrating to move my character through the 2D playing field to ensure it lined up with the enemy. Hit the attack button when your character is slightly below an enemy and you miss completely.
The music is a nice mix of synth and pays homage to the original franchise, though it’s far from the heights achieved in Streets of Rage 2. There’s a story, but don’t worry about it. It’s just structured enough to keep you moving from place to place, but it’s not worth summarizing here.
The levels also often fall victim to repetition — a hallmark of the beat ’em up genre. There are a few attempts to shake this up, like setting a fight atop a train with obstacles that fly at you. But they’re too few and far between. Many of the levels are also shockingly short. You can replay the game and rack up points to add new characters, including faithful sprite representations of characters from the previous games. Playing through the game with one of these retro pixelated characters is a trip.
The game isn’t without its challenges, especially once you crank up the difficulty. That’s when you need to partner up with someone, unlocking the best part of this genre: the co-op experience.
Co-op is where it’s at
OK, confession time. I never actually beat the original Streets of Rage. My brother and I worked our way through eight levels to finally confront the Big Bad, Mr. X. The final boss, however, gave us the option to either fight him or work with him. Morbidly curious, we both opted to see what happened if we chose to work with him. The result: Dropping back to the sixth level to grind through the game again.
Frustrated and exhausted, we both gave up. By the time we were willing to pick it up again, we had to return it to the rental store (this was still back in the day when Blockbuster was our chance to play different games).
It’s a shame I struggle with to this day.
That disappointment aside, my brother and I have beaten other games, like Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time and the second Streets of Rage. There’s something about beating one of these games with a friend or family member that enhances the experience.
My colleague, Sean Keane, who’s also been spending time on the game, said this is the ideal couch co-op game, one where you’re sitting in the same room and can banter while bashing away at corrupt cops or gang members. Indeed, you can play with four players locally, emulating those great arcade classics of old.
Unfortunately, due to current circumstances, that’s pretty much impossible. My wife was too busy to play with me and shot me an exhausted, questioning look when I suggested my 4-year-old son back me up.
Streets of Rage 4, thankfully, lets you partner up with someone online and even lets you play with four players locally.
Keane and I connected via a Zoom call, and he and I tore through the first few levels of the game together. The game seemed to handle multiple characters and our two accounts just fine. The chaos of so many enemies was a lot more manageable with a partner and, interestingly, allowed us to take in some of the gorgeous background art and the details hidden throughout the game.
“I’m particularly enamored by the environmental storytelling (seeing the money pop out when the police commissioner smashed open his desk told me he was on the take) and backgrounds (there are plenty of suggestive items on the bridge of the ship where you fight the third boss),” Keane said.
Streets of Rage 4 could’ve been a cheap way to exploit our nostalgia, but the game is lovingly crafted by fans of the series, with stunning visuals and nice bonuses like sprite representations of the original characters that you can play in the game. If you’re itching for an old-school brawler, you won’t be disappointed.