As part of our #SOR4DAY celebrations, take a listen to KC's review of his time spent with Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games' Streets of Rage 4, a sequel 26 years in the making.
A code for the Nintendo Switch version of the game was provided by Dotemu for the purpose of this review.
Out of all the recent remakes, updates and remasters or revivals, SEGA or otherwise, that I've played, none of them meant as much as Streets of Rage 4 to me. As an example, Lizardcube's debut effort, the amazing Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap was a remake of a game I had only a slight connection with. I played the original Wonder Boy III in preparation for an interview with Omar and Ben of Lizardcube back in 2016. So, sure, I knew and loved the game when the remake came out and I was able to appreciate how good it was. But things are different with the Streets of Rage series.
I have played the original trilogy many times in the past, even on my Mega Drive, back in the day and I have fond memories of playing the first game co-op with friends. As I played through the first few stages of Streets of Rage 4, I was overwhelmed with memories of playing the games in online co-op in the Gens and KEGA Fusion emulators a few years ago thanks to the magic of Netplay.
Which brings us to why things are different. Streets of Rage is a pretty important video game series to me and so is its music.
With that in mind, I was really excited to get my hands in an early copy of the fourth installment in the series, especially after recording this week's interview with Art Director Ben Fiquet and Executive Producer Cyrille Imbert.
Let's start with the art design. Sure, it's not the pixel made world we're used to in the series with huge, detailed sprites. Lizardcube's Ben Fiquet decided to go a different route - the one he went with for the remake of Dragon's Trap: beautiful handdrawn animation. And it really is beautiful. I have to say that I was sold on it from the moment I saw the first screenshots and trailer. But I can understand some would want Streets of Rage 4 to go back to its more retro-looking style. But it really does work in its advantage. I mean, from the perfectly imperfect city streets to its underground areas and even the inside of buildings and its Chinatown scene, everything looks amazing and rich in detail. I couldn't help but to pause the action from time to time to look at all the small details in the background and how good it all looked. And the same goes for the new HD models of your favorite characters, like Axel, Blaze and Adam. The story says ten years have passed since the last game and it shows in the characters clothes and updated styles. You also have your old trusty thugs of yore with a new, but very familiar coat of paint, and some new enemies with special mention to bosses. If you're still skeptical, believe me: it works and it works great.
Gameplay wise, Streets of Rage 4 feels familiar... I've been using this word quite a bit, haven't I? But that's the best way to describe how I felt when I picked up my controller and start punching and kicking with the all-new HD Axel, complete with a new moveset that awards chains and combos. It's different, yes, more 2020, but it still feels like Streets of Rage. It feels like the direction the series had to take in this day and age. It's a modern day street brawler and it's soooo satisfying.
Each of the playable characters have a basic attack move that, by pressing the button more than once, you can chain into several punches and kicks and some specials. The 3 specials (defensive, offensive and air) drain your health, though, so there's a bit of strategy involved in deciding whether or not to use them. If you end up risking it, you can restore the health you used by hitting enemies. You also have blitz moves at your disposal which are stronger attacks and, for some characters, quick move attacks as well. You have your usual grabs and you can also grab items that are thrown at you when they're in mid-air. Finally, you get your star move that you can use if you collect the star tokens you can find scattered throughout the levels. These are powerful moves that can even knock down all the enemies on the screen if used correctly.
The different moves are done by pressing one button or a combination of buttons. That said, you can also use legacy mode for the controls which lets you play with only the 3 basic inputs: jump, attack and special.
You start out with the 4 basic characters: Axel, your all-around brawler tryp, the gracious Blaze, Cherry, a guitar-wielding speedy type character and Floyd, your power type character and, obviously the slowest of the bunch. As you progress through the game, you'll unlock extra HD characters and even the retro, pixelated models of Axel and friends. In total, you get 17 characters to use in the game and you can adjust the difficulty level from easy to Mania... you know, if you're a masochist.
Since the game is not very long with its 12 stages, the added characters, with their own movesets and specials offer quite a bit of variety and you'll end up wanting to replay story mode with each of them to see how different they feel like.
It feels very satisfying and rewarding to create huge combos and it's great to see an on-screen message congratulating on getting that high number without being hit by a single enemy. Special mention to all the environmental hazards in the different stages. Some of them, in typical Streets of Rage style can even be used to your advantage. I'm especially fond of the wrecking balls found in a later part of the game.
The legacy Battle mode is also back. And, after completing story mode, you unlock stage select, arcade and boss rush modes, which, apart from arcade, perhaps, are pretty self-explanatory. Arcade is your usual 1 credit type mode that sees you fighting to get the best score and see how far you can get without continues. Perfect for the purists. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test out Online co-op. I couldn't find any online games to join and no one joined my play sessions. *sad face* I'm guessing once the game is out that problem will be solved. I can't really tell you if there are any issues, but I can tell you you're able to play with one friend online and up to 4 people can play together locally.
What about the music, I hear you ask? What about the music???? The Streets of Rage soundtracks were probably only rivaled in popularity by Sonic's 16-bit soundtracks, and only because it's Sonic we're talking about. Yuzo Koshiro and, to an extent Motohiro Kawashima, created true masterpieces inspired by non-video game music they enjoyed listening to back in the 90's. This time, music supervisor Cyrille Imbert went with Olivier Derivière as main composer and put together an all-star team of Western and Japanese composers to help him out. Koshiro and Kawashima are, thankfully, back on the team, but everyone else also does a good job capturing the feel of Streets of Rage while, at the same time, keeping things fresh and modern and even possibly crafting what will become the new sound of Streets of Rage as the series, hopefully sees new releases in the future. The music is dynamic progressing as you move forward in the levels and depending on what's happening on screen. Of course, it won't be for everyone, but knowing most of the musicians involved from previous works and seeing how they blended their own styles with the classic SOR style, made me feel at home in a sense, while still being surprised. Nostalgia is a funny thing, though. Your mileage may vary.
It's really nice to see what Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games did with such a beloved and iconic IP. You can see, feel and hear the love the developers have for the original games. The easter eggs scattered throughout the game as well as the subtile quality of life improvements that are available, like using retro characters or experiencing the game with classic music from the first two games, only emphasize the fact that Streets of Rage 4 is a labor of love. Love and respect for the legacy of a series that had to wait 26 years to get its revival. But what a revival it is. It was definitely worth the wait. I highly recommend picking it up, especially as it's very reasonably priced when you consider the content you get. Let's just hope we don't have to wait until 2046 for Streets of Rage 5.
I mean, the game is so good that even Yuxo Koshiro had to buy a Nintendo Switch just to play it because his wife took over his original Switch to play Animal Crossing.
And if you don't know what I mean, check out his twitter account @yuzokoshiro. And while you're there, drop him a tweet saying KC would love to have him on The SEGA Lounge for a chat!
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A code for the game was provided to us by Dotemu.