For the longest time, fans of SEGA’s Streets of Rage series, or Bare Knuckle as it’s called in Japan, had been asking for a follow-up to one of the best beat ’em up titles ever created. It only took 20ish years later for SEGA to revisit that IP, but not their own doing. Instead, it took the assistance of Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, and LizardCube not only to bring the dynamic brawler back but with a few new tricks as well.
Game Name: Streets of Rage 4
Platform(s): PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Developer(s): Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, LizardCube
Release Date: April 30, 2020
I grew up on the SEGA Genesis and Arcade machines, playing some of the best 2D brawlers ever to grace this planet. Final Fight, Double Dragons, X-Men, Bad Dudes, and the list goes on. Though, when it came to the Streets of Rage series, it always managed to hit home with me. The combat was fun, and the characters were unique in that they all brought different playstyles. More importantly, the music was something that stuck with you long after you stopped playing. Sure, I was one of the thousands who begged SEGA to bring Streets of Rage back. Yet when I heard that it was finally happening, I gasped when I also heard that a different studio would handle it. Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted, and thanks to Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, and LizardCube, the follow-up is just as good as the previous games.
I also want to acknowledge Streets of Rage Remake. If it weren’t for that game, Streets of Rage fans would have been lost. If it weren’t for the interest, we likely wouldn’t have seen this follow-up.
How does it play?
The controls are responsive, while the gameplay is easy enough for anyone to pick up, as you have buttons dedicated to punching, jumping, special attacks, picking up items (and catching them when thrown at you), Star Moves, and backward attacks. If you prefer using the older control style from the earlier Streets of Rage games, you can switch it up and use the simplified controls.
Depending on which character you select, the gameplay will vary as each character has a different movement speed. Which also, at times, can feel like the game is clunky. However, switching to a faster character eliminates that. It also goes without saying that if you use a faster character, they’ll likely be weaker, while the slower characters are stronger, the classic gaming trope.
This ain’t your parent’s Streets of Rage.
Some things have changed in Streets of Rage 4, which I will talk about somewhat, while others haven’t. You’ll still punch and kick your way to victory, but you also have a few extra moves in reserve. Fans of the previous games will remember the forward/forward moves that do extra damage or the “get the heck off me” backward attacks. Special moves also return, with a new risk/reward system. While performing those moves still drains your life meter, the life used up isn’t completely gone. Instead, it goes green, and now you can beat up some bad guys to regain that lost life. Spamming the move will result in a large green bar of health, but if you manage to keep hitting enemies without them hitting you, you’ll gain that health back. At the same time, getting hit results in you losing it completely.
Combos are new to the game, and we’re not talking about those weak jabs infinite combo, which also happens to be still present. We’re talking about smacking up people, bouncing them off the walls, or the ground, into other enemies, back in the air, and so forth. It’s simple to get a 10 – 15 hit combo, while 20+ or more will require a bit more skill, while 50+ hit combos will have you planning out your attack before you even make it. Combo those with your forward/forward and special moves, and you have a recipe for dishing out lots of damage while looking flashy doing so.
Also new to the game are Star attacks, which are similar to the special movies from the first Streets of Rage. Each character has one specific to them, and these will do a significant amount of damage to enemies. As the name suggests, you need a star to perform them. You’ll start with one but will find various stars scattered throughout with the levels just like in the original game, except they’re not mini-police cars.
Score enough combo points, and they’ll get multiplied, but don’t get hit while doing it, or you’ll drop that combo and the points. Should you keep going? Or should you risk it all and score big or lose all those points because of some punk who got in a lucky hit? Well, that’s your call. Ranking up big points also puts you on the Streets of Rage 4 online leaderboards, where you can brag to your friends about how well you did.
It’s not all sunshine either, as I found several things too cheap for the gameplay. Certain enemies get a massive armor boost, including specific boss characters, become immune to hit stun, which turns fights into a nuisance. I don’t know about you, but I want to feel as if I’m powerful when playing games like this, and when an enemy can randomly armor up, nullifying my attacks, it isn’t fun. There are way too many instances of this happening, especially later on in the game. Other times you’ll have enemies jumping from one lane and end hitting you, even if you’re nowhere close to them. Or when you’re in the middle of a combo, and yet somehow the enemy performs a move that gains armor and completely slams you. There’s also an issue where the enemies’ hitbox seems to extend behind them, allowing them to hit you even when they’re not facing you—minor annoyances, yet still frustrating.
Ah, the music, the lovely music. While not as iconic as the Streets 1 and 2 soundtracks, several tracks are bangers that get you into the mood. I’m going to go in-depth here as I don’t want to ruin anything. Let’s leave it at even Streets of Rage purists are going to enjoy the tunes.
Get ready for that grind.
While I’m sure you heard the announcement that Streets of Rage 1,2 and 3 characters are playable, there’s a downside to that. You’ll have to grind them all out via an overall lifetime score. Meaning that you’ll amass points every time you play, and once you hit a goal, you’ll be presented with a character. Repeat this process until you’ve unlocked all the characters. It’s going to depend on how often you play and how well you can maximize your combos. Bigger combos equal higher scores, and that will help the grind go that much faster.
Sadly, Police officer Estel isn’t playable. Not officially anyway, though I’m sure the PC modders will eventually add her to the game. Still, it would be nice to see her added officially.
PC port ain’t half bad.
Let’s talk about PC-Centric options. Surprisingly has a large list of options I wasn’t expecting. You’re able to adjust and tweak several graphical settings, including V-Sync, frameskip, resolution scaling, graphic quality, shadow quality, environmental and background options, and a whole slew of other settings. Again, I wasn’t expecting this much freedom for a game that is as simplistic as Streets of Rage 4, and It’s nice to see that the developers didn’t forget about the PC crowd and provided the ability to maximize performance and appearance.
Controller and Keyboard control remapping was added recently, so you can change up the defaults if you’re not a fan of them. You’re able to change the soundtrack to the retro versions (Streets of Rage 1 and 2, but sadly not the third game), change the button icons between the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and for the first time, Nintendo Switch icons. There’s also an option to change the filter (Post Effect) to emulate CRT screens, though I wasn’t a fan of it.
What is there to do after I beat the game?
While Streets of Rage 4 isn’t a long game, most will be able to breeze through the game in 2-4 hours, and it doesn’t end there. Thanks to the insightfulness of the developer, there’s plenty to keep you coming back for me. Unlockable characters, including those from the previous games, are just as broken now as they were then. A Boss Rush mode that will let you perfect your tactics against those pesky end-stage opponents. The Battle Mode, where you can fight another character in a 1 versus 1 format, could make for an interesting party game, but it didn’t hold my attention very long.
The Arcade Mode and Stage Select are where I spent most of my time beating the story mode. The Arcade mode is similar to the story mode, except you can’t continue. It’s a 1CC (one-credit clear) mode, where you can change the difficulty. While the Stage Select lets you revisit stages that you didn’t perform well in and give you a chance to hone your skills and change that score to a more positive one. It’s also a good place to listen to in-game music.
Lastly, there’s a section where you can look at various galleries that include in-game art, designs, character information, and watch the end-game credits. It’s a nice place for newcomers to get up to speed with the playable characters’ strengths and weaknesses. There are some interesting trivia in there as well, for those paying attention.
How’s the multiplayer?
Thankfully, Streets of Rage 4 is a multiplayer affair, giving you the best of both worlds; local co-op up to four players, or online with up to two local and two on-online. Since the online browser wasn’t working in the review code, so I couldn’t pick another person’s game and jump in. Though I did play a fair bit of private online games that I’ll talk about in a bit. I did play a good amount of local co-op, and while I did experience some slow down at times, it was a blast to play with my friends and family. There’s nothing better than wasting time away by punching people in the face.
Things I didn’t like
There’s also quite a bit of slowdown in various locations, which was frustrating. The game is locked at a 60FPS for the most part. However, there are stretches that I observed my framerate dropping to the low 40’s and lower than that at times. Such as segments stopping completely for a split second. Mind you, I’ve tested this on two beefy machines and experienced these issues on both. I couldn’t replicate the issues as the slowdown is completely random. Sometimes it happens, and other times I wouldn’t notice it even during several hours of gameplay.
I’ll be sincere. My experience with the online was a complete mess. Playing along with a fellow staffer, we played multiple hours with the game, and each session came out the same way. A stuttering mess, with characters teleporting around the playing area, and so bad at times that segments were unplayable. This also leads to enemies being able to hit us while we were lagging or stuck in place.
Streets of Rage 4’s online multiplayer games are done via Peer to Peer, which can pose problems if the person hosting the game had internet issues or slow speeds. That being the case, we both hosted a session to see if it would change the situation. In either instance, the result was the same. I’ve passed my findings over to the developer to see if this can be corrected before the game is released. Fingers crossed, as online (currently) is a blemish on an otherwise fun and amazing co-op game.
Thankfully, the developers are addressing these concerns in an upcoming patch that should be released shortly. When that patch drops, we’ll revisit the online mode to see if it improves.
Streets of Rage 4 releases on April 30th, 2020, for the PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. Also, check out our Streets of Rage 4 guides below.
- How to unlock the playable retro Streets of Rage 4 characters
- How to access the Streets of Rage 4 retro boss fights
Review Disclosure Statement: Streets of Rage 4 was provided to us by Dotemu for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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It took 20+ years, but I’m happy to say that Streets of Rage is back and then some. The gameplay is reminiscent of games of the past while bringing in new mechanics that push the game further. Thanks to the insight from the developers, there’s still plenty to do after the game has been beaten, which ensures players will be picking up the controls for a long time. I couldn’t have asked for a better follow-up to the classic series. All that’s needed now is for the online components to be fixed and this is will be perfect in my opinion.
- Huge roster of playable characters
- Enjoyable gameplay
- Great soundtrack
- Updated gameplay and combo system
- Enemies cheap hits and armor buffs
- Online is currently a mess