• Chris

Power REVIEW - Streets of Rage 4


The Streets of Rage series began on the Sega Megadrive (indeed, this is a Sega IP) and included 3 core titles. As was popular at the time, the games also got ported to the Master System and Game Gear, and subsequently, the games have appeared in many retro compilations over the years. The game is a 2D brawler that involves you (and up to 3 friends locally or shareplay) to strut the streets of Wood Oak City (and it’s locales) and kick, headbutt, and dragon-punch your way through any of the denizens you meet. There are no innocent victims here and the streets are lined with bin-turkey and destroying a table may reveal a samurai sword to assist your endeavor. This is 16 bit territory.

Dotemu has come up with the goods in regard to the overall presentation of the game. It strikes a rare balance between honoring the original aesthetics whilst upscaling the graphics and icons, without resorting to pixel art. The world and characters have a great hand-drawn style and I’m told the main characters harbor over 1,000 frames of animation to bring them to life. You can see the similarities between the new style adopted in Wonderboy The Dragon’s Trap A lot of familiar tunes can be found amongst the stage soundtracks. Music in the original titles was a high point and whilst the stage themes are fine, containing familiar rifts from the previous entries, the boss themes stand out being composed by guest musicians including Yuzo Koshiro himself.

Solid brawling action. Scrolling fighters have tried to refresh the formula over the years and ultimately it has only ended up a small part of other current genres (the Arkham series, Bayonetta and Dynasty Warriors come to mind). Dotemu have managed to retain the original formula here by not overstretching with new features. The game feels like the original entries with small but significant tweaks to the controls (as controllers just have more buttons available these days). Brawlers tripped up when stepping into 3 dimensions largely due to having to be more complicated to play. Retaining the 2D playfield allows veterans and newcomers both be able feel in control of what they're doing very easily. It’s refreshing to play something new which is still so familiar. SoR4 is a pure nostalgia trip showing the best parts of the genre without getting stuck on the, for better or worse, “improvements” which have come along. There’s no RPG leveling, minimal cut scenes and the game is all the better for it. I’m torn whether some of the new implementations from SoR3 should have made it over, namely running/rolling and branching paths but endings, but they’ve clearly used SoR2 as the template here and 99% of the time that was the right Idea.

Oak Wood City is a dirty but beautifully rendered place. Using small details It manages to tread the line between looking entirely hand-drawn and tileset to create its vibrant world. The Story is represented by cut scenes between stages which do a perfunctory job at explaining where you’re going next. On a personal level I'm grateful you can still walk down a street, jump on the roof of a train, jump from a building only to end up on a boat taking you towards your goal on the other side of the city. The silliness all in the effort to entertain and provide variety remains king here just like 25 years ago. My only real gripe is the slight lack of colour in the environments themselves compared to the earlier entries. Whereas in SoR2 we ventured into a theme park and SoR3 a spotlit club, the majority on offer here is a bit grey and urban. Pops of colour from the characters and enemies make up for this and it's likely they'd blend together too much if done differently, I just miss the club and pirateship!

Completing SoR2 in my house became (minimum) a weekly event and SoR4 has been built in much the same way. As a single-player experience by today’s standards, the content is lacking. This said however, the slightly repetitious nature of the gameplay strangely makes replaying the game in harder difficulties more palatable. This isn’t a game that supposed to be enjoyed in 5-hour shifts. A single run-through times in at around 3 hours and it’s necessary to complete the game multiple times to unlock all of its glorious retro trophies. You'll also stumble upon easter eggs on your journey such as retro bosses if you take the time to explore the environment. A Vs multiplayer feature is included in much the same way as the previous games. This is a severely limited option but not unwelcome when paired with potential 4 player action. It won’t stand the test of time but if played with a rotating pool of friends it’s a fun diversion as is the main game.

SoR4 is officially a success. As an avid fan of the original games I’m pleased and the simple pleasure of being able to play alongside veterans and newcomers alike. Some games are made to be played and stopped at your leisure, rather than when the game itself allows it.