"Tested on the PS4 Pro"
History has shown how sometimes revisiting older classic movies, games, music, can help to bring ‘inspiration’ while trying to re-create what was so good back then. Streets of Rage 4 (SOR4) is the latest Video Game trying to re-animate a pretty much dead genre – which is Beat Em Up.
How does SOR4 fare as a game? as a Beat Em Up? and most importantly, as a collaborative effort by three companies to take us back to the “Raging Streets”? let us delve into the legacy of what was once and still is the highly acclaimed “Streets of Rage”.
Legacy Of Streets Of Rage
The late 80s to mid-’90s was a prosperous time for Beat Em Up video games to flourish. Games such as Final Fight, Captain Commando, Double Dragon, Golden Axe were hits at the arcades, and then as the arcade market started to diminish while the home console share increased, most of these games transitioned to Nintendo’s SNES and or Sega’s Genesis/Megadrive. There was one game though which never got the launch at the arcade as the above mentioned did, but went on to be one of the most popular series of all time – Streets Of Rage.
Streets of Rage has the distinction of never releasing on arcades and straight to Sega’s consoles such as Genesis/Megadrive, Master System & Game Gear consoles. What started as rumored to be an answer to Capcom’s hit game ‘Final Fight’, went on to become hugely popular not as a clone, but its own entity presenting stellar gameplay where every punch/hit was felt and mattered, the visuals were colorful and the neon themed streets realistic, the music resonating with the era being a nice mix of techno and house; all presenting a complete package.
Streets Of Rage was a hit and came at the right time in 1991 when home consoles were booming and people were now gathering at each other’s house’s as friends or kids when families gathered, putting in the hours and days into amazing co-op experiences. The way the stages were designed, the game never got boring, the replayability was strong and we kept playing.
Sega followed up the success with a sequel that is critically celebrated by both reviewers and gamers to have brought a larger roster of characters, crisper visuals, more fluid gameplay & amazing replayability to the game. SOR2 is probably the most decorated Beat Em Up and sits high with games such as Final Fight. Sega followed it up with SOR3 which introduced a meatier plot, hidden characters, weapons unique to certain moves to name a few, but the game never got the same reception as its predecessor.
Enter Streets Of Rage 4 arriving 26 years since the last part, to a totally new generation of gamers, especially at a time where Beat Em Up’s are a rare commodity barely recognizable, even unheard by some. SOR4 is the revival effort of three different Studios namely- Lizard Cube , Guard Crush & DotEmu.
These studios went to Sega for licensing and then collectively employing teams reworked from the ground up, while meticulously curating one animation out of 1000 per character, side by side with the original games to bring us the latest SOR game, and one thing is certain, it looks magnificent. It’s almost a game made by fans for the fans.
To measure the merits of a Beat Em Up, it is very important that the gameplay feels as intuitive, responsive, robust when it comes to throwing a punch and it connecting with the NPC. I also believe AI behavior should be adequately difficult, and the combo possibilities varied to avoid monotony. These are some of the central aspects to the previous beat em ups and something I looked at while playing SOR4.
In playing SOR4, I can feel every hit connect, while immensely enjoying the new combo system where the game rewards you when you continuously connect without getting interrupted, as you get more points and they rack up for your overall score, which in itself is an important aspect of the game if you want to get those S Ranks for trophy purposes, or just to show off on that leaderboard.
The teams also implemented downsizing the depth of character’s hitbox when moving up or down, so you really dodge when you want to dodge and it feels more realistic, although the AI has become more clever and some can change the plane from where they actually initiated the attack, making it another aspect to keep in mind, this was especially annoying when avoiding jump kicks by some female AI which can almost seem like a homing attack to an extent if you don’t adequately move up or down.
The gameplay is further improved by allowing the AI bosses to use special attacks as the original game had and the addition of Special Attacks with the Triangle button which drain your health a bit but allow you to get it back if you can continue hitting enemies without getting hit, this new high-risk high reward system really makes the game more exciting and a necessity when playing on the harder levels to achieve higher scores. ‘
Additionally, they added powerful ‘Star’ moves, which replace the old ‘police call.’, this adds another element of strategic thinking of when to use the move as it can greatly help the player and is usually best reserved for bosses but at the same time not using it rewards extra points in the end when your scores tally, this gives much more depth and strategic thinking to each person’s gameplay style and what they are trying to achieve whether just to survive and finish the level or go S ranks on each stage.
Loading up the game for the first time and being welcomed with the opening tune is a delight, from the opening notes of an electric guitar in the intro, we get this sense of a throwback to the 90s yet it is so refreshingly modern as the music flows with the striking graphics.
You get the hint of retro music that is expertly woven into the later years of EDM and techno music, the fusion, in the end – is a beautiful melodic symphony. Streets of Rage features the collective effort of Olivier Deriviere, Yuzo Koshiro, and Motohiro Kawashima producing Thumping Club Anthems, Electronic music, and overall still refreshing after playing the game for over 35 hours.
Koshiro & Kawashima’s talent and working experience from the original Streets of Rage shines, but they arrived later ok on to the project apparently after playing through an early preview of the game at a convention and as fans demanded.
It is Oliviere who has skillfully retraced the original magic of the soundtrack and pieced together a blend of excellence. The resut shows how the influences of western and eastern composers together help to deliver a well-rounded effort that should be pleasant to the masses as it has something for everyone while being extremely reminiscing for older players or fans of the series.
The music also continues to impress when playing boss fights and on different stages, Olivier Deriviere seems to find the essence of what made the series so recognizable with stand out soundtracks, characters noises when using weapons, dying, hitting enemies, pulling of jump attacks – everything works together in harmony, whether you played the original game or not, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised.
To sum up the Sound, Streets of Rage 4 has an eclectic mix of soundtracks and they stay true to the original series, maintaining what is very important in Beat Em Up’s, which is enjoyable and likable music as you will be hearing it a lot, so far its music to my ears and I reckon with the reception its been getting on Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube – they nailed it!
A stellar option they included is the inclusion of an option to toggle on or off – ‘Retro Music’, which can replace the new music if you’d like to play the whole story mode, Boss Rush mode or any of the other various game mode, good job on that!
2D Hand Painted Visuals rendered using 3d Engine have never produced such lush graphics. The essence of the game which has always been a 2d Brawler/Beat Em up is perfectly created by the three studios. Streets Of Rage 4 is visually stunning, breathtaking and the right copious amounts of nostalgia dipped with the crisp, clean result, that should look appealing to all, whether old school gamers or new.
The graphics of the game are stunning, almost anime-like but with perfect sharpness, the particle effect whether its the opening main intro or the main screen with all the characters on, gives a nice subtle finish. After playing the game for over 45 hours, I still find myself sometimes just loading the game up, gazing at the beautiful embers of light emanating while listening to the main theme.
The game also features in-game video options such as the amount of screen shake which can be adjusted along with Luminosity which is effectively brightness. There are some options which change subtle options like Environment Details & Background details but i find these superficial and a novelty rather than anything else.
“EXTRA” Visual Options
For fans looking at CRT & Retro filters those are implemented into the game as well and can give you the pixelated ‘old school feel’ but with the new visuals look so splendid, I expect many people to use them, although their inclusion is appreciated. Another thing I would like to point out is the cool option of changing ” FOOD ” icons in the game and its a nice way to capture both the older and newer gamers’ attention with options such as Turkey/Chicken/Pizza and apple to Noodle bowls and Bagels.
Streets of Rage 4 is everything I could have asked for as a 90s gamer growing up on Sega & arcades playing games like Final Fight, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, Double Dragon, and the original Streets of Rage series. SOR4 has heart, Visuals & Game design that is expertly dripped in the sweet honey of nostalgia.
DotEmu, Guard Crush & Lizard Cube Games have surgically re-animated this series with exemplary 2D hand Drawn visuals, finishing off the polished product with the same tenacity of pumped-up music that kept fans playing it again and again and again!
The Beat Em Up Genre has been revived, if other game developers wanted to follow suit, here is how you do it. The few things that I can nitpick on, are the short amount of story content which I hope can be remedied with DLC, no 4 Player Online Local Co-Op, or Battle Mode & Crossplay at the moment.
In the world of Remakes, SOR4 is a sort of a God Of War (2018), the series has been revived but is not a complete Remaster but an evolution of the series while keeping true to its heartwarming recipe for excellence.