December 15, 2020 — Having it roots in Capcom’s Street Fighter arcade game series, by way of inspiration, Streets of Rage 4 came out on April 30, 2020 and was such an awesome retro game reboot that we felt it deserved more attention. SoR4 is also the perfect way to light up the winter with neon-spirited, co-op, street fighting action; with its catchy, modern — yet retro — tunes fitting the visual styles of every level like a glove.

Adding to the already impressive original soundtrack roster, which features original composers Yūzō Koshiro, and Motohiro Kawashima, is a selection of guest musicians including; Harumi Fujita, Scattle, Das Mörtal, XL Middleton, and Groundislava.

Streets of Rage Inspired By Street Fighter 2 Arcade

The lead game designer and planner Ayano Koshiro. She designed the graphics, characters, and combat mechanics. Her brother Yuzo Koshiro, the lead music composer, also provided some input on the combat. The brother-sister team took inspiration from Capcom’s Street Fighter II, an arcade cabinet of which they had installed at the Ancient office. The hit arcade video game influenced the combat system of Streets of Rage.

Streets of Rage 2

Back in the mid-2000s, one of my favorite Xbox arcade games was a slightly remastered version of Streets of Rage 2. So It’s not every day you see a sequel to a series whose last game was in the late ’90s. Now, while I never played the 1st or 3rd game in the series, Streets of Rage 2 set the bar for what a fun arcade-style game should be. Fast forward 13 years to 2020 and to my surprise Streets of Rage 4 was not only announced but released! A sequel that builds upon and expands the mechanics, visuals, music, sounds, and story in almost every conceivable way. SoR 4 feels immediately familiar and yet also new. With a level of depth and nuance that the previous titles did not have.

Combat takes center stage!

Combat starts with your standard basic attack combo that usually stun-locks an enemy and sends them flying across the screen, or against the screen’s boundaries. Alternatively, holding down the attack button for a second charges a heavy attack. Which does considerable damage and knocks enemies back. There is of course a jump attack, as well as a dash attack from double-tapping a direction. All of which are things you can do with just basic attacks. Your other main button is the special attack that drains some of your health in return for a defensive special. Giving you invincibility frames, and some much-needed area-of-effect utility, or a directional offensive special that does even more damage. Losing health from these special attacks can be gained back Bloodborne-style with dealing damage as the key to it. Although a single hit from an enemy will negate this effect completely making any potential health disappear, so be careful!

Past these two staples of combat, you also have the ability to automatically grab anyone you come into contact with. Once grabbed you can give them a basic attack beat down, throw them behind you; or even vault over the enemy to change directions. Throws and vaults also give you invincibility frames. So, using them at the right time is key as you will be frequently overwhelmed playing solo. Do I think that is a bad thing? Not at all, it is certainly a challenge, but a good one to be sure. Whenever I die it always feels like a mistake on my end. Like I could have been doing more, or doing the right things at the right times. Finally, there is the returning super attack. A flashy and damaging area-of-effect attack that can potentially wipe an entire screen of enemies. Use it sparingly, however, as it requires the use of Star items which are rare to find during stages.

A Surprising Amount of Variety

From what we remember of Streets of Rage 2, combat has not so much changed as it has been meaningfully expanded. Grown in ways that allow the nostalgia to flow alongside copious amounts of adrenaline, especially at the higher difficulties.  During the game’s 2-4 hour story, players will come across a lot of familiar faces lifted from the previous entries. And they are up to their same old tricks. Their ranks are bolstered by new enemies from cops with tasers and shields, to martial artists. Who can resist and counter your head-on attacks. There is a great variety of opponents to test your mettle against. And from our perspective, it can be a lot of fun on the right difficulty. The new bosses that appear at the end of each stage also do a great job of introducing, and putting, new spins on existing mechanics.

Toe-Tapping Bops Meet Gorgeous, Crisp Artwork

All of this sharp gameplay is wrapped in a shiny package that does not step too far outside the realms of antiquity. Hyperbole aside, Streets of Rage 4 sticks to its 2D roots; swapping pixels for a gorgeous hand-drawn re-imagining of the source material, which this time feels a little more futuristic. Animations are as detailed as they are smooth for all characters. Showcasing vibrant and lively backgrounds with a lot of hidden detail. Lighting and shadowing play a big factor in this sequel. With some fairly advanced graphical techniques applied to both the backgrounds and all the characters themselves. Standing near or around neon lighting, for example, will highlight characters in a fairly realistic and pleasing way.

The same level of love also went into the soundtrack. With some classic tracks returning from previous games, bringing a vibrant fresh coat of paint for the ears. Publisher and co-developer Dotemu (publisher of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, and developer of Windjammers 1 and 2), with co-developers Lizardcube (Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap) and Guard Crush Games (Streets of Fury), have brought on board Olivier Derivière. The talent behind soundtracks for A Plague Tale: Innocence, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Dying Light 2, and more — as Streets of Rage 4’s main composer. On top of extensive support from an impressive roster of international guest musicians.

A Truly Complete Package

What is truly neat is that the developers made sure you could visually experience both the new AND old all at once. You start the game with 4 characters, some new and some returning from previous games. However, over time you can unlock a total of 17 characters; a lot of them maintain their old pixelated look and gameplay from previous games to boot. It does not end with characters either, you can even jam to the late 90’s arcade soundtracks too! An addition that I am sure fans of some Streets of Rage nostalgia will love. Beyond the story mode lies a stage-select mode with different difficulties, a boss-rush mode, and a PvP mode. As a whole, this is a nice way to round out an arcade-style game, and with online and offline local coop too! I suppose I could have avoided playing the entire story solo — oh well.

I Wish The Writing Matched The Visuals

Speaking of the story, this is the only aspect of the game that fell a bit short. I am not asking for a 10-hour epic yarn with shocking twists. But I was hoping to see our main cast explored just a bit more. The same especially goes for the villains. I would have enjoyed taking them down more if I knew the depths of their corruption beyond basic “I deserve power! I am the one in control!” shtick. Despite the excellent gameplay, visuals, and music, the only real downside is the forgettable story.





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Final Thoughts

If the past 9 paragraphs have told you anything, it is that this game is a very easy recommendation. The only way it could have been a 9 or better was if the story explored these interesting characters and setting a bit more. All in order to give some vital meaning to the varied and spectacular on-screen violence. For those that enjoy local and couch-co op, Streets of Rage 4’s fast action, faster music, and vibrant visuals will make for a great gift to share with both friends and family.

Streets of Rage 4 also includes new contributions from Scattle (Hotline Miami 1 & 2), Das Mörtal (Hotline Miami 2), XL Middleton, and Groundislava, which is further detailed in a video deep-dive focused on the game’s musical direction. Sample one of Derivière’s Streets of Rage 4 beats, and learn more about the new guest composers in the video below.

Streets of Rage 4 is developed by Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games. It is the sequel to Sega’s Streets of Rage series and is available for Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on April 30, 2020.