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Streets of Rage 4 Review


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205346752_StreetsofRage4boxart.jpg.9a78770f8213e47933920d3ff60c2797.jpgIt's been over twenty-five years since the last game in the series but now Streets of Rage 4 is bringing back the franchise in the only way it possibly could: with a ton of side-scrolling beat 'em up action. Rather than reinvent the formula, Streets of Rage 4 feels like it could have been made back in the heyday of the genre, notwithstanding its modern stylish graphics and sound. Fans of the series will love having a new entry, though the way the game clings to the past leaves something to be desired.

 

The story takes place ten years after the events of Streets of Rage 3. The villainous Mr. X and his crime syndicate has been defeated, but now his children, the Y twins, have built their own crime organization, prompting our returning heroes, Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, to once again crack some heads on the mean streets to put an end to their nefarious deeds. I really doubt anyone is playing the Streets of Rage games for their storytelling, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the plot is really just a bare-boned facilitator for beatdown action. And that's not really a slight against the game—the writing in a beat 'em up like this doesn't need to be more than that.
 
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Streets of Rage 4 is classic side-scrolling beat 'em up action. You choose one of four characters and walk through levels packed with thugs to punch, kick, and throw. In addition to basic attacks, you can charge up a hit for extra damage, perform a quick rush attack by double tapping forward, and, most importantly, sacrifice some of your health to use special attacks. Not only are these specials more powerful, they can provide a small period of invincibility, which makes them even more valuable when you're surrounded. Streets of Rage 4 also takes some pity on the player by allowing you to recover the health spent on a special if you can quickly execute some basic hits on an enemy. If you're hit during this window of opportunity though, you'll lose that health. Finally there are star moves which are massive special attacks that cost stars to use (on normal difficulty you start the stage with one star and can find more scattered throughout the level). Knowing when to use and how to combo together your basic, special, and star attacks is the key to success.
 
And that's basically it. The gameplay really doesn't get much more complicated than that, outside of the ability to pick up weapons and a small variety of enemies that provide different challenges—some enemies will counter attack you if you hit them at the wrong time, some throw grenades, some have shields, etc. Streets of Rage 4's formula is virtually unchanged from the kinds of beat 'em ups you could find in arcades in the 80s and 90s, which is great if you already love the satisfying simplicity of such games. It really is a blast from the past and there's a great sense of authenticity to the game design that will surely transport you back to those halcyon days. However, it does feel like more could have been done to modernize the experience, even if it's just to throw in some unique stages more often. There's a small variety of environmental hazards that occasionally pop up, but otherwise the experience really feels the same from one level to the next. And again that doesn't make any of the stages poorly designed or not fun to play, but it feels like there were so many other opportunities for more inventive game design.
 
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The game also has the somewhat sluggish feel of a lot of beat 'em up games. Aside from Cherry Hunter, who is the designated fast character in the game, the playable characters feel slow, to the point where bosses can literally walk circles around you. Moving up and down on the screen feels a bit imprecise, which again is something a lot of beat 'em up games deal with, but it can be a little frustrating at times. On one hand it's great that Streets of Rage 4 can preserve the kind of experience found in the original games, but on the other hand there's a lot more that could have been done with the gameplay.
 
A quick three hours or so will see you through the story mode, but a big strength of a game like this is its replay value. Not only are there multiple playable characters, each with slight differences in how they attack and move, there are also plenty of difficulty options, an arcade mode (which challenges you to complete the game without using continues), boss rush, multiplayer versus mode, and multiplayer co-op. You can even play co-op online which works pretty smoothly. You might have trouble finding other players these days but it's worth taking the effort to coordinate with a friend and team up on some of these overwhelming waves of enemies and bosses. Being able to play with a friend definitely adds to the experience.
 
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The game's presentation is the one aspect that feels truly modernized, and the result is beautiful. Hand-drawn graphics are stunningly animated to give the game a gorgeously vivid sense of color and style. The music is impeccable as well. It's the perfect kind of heart-pumping beat you want to accompany a game all about beating up enemies over and over. The presentation finds a perfect balance of evoking the classic tone and feel of the franchise while bringing in some modern style as well.
 
Streets of Rage 4 is a stylish throwback to a cult classic franchise and a genre that has seen less and less attention over the years. The game is a little too beholden to the old school formula, perhaps just out of a sense of preserving the original experience, but fans of the series will love having a chance to dish out some beatdowns on the side-scrolling streets again anyway. Grab a friend for the classic co-op experience and enjoy a window into the gaming of yesteryear, now with stylish modern graphics and sound.
 
Rating: 7 out of 10 Streets
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