As one of gaming’s most beloved beat-em-ups, the Streets of Rage series was a hallmark of the Sega Genesis’ vast library. Popularizing the brawler sub-genre on home consoles in the ’90s, the original trilogy centered around a team of street fighters taking matters into their own hands to fight against gangs and corrupt politicians. Even after 24 years of dormancy, the Streets of Rage games have remained highly respected by fans, who’ve been anticipating the franchise’s return. And now with Streets of Rage 4, the next entry in the series shows that it hasn’t lost its touch after its long hiatus.
This isn’t the first time developers have tried reviving the Streets of Rage franchise. Sega attempted a revival on the Dreamcast, and Ruffian Games–the developer behind Crackdown 2–also tried its hand at a reboot on Xbox 360 and PS3. But now, the next game in the beat-em-up series will be a true continuation of the Sega Genesis games. Coming from developers LizardCube and Guard Crush Games–who’ve worked on the Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap remake and Streets of Fury EX, respectively–Streets of Rage makes its big return with its predecessor’s familiar side-scrolling beat-em-up gameplay, some smooth synth beats, and a brand new visual style for its debut on modern consoles.
We had some hands-on time with the game at PAX West 2018 and came away impressed with how it’s shaping up so far. Right from the beginning of the demo, the game reflects its predecessors’ history and legacy. Not only does it pay due respects, it also introduces some new ideas–and a style all its own–that feels more like a natural progression for the series than you’d likely expect. Though the plot of SOR4 is still under wraps, it’s clear that another crime wave has swept the city sometime after the events of Streets of Rage 3, forcing veteran brawlers Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding back into action. The developers weren’t ready to share any details about other returning characters, but the upcoming game does pull from the familiar tropes, enemies, and style that made the previous games stand out during its day.
The core gameplay remains just as it was in the original games, with the developers citing the second and third titles as their touchstones. The team also stated that they were admirers of the unofficial fan game, Streets of Rage Remake, which offered some inspiration for the new entry. Many of the characters’ more iconic moves, such as Axel’s Grand Upper make a return. One persistent feeling throughout my time with Streets of Rage 4 was that it all felt very familiar. With that said, some of game’s more contemporary changes were clearly apparent. One great feature that fans will dig in SOR4 is a modified super move system. Much like in SOR2, using a special move would deplete some of your health, making for a risk/reward system. In the new game, however, that depleted life can be recovered by immediately following up with regular attacks–similar to Bloodborne’s health regen system.
One of the most striking things about Streets of Rage 4 is its new visual style, which is apparent in the game’s debut trailer. While the original games featured detailed 2D sprite work, SOR4 uses hand-drawn art for its characters and backgrounds–similar to the style employed in LizardCube’s Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Though some diehards may have reservations about the vastly different look, the new aesthetic still feels consistent with the spirit of past games. Moreover, it offers a much more dynamic look compared to its predecessor’s vivid, yet still static cityscape. While brawling against waves of street thugs, we came across several stages in vastly different areas of the city, each showing of a surprising amount of detail and flavor.
The build we got to play at PAX West was early, featuring some placeholder assets and reused music from the original games. However, the developers were quick to state that the final game will have its own unique score and effects to help make it stand out from the original game. While they were tight-lipped about whether the series’ original composer, Yuzo Koshiro, was returning to create new synth-rock tracks for the game, they stated that they were in talks with him and the Sega about nailing the game’s particular style.
Coming in 2019 to yet unannounced platforms,SOR4 already seems in great shape. Even from the short demo, action felt incredibly The series’ impact on the beat-em-up genre, and its endearing style and presentation–which made it a hallmark of early-90s 2D gaming–have earned it a long-held respect among fans, who have waited patiently for a new game to fill in the void that it left behind. While SOR4 definitely has some big shoes to fill, the developers seem to be on the right track.