Beat-em-ups may not be as prevalent in the modern gaming space, but indie devs haven’t completely forgotten them. After Castle Crashers revitalized interest in the genre back in 2008, a string of different indie titles attempted to emulate classics like Streets of Rage and Final Fight. While Capcom got the memo and re-release Final Fight on digital marketplaces, Sega seemingly forgot it had a once-popular button masher it could revive.
Thankfully, we live in a good timeline. Streets of Rage 4 was announced in late 2018 (24 years after the release of 3) with development being handled by DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush. After a short demo in early 2019 gave us an idea of what the different teams were going for, a slow trickle of info painted a clearer picture of what this long-awaited sequel would be. Returning veterans, a modern save system, online co-op, and even four-player local support: Streets of Rage 4 definitely feels like the kind of evolution you’d want from a coin-op classic.
The demo available at PAX East 2020 wasn’t dramatically different from the one last year, but it did see the game in a much more polished state. The placeholder sound effects and music are gone with some new, crisper samples in place. The tracks we’re heard -written by legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro and a collection of other retro artists- are all stellar and the game is no longer merely copying Streets of Rage 2’s soundscape. The vibe here is entirely unique, even if it does sound like quintessential Streets of Rage.
The gameplay is also a little smoother around the edges. The combo potential was present from the start, but the different abilities introduced by the new characters allow for a ton of different juggle combos. Pairing up Axel and Adam, for instance, can see Adam using his special dash ability to launch enemies straight into Axel’s rising upper. Floyd’s grab can lock enemies in place for Cherry to come over and wail on her guitar. That’s not even getting into the possibilities that four players will encounter, though my session was limited to just two.
The enemy roster is, so far, comprised of foes from Streets of Rage 2. You’ll encounter plenty of Glasia’s (including that jerk that runs at you with a knife) and Y. Signals. Even that Adon wannabe Muay Thai fighter and Big Ben are back. It’s a trip to see them rendered in such a different art style, though remaining completely true to their past forms.
That’s the most surprising thing about Streets of Rage 4. My muscle memory from playing 2 so often had me doing a quick two-hit string before double-tapping forward with attack. This lets Axel go straight into his rising upper with invincibility frames and can cheese out the AI a bit. That I did this without missing a beat shows how closely Guard Crush has nailed the feel of this.
The biggest -and best- change that Streets of Rage 4 introduces is a small health recovery system. If you use your special attack, you’ll drain some health that can then be recovered by connecting hits and dodging damage. It finally gives you an incentive to utilize these otherwise too risky moves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished Streets of Rage 2 and completely forgotten these moves existed. In another nice move, each character even gets a unique special in the air, opening up the combo potential further.
A lot of this is stuff we saw last year, though. This new demo had all five characters playable and even featured a new level, but it was mainly a polished version of the rough demo from last year. Considering I was in love with that rough state, I was completely taken with this version. I’d be completely fine with it releasing as is, but Guard Crush did mention there will be a few more surprises before the game launches. I couldn’t get confirmation of exactly what, but I’m guessing there will be an unlockable character and possibly an alternate soundtrack. Call that a hunch.
Maybe it was a little pointless for me to see Streets of Rage 4 again this year, but I just love this game. Unless there is some catastrophic bug that plagues its launch, this may end up being the best installment of this classic series.
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