Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Streets of Rage 4 (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

For the final review of the month, we turn to a retro revival. It's of a classic SEGA trilogy that earlier in the year saw its fourth numbered installment after more than two decades. It's Streets of Rage 4, and this is SuperPhillip Central's review.

Where the streets are paved with rage

There has been a fantastic amount of retro revivals as of late in the gaming industry, whether they're of old IP like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom or spiritual successors of familiar IPs such as Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night ala Castlevania. Now, DotEmu and Lizardcube, teaming up alongside SEGA, bring back the classic arcade beat-em-up action of the Streets of Rage series with Streets of Rage 4. While dripping with a lovely coat of nostalgia, Streets of Rage 4 offers some things new to make the franchise's return all the more worthwhile and enjoyable.

Streets of Rage 4's story is delightfully cheesy, taking place a full ten years after the conclusion of the third game. It has the twins of former series main villain Mr. X, appropriately named Mr. Y and Ms. Y, with a plan to brainwash the denizens of Wood Oak City through the sound of music. That's the hypnotic sound of music--not to be confused with the musical. It's up to the slightly older but nevertheless no worse for wear team of Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, and newcomers Cherry Hunter (Adam of Streets of Rage 1's daughter), and cybernetic body of destruction Floyd Iraia to make things right and bring the newly formed crime syndicate down.

The original Streets of Rage trio is ready to take back these streets.

All of the gameplay tropes of the beat-em-up genre and the Streets of Rage series in general are present and accounted for in Streets of Rage 4. You have your punches and kicks attached to the same button, throws, as well as breakable weapons to use that are found scattered around levels and dropped by foes. There is food to restore health, points to obtain, high scores to aim for, and of course, hordes and hordes of baddies to beat down. 

What Streets of Rage 4 adds to the mix is a play off of the special attack that each of the base characters can perform. The special attack costs a modest amount of health to use, but it's also quite powerful--great for cleaning the area of foes. Floyd's special attack is an insanely powerful beam that stretches across the room, which can eliminate enemies (or at least deal tons of damage to them) with ease. Streets of Rage 4 throws in the ability to regain the health lost from using special attacks by quickly attacking foes to generate the health back. If you take damage, the consequence is that health and more is lost. This new special attack mechanic is a fun one to engage with, offering a nice risk versus reward angle to the gameplay.

That's a bit much, don't you think?

Adding more risk and reward is that of how combos work in the game. The more damage you deal to enemies without getting hit, the more your combo number increases, thus earning you more points when the combo ends naturally. If a combo gets broken up, you don't earn any bonus points, but if you do succeed and let the combo run out by itself, those bonus points are yours. The higher the combo, the easier it is to rack up some impressive point totals. Doing this is mandatory if you wish to get those ever-elusive and difficult "S" ranks. 

There are 12 stages in Streets of Rage 4, and playing through the game initially offers about 90-120 minutes of baddie-beating entertainment. While single player is enjoyable enough, Streets of Rage 4 shines brightly as a co-operative affair with friends either locally or online. For the latter, you can play with one other player, but locally, you can have up to four players dishing out pain to the Y Syndicate all over the streets and parts therein of Wood Oak City. 

Up to four players can bash baddies locally, or two can play together online.

Apart from the Story mode in Streets of Rage 4, there is a number of other modes and unlockables to make an otherwise short game last you long. (And let's face it--beat-em-ups aren't exactly known for their breadth of content!) First, there's Arcade mode, that allows you to run through the game with a set of lives that accumulate and carry over between stages. Then, there's a Boss Rush mode that expectedly has you face off against every boss encounter in the game. Finally, there's a Battle mode that pits you and another player against each other in a versus match on one of several stages. The latter here isn't too interesting, but it does allow for some fun here and there. Additionally, both the Story and Arcade modes feature five unique difficulties, making for a beat-em-up experience that everyone can enjoy and be challenged by.

While we're on the subject of things everyone can enjoy, the unlockables in Streets of Rage 4 are rather cool, offering the original sprite-based versions of the leads from Streets of Rage 1-3 that unlock through a point milestone system that adds your score from a given stage to the ever-increasing tally. At various milestones you unlock new content. Characters aren't the only thing you can unlock either, as there's a really cool CRT filter that makes the game look just like the SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive versions of the original trilogy.

This concert is about to be cancelled.

As for how Streets of Rage 4 looks, it dazzles with delightful, intricately detailed environments brimming with personality and vivid color. The characters animate magnificently with a nice comic book shading technique, and the frame-rate is as solid as the gameplay mechanics themselves. The flashy cutscenes, mostly still-frame in design, are a beauty to behold as well. If there's one part of the presentation of the game that disappointed me, it's that for a series that holds so many bops on the Genesis / Mega Drive, I failed to take anything from the music for Streets of Rage 4. It's hardly bad, but it's nothing that left an amazing impression on me, even with all of the talent on board. No doubt I am in the minority here, so as always with something as subjective with music, your mileage may, and probably will, vary.

Streets of Rage 4 delivers on its promise of being an enhanced and updated beat-em-up that is drenched with nostalgia but also offers enough newness to be worth the price of admission. The game stands with the best in its series and the best in its genre. The new "risk versus reward" spin of special attacks and the combo system in general encourage experimentation with the game's combat mechanics while also providing great rewards for players who master them. All in all, if you enjoy a well executed beat-em-up, you'll very much enjoy taking it to these streets.

[SPC Says: B]

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