Available On: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Beat ‘Em Ups were all the rage in the 90s. The simple, fun co-op action games fit well in arcade machines, then on home consoles. Sega’s Streets of Rage series was one of the best, with smooth gameplay, varied levels and enemies, and killer soundtracks. But as the attitude era of arcade machines and street punks in leather jackets and colorful mohawks faded, so too did the side-scrolling genre.
Fast-forward over 25 years since Streets of Rage 3. Video games have advanced at an incredible rate, and the once popular genre has been regulated to old-school nostalgia. Streets of Rage 4 suddenly crashes into a smokey alley in a Delorian, as punks and ninjas run in from both sides. The genre never died; it’s been waiting just off screen for the developers at Dotemu and Lizardcube to create an amazing modernized sequel.
Beat ’em Up
We start by picking one of four characters. Series stars Axel and Blaze return, alongside newcomers Cherry, the pint-size guitarist, and the muscular, metal-armed Floyd. Characters move from one side of a level to the other as enemies jump in, ready to be pummeled.
Controls couldn’t be easier: one button attacks, another jumps, the third picks up weapons and healing food, and the fourth unleashes character-specific super-moves that drain a bit of health. Enemies are auto-grabbed when close, making it easy to throw them down, or get in a few extra hits.
The main campaign features 12 levels that go beyond the streets and into police stations, art galleries, cruise ships, and airplanes to battle knife-wielding punks, dojo ninjas, and corrupt cops. The streets are filled with a wide variety of enemies, including many returning foes. Fat, fire-spewing enemies can roll around, nimble kickboxers can block frontal attacks, and geeky alchemists can throw exploding flasks of poison, fire, or electricity.
Thanks to the game’s 2.5D perspective, every fight is a dynamic setpiece of moving, dodging, and timing attacks. Knowledge of enemy attacks and capabilities is key, as well as knowing when to unleash super-moves and follow-up with quick strikes to regain the lost health. Fast-paced fighting is all you do in Streets of Rage 4, and it’s fun as hell.
The main story campaign features a fun story told through comic panels in between each level. Our heroes chase after the evil Y twins, heirs of series antagonist Mr. X, throughout Wood Oak City. The campaign can be completed in just a few hours, but features multiple difficulty levels and several different modes including boss rush, stage select, PvP battle mode, and arcade mode, which tasks you with completing the entire game with only a handful of lives.
Without the optional challenge of arcade mode, dying gives the option to restart the level with additional lives at the cost of a score penalty. It’s a smart system that lets you tweak your experience without having to change the overall difficulty level. About half the time my 8yo and I needed that one more life to finish a level, especially when facing off against the campaign’s many challenging and varied boss battles. Thankfully levels are relatively short and the gameplay is fast-paced. Replaying is part of the core gameplay rather than an annoying grind.
What does become a grind are the unlocks. As a treat for long-time fans, Streets of Rage 4 includes most of the original fighters from the first three games in all their pixelated glory. Unfortunately unlocking them requires a ton of points. After playing for several hours and beating the main story the first time, I was only halfway to the first unlock. I appreciate that it takes dedication to unlock everything, but it would be nice to start earning rewards a bit sooner.
Streets of Rage 4 is rated T for Teen with mild Cartoon Violence, Mild Language, and Suggestive Themes. I played through the entire story campaign co-op with my 8yo and never had any content issues. There’s no blood or gore, and the suggestive themes are through skin-tight clothes and sagging pants.
As a long-time fan of the series and someone who still appreciates the genre, Streets of Rage 4 is an easy game to fall in love with. It’s still a genre best played with friends over local co-op, but also well worth experiencing in single player. Streets of Rage 4 takes everything fun about the old games and effectively amplifies and modernizes all the right parts, creating a jaw-droppingly gorgeous sequel. And yes, the soundtrack is absolutely killer.