Game Review #509: Streets of Rage 4 (Nintendo Switch)
Review by: WoodmanFLG
Category: Beat 'Em Up
Release Date: 4.30.2020
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Buy Streets of Rage 4 from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
The King Returns
Man oh man, I can’t believe it's 2020, and I’m over here reviewing STREETS OF RAGE 4! It's been what… 25 years since we've had a core entry into the series that helped define the early stages of good beat em ups, and what a return to form this is! I was genuinely worried this game would stick to its guns and try to emulate the old style of quarter-eating beat 'em ups. Instead I found a game that has paid attention to the details of all the hits since then. All the innovations and forward movement into making this a genre made to play at home, rather than standing in an arcade pumping quarters into a machine are present, and man, it couldn’t make me happier to see this series' glorious return to form, as king of the beat 'em up! Streets of Rage, also known as Bare Knuckle in Japan, is a series that should sound familiar to you, as it helped to define the genre years and years and years ago. Solid gameplay, cool characters and bosses, as well as an absolutely iconic soundtrack helped to solidify its reputation as a top contender for the genre, and all of those are present and refined to the highest level in Streets of Rage 4. Let's talk a little bit more about that, shall we?
Times Change, Embrace It!
I swear, this genre started to actually grow up with the Scott Pilgrim beat 'em up game from the last generation. That was the first time I felt like a beat 'em up wasn’t low key trying to just take my quarters, and instead provide a fantastic, at-home experience that was fair and tight all the way through. Selectable levels, lots of secrets to replay levels for, a shop system in order to purchase new moves and upgrade your stats; all of these things that if they were even present in earlier games felt pretty unrefined, this was the first time I found something that felt very cohesive and rewarding. Too bad that game is nearly impossible to play anymore due to it not being on the digital shop any longer, because I’d recommend it to anyone!
This generation however, we had a trifecta of absolute BANGER titles for the genre, in which we had River City Girls, another throwback to a series that was early on in the genre's roots, River City Ransom. Accompanying that are two indie darlings, 99 Vidas, and Fight’N Rage! Both of these titles were made by small teams, but absolutely are deserving of any love they get because they are AWESOME and refined to the highest degree. These games were clearly made by people who love the genre, and spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the genre. In particular, Fight’N Rage really resonated with me, with massively branching storylines, character specific scenes, an absolutely insane combo system, and the first time I actively used special attacks in a game like this. Generally, specials have historically unleashed a wide ranged attack that took some of your health to use. But this game gave you a recharging meter that when full allows you to use the attack without sacrificing health to do so, increasing the amount of options you have in general during gameplay. It was a move in the right direction!
A Beautiful Cycle
It's great to see these newer games take notes from early SoR games, and then to see Streets of Rage 4, take notes from those. It's awesome to see the cycle of how these games have influenced each other's evolution! Streets of Rage offers a full-on story experience that has your lives replenishing between levels. That helps enforce a points-based metagame in order to net you more lives if you run into a harder level, rather than being something you happen to get in between quarters. Featuring 12 levels that have lots of different environments, music, and enemy variety, Streets of Rage 4 feels like it keeps going in the best way possible. I was blown away at the length of levels, and combined with how many levels there were, it led to it feeling like a very cohesive, at-home experience that I had a blast with, and really felt like it was worth the $25 price tag present on the digital download.
Streets of Rage 4 will have you attacking, jumping, and doing special attacks with the best of them. It also features extremely tight extra commands, like back attacks or additional special attacks to extend combos, and I love that they always came out perfectly! I never really had an issue with a command not coming out, which felt great during gameplay. All of the different characters felt unique, and had their own charm or properties that were not shared with other characters. As you play and accumulate points, you will also be able to unlock legacy characters, who are faithful recreations of previous characters in the franchise, with appropriate graphics! So yes, you can play as old school, Streets of Rage 1 Axel, next to beautiful murder hobo, hand-drawn sprite Streets of Rage 4 Axel!
Also for the old school fans, you can use old music in stages as well, which just sounds great, but at the same time, THE NEW MUSIC IS JUST AMAZING! It was seriously a great surprise to hear the music and it felt like the old style brought to modern standards. Nearly every track is absolutely amazing - with only a few just being ok, but they still aren't even close to bad or annoying. All in all, the two things this series is most celebrated for, its gameplay and its music, not only brings the series up to a modern standard and style for the genre, but elaborates on it to provide an excellent experience that innovates the series, while simultaneously celebrating its history.
Packed with a story, multiple difficulty options in addition to an unlockable stage select mode, an arcade (Yes, that's 12 levels on zero continues, you heard me right) mode, and a boss rush mode, Streets of Rage 4 has enough content for fans and newcomers of the genre. The online code seems solid, I haven’t had an issue finding a game with someone else, and although I pine for online 4 players, 4 player is only featured on local co-op. I am still very happy that I can easily jump online and have a solid experience. I ended up playing through the majority of the story with one random guy, who made a point to show me secrets, and we always were fair when a big ole roast chicken dropped, rather than scrambling for it regardless of our situation. I wish I could have talked to him a little, but what can you do? Streets of Rage 4 is a glorious rebirth of a genre innovator, and the main thing I take away from this is that I REALLY hope I don’t have to wait another 25 years for another entry! Get this game! It's more than worth it with beautiful hand-drawn sprites, killer music, and amazing gameplay! Truly, this game is a celebration of everything this series is, and was, and should be able to find a home in any players library.
Buy Streets of Rage 4 from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.