I was delighted to get my hands on this, days after it released, and bought it as soon as I caught on that it was real. A throwaway comment on YouTube made my mouth drop to the floor, because I couldn’t believe it to be true. Watching a new gameplay video for Ghost of Tsushima (can’t wait for this) I scrolled down through the comments until I seen one make a mention of SoR4 and I just thought there was no way that this was real. Minutes later I was on the PlayStation Store, spending £19.99 of my “stay-at-home-savings”, set aside for food, and downloaded what would be a game of no regrets.
The story takes place a decade after the ending of Streets of Rage 3 with Mr. X having been defeated for good, but now Wood Oak City is under threat from his children, known as the Y twins, as they try to mind control everyone. You know, the Saturday morning cartoon villain plot. Blaze, Axel and Adam, the unholy trinity of skull smashing, reunite to destroy the corruption brought by the chromosome kids, and are assisted by 2 new characters, Cherry Hunter (Adam’s daughter) and Floyd Iraia, each with their own fighting styles and cool set of special moves with their stats ranked using stars, just like they used to do but we’ll always pick the person we think is coolest.(I mean.. Cherry has a guitar, so..)
Just as before, you make your way through each distinct level whilst beating the ever-living shite out of all of the guys called Galsia, Donovan and those other names you might remember (and the dudes that run at you with a knife), with each level ending in a unique boss before you can move to the next, with every stage bringing you closer to the end…again. A hero’s job just never ends no matter how many jaws are broken. You might even recognize some of the bosses from previous games, and some of the standard enemies, but with some extra flair thanks to the new look.(“I said two METERS you prick!”)
It retains much of the same gameplay, sticking to the 2D side-scrolling and the arcade-like smacking of different enemies that appear on screen as you march through each of the 12 levels, and with beautifully hand drawn animations and backgrounds, and characters, it looks like a colourful, animated comic book brought to life. The colours are vibrant, like fresh paint, which gives a slightly over-exaggerated appearance to each character. You can pause the game at any time just to appreciate how nice it is, and if you fancy it you could take photos with a smartphone and create your own comic strip.
Despite playing very similar to the original trilogy, there are new mechanics added to justify calling it a new game, including an expanded multiplayer element and other goodies. There is now a larger variety of enemies, additional weapons to use and extra features and special moves. Some of the new features include local multiplayer up to four players, meaning the other members of your household can release some of that pent-up familial stress and take it out on a digital punching bag with legs that just walk right into your fists, or a suplex, whichever you think is appropriate. Online play is available too but only allows two players. My wife and I made an excellent team, with me using all of the moves and different combos and attacks, and my wife angrily button mashing and still doing better than everyone else.(“Guys, why do we never just take a bus to the bad guy’s headquarters?”)
At the end of each stage the player is scored on their performance which factors in the enemies beaten, how high their combo scores are, and any cash bags found, which bumps up your score as you’re playing. The score is added to a meter that allows you to unlock new playable characters, and most of these characters are the original, pixelated versions of the first 3 in the series. It does look a little out of place, having a much slimmer and blurrier Axel, or Blaze, tearing up the streets so I did stick with the modern versions.
Couple this with being able to play the original soundtracks you can almost relive the glory days of one of the best fighting games known to us all that had the pleasure of playing them. Speaking of soundtracks, SoR4 does have an amazing electric dance beat throughout every stage, making for a good rhythm to help motivate the player to work their way through like some Rocky training montage that comes straight from the 90s (I know Rocky isn’t a 90s movie). There are a lot of items scattered around the stage so it’s worth smashing up furniture and objects to find some weapons, food for health and those cash bags I mentioned earlier. It can be hard to distinguish what you can interact with because everything blends in so well with the background but don’t feel silly in swinging at everything.
I promise that if you’re playing online then your team mate is likely to follow your lead, and once you find something then he/she will catch on and will help in future. The different foods and money cases are worth different amounts in points and health, so it’s wise to grab them when you have the chance. As with before you have a limited number of lives and if every player loses all of them then they are forced to start over and soldier through once again. Increasing your score will grant you extra lives, and when a comrade has fallen, they can be offered an assist which will reduce the score but allow them to fight again, or so I think. I don’t mean to brag but I never lost all of my lives, so this is something I had to try and look up for the purpose of the review.(“Teamwork!”)
Another new feature, is that you can juggle your enemies. No, I don’t mean like a creepy clown, but in the same way that other fighting games have done for years, but it is new for Streets of Rage. Properly timing your strike when the enemy is in mid-air gives you a chance to do some serious damage, especially useful during boss fights and when you’re crowded. The basic strikes, grappling and throws can still be done in exactly the same fashion, so for someone like myself it’s as easy as picking up the controller and just carrying on like the last couple of decades never happened. For newer players there isn’t a large learning curve, and there is enough online material for the older games that would still prove useful for inexperienced players.(“Juggle man!…JUGGLE!”)
Every strike, every throw and slam, all looks and sounds amazing, with a violent thumping sound that does not make me want to go out and dropkick someone over a car. You hear me? It doesn’t…ok maybe a little, but I wouldn’t. If standard attacks just aren’t flashy enough to end someone then you can always a bit of health to use a special attack, with a different one depending on your choice of character, that deals more damage, looks great, and allows you a chance to recover that health upon a successful attack afterwards, whereas before you would have just lost the health and looked in a bin or a phone box for an apple.(“Sorry, need the health.”)
To add the cherry on top are star attacks, which damage all enemies on the screen. To use them you need to find golden stars, the same way you find any other pick-ups, but they are best used when things get very tough as they’re effective at clearing the field, and against bosses. If anyone is ever stuck on what to do then there is a small in-game manual that can be accessed when playing to give a breakdown of the different techniques, and some visual cues, so that you will better understand how they look to know you’ve successfully executed them…the moves, not the enemy.(Or just team up to kick ass in Jolly co-operation!)
I got immersed in this so bad, and spent most of my days since buying it just going through each stage and improving my score, seeing if I can do better. I grew up playing the other 3, so maybe I felt like I needed to show how much of a badass I could still be. Most of my online co-op partners played the first trilogy too, so we always worked well together, even when facing newer threats. But when we came across some of the iconic enemies of the past, who still had the same attack patterns, we made them look like digital dog shit. I can’t find any other words to describe how fun this is. It’s nice to go back again, and not for a remaster, but to get something new, that also retains what made the first three great.(The sweet violence!)
I cruised through my first playthrough, and I did it by myself. So, I challenged myself the next time to a harder difficulty, and still beat the game. I then had fun playing co-op, just casually playing alongside my wife, or some random person on the internet. It was always seamless, and with the amazing visuals I never noticed a glitch or a problem. There was no delay in the button inputs, never a sudden silence as the music stopped. Nothing drew me in more than how stunning each stage looked. I could have played the older games and not been distracted by how old the graphics were but the jump in quality between the third game and the fourth is outstanding. There is a lot more going on in the background which makes the stages feel less static and more vibrant, each having its own flavour and personality.
On top of the story mode you can revisit each level after unlocking the Stage Select option, once you’ve completed the main game. It means you can pick your favourite battlegrounds, or those that gave you the most trouble, and play them again, maybe asking a sibling to join you for some backup. There is also an arcade mode unlocked after finishing the story, which is a throwback to the previous titles, in which the entire 12 stages must be completed in one sitting, with a limited number of lives. The perfect mode that also unlocks a controller embedded into your television screen after the ninth attempt.
Another unlockable mode is the Boss Rush, where you just fight the bosses of each level, without the interruption of G. Signal, Galsia and the crazy knife guys. Lastly there is the only PvP option available, Battle mode, pitting you against your mates in a fight to the digital death, as with SoR2 and SoR3. There is plenty to do for an arcade title, and with the decision of doing it all alone or with a friend/friendly stranger you find online and I hope that they will add more content as time goes by, perhaps a way for 4 players to play online, since that is more likely to happen that 4 players locally, considering the current pandemic.
(“When the shop just opens and there is no queue yet.”)
There are a couple of drawbacks, however minor, that prevent this from being flawless. Most enemies, bosses in particular, now have this super armour buff that activates when they are about to do an uninterruptible move, and it can be difficult to avoid. Sure, bosses are meant to be dicks and catch us out when we get too sure of ourselves, but this is Streets of Rage, not Sekiro. I could be hitting a nice long combo and then bam, I’ve landed a hit on a super armoured prick that resets my hit counter and puts me in a very vulnerable position.(Bastards!)
The trouble I had was how often it would happen, as if every boss knew it would piss me off, and the only options are to take a hit and suffer a lot of damage, or to try and move out of the way, which isn’t always easy seeing as you frickin’ walk everywhere (it wouldn’t have killed them to add a running feature for all characters). This is further emphasised when your own special attacks can be interrupted, meaning your only defence from any enemy is to move, which is probably the best defence. As the great Mr. Miyaga once said “best defence, is no be there”, which translates to “the best way to not get hit, is to not be there to get hit”.
(“Hadoken…I mean, Kaaaameeeeehaaaa…aww fuck it, just die!”)
In truth, he meant that to avoid getting hit then don’t get into a fight as opposed to just being extra evasive and spontaneously developing ultra-instinct. Easier said than done when you’ve accumulated a high combo and feel on top of the world before coming down head first when it ends, which could have been avoided better if there was a means to defend yourself from being overcrowded, even being able to roll away. It distorts the flow of the game when someone can break out of your attack and you’re powerless to do the same, so it would be great if the super armour was removed entirely or even used much less frequently, and restricted to some bosses.
Getting caught in an enemy juggling you can also be a quick way to lose most of your health in what seems like a cinematic of getting your ass pummelled, and not in the fun way. I’ve been very cautious so it never happened often, but it hurt me as much as it did my digital avatar of death seeing him being used and abused in such a fashion. These issues make it all the more frustrating when the odds are already stacked against you and even the most strategic performance can be undone if any player isn’t careful enough. I lost a lot of lives on the harder difficulties during the early stages, but I managed to power through and make it to the end without losing them all…somehow, and I think I lost about a fifth of my body weight in sweat.
(“Blaze look! It’s that body slamming prick from the second game!”)
What more can be said that hasn’t been already? It’s a fantastic game with a few issues that didn’t take much away from the experience. It’s great to see a resurgence of a retro franchise rather just another remaster, building upon the foundations set by the trilogy beforehand and adding some extra seasoning to wow us when we get to taste it. Arcade beat ‘em ups can be boring, it’s true. We’ve played hundreds of them I’m sure, so does that mean there is little appeal in playing another? Nooooooooo, of course not.
Long story short, SoR4 is a blast from the past that kicks ass with class, looks and sounds just like a 90s workout video, but with bone-crunching moves, a decent amount of content and plenty of replayability. It’s the continuation a franchise that inspired me to take up martial arts, which I still practice to this day, and it has evolved slightly over the years so it should bring in a newer audience that never grew up with the originals, and perhaps allow them to relieve some of that stress of smelling their siblings farts for the last 8 weeks, wishing the schools would reopen.