Streets of Rage 4 Review

Richard Walker

These days, nostalgia is in abundance. This year alone has seen remakes of Resident Evil 3 and Final Fantasy VII, transporting us back to the late '90s, and now Streets of Rage 4 is taking us even further back to the heyday of the scrolling beat 'em up – a time when Final Fight was in every arcade and a Streets of Rage cartridge was lodged firmly in every SEGA console. Except Streets of Rage 4 is that rarest of treats (not unlike the recent RE3 and FFVII remakes, for that matter) – something that's wonderfully familiar, but entirely fresh and exciting.

Streets of Rage 4 is Lizardcube's sophomore effort (alongside Streets of Fury dev Guard Crush Games and Dotemu), having made its name resurrecting another beloved SEGA property in Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, but you wouldn't think so, given how remarkably tight and polished it is. The masterstroke here is that the developer has taken the animations of the pixelated originals, and painstakingly transposed it with its own gorgeous hand-drawn artwork, retaining the feel of the SEGA classic using a modified version of Guard Crush’s Streets of Fury engine. While beat 'em ups might have fallen from grace as playing at home became more popular than a visit to the arcade, Streets of Rage 4 makes the genre feel vital again.

For any fan of the Mega Drive/Genesis originals, Streets of Rage 4 feels like a homecoming. More than a quarter of a century since Streets of Rage 3 saw the series expire, Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games, and Dotemu have clearly poured everything into the long-awaited sequel – it's evident that the collaborating studios are fervent fans, and Streets of Rage 4 is a pure passion project that looks, sounds, and plays like a dream. While some may bemoan the absence of pixels, there's absolutely no way you can avoid falling in love with SoR 4's vibrant and sumptuous art style. Every frame is eye-wateringly lovely, but the devil is in the details – every environment feels alive, and each of the game's five characters is utterly unique.

Axel remains the reliable all-rounder, able to unleash a fiery 'Grand Upper' to deal with crowds; Blaze is swift and deadly, armed with electrifying acrobatic moves; and Adam returns for the first time since SoR 1, with a selection of crushing martial arts moves. New fighters Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia succeed in being reminiscent of old faces Skate and Max, respectively, Cherry even able to leap onto the heads of enemies and slap them up like her uncle used to. Floyd (protege of Streets of Rage 3's wrinkly mad doctor, Zan) channels Mortal Kombat's Jax, with hulking cybernetic arms able to grab two enemies and smash their heads together, which is as endlessly satisfying as you'd imagine.

Additions to the core mechanics that made the Streets of Rage games of old so eminently playable encourage stylish flourishes, a combo counter that seems initially surplus to requirements creating an impetus to keep strings of punches and kicks flowing. Juggling airborne foes can keep combos going, and while that doesn't necessarily sound like something you'd traditionally do in Streets of Rage, it adds a nice wrinkle to proceedings. And if you don't want a combo counter distracting you from the important job of face punching, you can turn it off (in fact, you can toggle almost all of the screen furniture on and off, if you so wish).

Flashy special moves set fists and feet ablaze, unleashed at the cost of a sliver of health that can be won back by going on the offensive and landing a flurry of strikes to restore the green section you've lost. Blitz moves, like Axel’s Grand Upper or Blaze’s Vertical Slash, are great for crowd control and creating combo openings, while newly added 'star moves' are your showboating, screen-clearing abilities – an ace in the hole for when things become overwhelming. Naturally, these are rationed out as star pick-ups and therefore limited for moments when you really need them, although holding on to them grants 'star bonus' points at the end of each stage.

And in Streets of Rage 4, points mean prizes, or, rather, unlockable retro sprites that enable you to play as every character from the original three '90s Streets of Rage titles (with the exception of Roo), complete with their own movesets (police cars included) and old-school sound effects. Include the option to switch on music from Streets of Rage 1 and 2 via the pause menu at any time and there's no doubt that the making of Streets of Rage 4 has been treated with more than a modicum of reverence. Yet, even if this didn't have the legacy of SEGA's beloved beat 'em up series to trade on, SoR 4 more than stands up on its own merits. It's a game that successfully freshens up a long-neglected genre previously long past its heyday, and is tailored to accommodate multiple playthroughs – fans of the originals will just appreciate it all a great deal more.

That’s not to say that this is purely for fans, however. Streets of Rage 4 deserves your attention, regardless of whether or not you have any connection to the Mega Drive/Genesis classics. The minute-to-minute gameplay is a constant joy – being able to throw a weapon and catch it in midair is pure poetry; throwing a foe across the screen as Floyd never gets old; dodging an incoming attack with Adam’s feint just feels right; and sprinting and leaping around the screen, as Cherry (the only character able to sprint), is fantastic. The beauty part is that anyone can pick up and play Streets of Rage 4, it’s superficially simple, with just enough depth to keep things interesting.

The soundtrack from Remember Me, Vampyr, A Plague Tale, and GreedFall composer Olivier Deriviere, with contributions from Streets of Rage stalwarts Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima (and other artists) proves an utter delight, too. A modernised take on the pumping tunes of the original Streets of Rage titles, it may take fans better acquainted with the melodies of the old games some time to get used to, but it's the perfect complement to the graffiti-tagged, neon-soaked streets and thoroughfares of SoR 4's Wood Oak City, patrolled by corrupt law enforcement and ragged Syndicate punks alike.

The very definition of a labour of love, Streets of Rage 4 succeeds in being a stunning revival for a long dormant series that we never thought we’d see again. Going far beyond fan service, this is actually something with broad appeal that’s great to dip into and get lost in for a few hours. Five; (almost six) playthroughs later, and all I can think about is going back to Streets of Rage 4 to do it all over again for a seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth time. Rope in three friends for couch co-op or jump into a two-player online session, and it’s impossible not to have fun. Streets of Rage 4 is not just a spectacular game, then, it takes something old and seemingly obsolete, and makes it feel brand new.

Streets of Rage 4

It's been more than 25 years since the last Streets of Rage game, and while ostensibly, Streets of Rage 4 might seem like more of the same, there's no way that could ever be considered a bad thing. Streets of Rage 4 is well worth the wait.

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The new soundtrack is excellent and the option to switch on retro tunes via the pause menu is great. The only downside is that the retro SoR 1 soundtrack is the 8-bit Master System/Game Gear version, for some reason. It would have been nice to curate your own retro soundtrack too, but you can't have everything.


Jaw-dropping, buttery smooth hand-animated artwork that will make you want to weep with unfettered glee. Pixels are great and all, but I can't imagine Streets of Rage 4 looking any other way. Environments and characters alike look incredible, and every frame of animation is imbued with vibrancy and energy.


Easy to pick up and play, tricky to master. New mechanics subtly tweak the template perfected in Streets of Rage 2, breathing new life into a genre that had grown stale. The best compliment you can give SoR 4 is that it feels completely right. Try playing Streets of Rage 4 on Mania difficulty if you fancy a real challenge.


The core Story mode only runs at a few hours, but multiple playthroughs prove rewarding (especially with 2-4 player co-op options), aided by having 12 retro characters to unlock. Battle mode enables you to have a competitive 4-player brawl, and Arcade mode tasks you with beating the game using only a single life.


A varied list that encourages multiple runs with each character and masses of replay value. Getting through a level without being hit and achieving 'S' ranks on every stage at Hard difficulty or higher are ludicrously tough challenges, meaning you'll have to really work to earn that 1,000G.

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