Streets Of Rage 4

Year: 2020
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Review Date: 5/2/20
Rating: ****

First, a little background. I'm a middle-aged aged man who grew up playing video games in the 80's and 90's. I was first introduced to "Streets Of Rage" when I bought a Sega CD system back in 1992 and I was immediately smitten. To my mind, "Streets Of Rage 2" is as close to video game perfection as you can get. So, twenty-six years after "Streets Of Rage 3," this new entry holds a very special place in my heart, and I'm happy to say that it doesn't disappoint. It's an excellent update to the series, while still staying true to its roots.

Ten years after Mr. X and The Syndicate were wiped out, his twin children have followed in his footsteps and want to take control of Wood Oak City and put an end to all good and decent things. Ex-cop Blaze Fielding gets wind of this and calls up her former partner Axel Stone, who's been living alone in the woods and getting fat. Adam Hunter and his reckless daughter Cherry join the fight, along with a cybernetically enhanced guy named Floyd Iraia, who was an apprentice of SOR3's Dr. Zan. But just like all of the other entries in the series, the story is of little importance. All that matters is getting to the bad guys' stronghold and beating up every lousy punk that gets in the way.

While it's not perfect, it's much better than I hoped for, and the gameplay is right on the mark. It wisely takes most of its inspiration from SOR2, and any veteran of that game will feel instantly at home with the controls. Blaze's move set is almost perfect. The only thing she's missing is her dash move, which makes some of the boss encounters more frustrating than they should be. Also, her charge attack is now a backhand punch instead of a high kick. Still, these are only very minor changes that hardly affect the flow of the game. In addition to the classic SOR2 power moves and magic moves, there's a new super move that effectively replaces the police support call from SOR. It's a nice touch, although it doesn't make sense where those powers come from.

There are twelve levels in the game, and they feature all sorts of nods and winks to the original series. There are holes to throw enemies into and elevators to throw enemies off of, which is always fun and satisfying. There are also lots of humorous props, references, and in-jokes that kept me smiling throughout. Of course, the first thing you notice about the game is the updated art direction, which has a vivid and cartoonish look and feel. Since the game was developed by a French company, there are no anime influences at all, which is unusual, but not in a bad way. Blaze looks fantastic, although her belt is a bit distracting. Her outfit is a perfect combination of all her classic looks, and is sexy and well-balanced without looking tacky. Adam looks great, but fat Axel looks laughable with his beard and capri-length jeans. Many of the classic enemies make a comeback and have been updated to have a more modern look, which includes low-riding baggy jeans. Barbon, Nora, Shiva, and even Big Ben are still around, while Roo is content to just hang out as a bartender.

One thing that set "Streets Of Rage" apart from the competition was its incredible music by Yuzo Koshiro. The original SOR soundtrack is still one of the best soundtracks of all time, so I was thrilled to learn that Koshiro contributed several tracks to this game. His pieces are excellent (as expected), while the rest of the music is hit-and-miss. Since the game is rooted so deeply in tradition and nostalgia, it offers an option to listen to the classic music instead. It's a nice touch that does a good job of matching the action, but there are several places where the Game Gear music is used instead of the Genesis music, which is jarring and unpleasant because it's so crude and unsophisticated. It seems to me there would be enough music from the original Genesis games to choose from that they wouldn't have to dip into the Game Gear well, but that's only a minor complaint.

The game offers several difficulty levels ranging from "easy" to "mania." The easy setting is surprisingly difficult, and I barely made it all the way through Story Mode on my first playthrough. The game keeps a running total of all the points you accumulate, which unlocks all of the original 16-bit "Streets Of Rage" characters for you to play with. Even Shiva is a playable character. It's fun to see the classic characters in action, even though they don't match the aesthetics of the new graphics. The SOR characters don't have a special move, so they call in the classic police support animation. It's rather odd, though, because it's a strip that takes up the entire lower third of the screen. I'm surprised they didn't just isolate the car and have it roll into the screen. Still, that's just a minor observation. There are also four secret retro boss battles that you can find throughout the game, which recreate pixelized versions of SOR2 bosses Jack, Abadede, Zamza, Shiva, and Mr. X. They also include pixelized versions of the updated player characters, which is an interesting feature. What's challenging about these retro battles is that you only have one life, and if you lose, you get kicked out and sent back to the regular game.

Overall, "Streets Of Rage 4" is a fantastic package that has the utmost love and respect for the source material. It maintains the same classic gameplay that fans cherish and the same controls that fans remember. Even the PS4 port of SOR2 botched the controls for some unfathomable reason, which sadly made it unplayable. While the music isn't great across the board and some of the art direction is odd, the game as a whole is nearly flawless and satisfies a deep longing that I've had for many years. It really makes me wish that "River City Girls" (2019) had gotten a similar graphical treatment.