More and more new video games are being released these days that point definitively to the fact that the old video game ways were the best ways after all!
OK, maybe not. But there have been quite a few attempts lately to revive old console and arcade favorites. And Dotemu’s new Streets of Rage 4 is a prime example that’s well worth pointing out.
Back in the early ’90s on the Sega Genesis, the Streets of Rage franchise featured a classic beat-’em-up structure. A character (or characters) would walk from left to right on some dirty city street, fighting wave after wave of onscreen villains. These muscled heroes kept trudging ever forward, throwing punches, kicks and body slams, and obliterating everything in their pathway. Occasionally they’d pause to regain a bit of strength by eating a roast chicken that might be hiding under a crumbled garbage can or in a trash-strewn gutter. (Don’t try that at home, kids.)
The new Streets of Rage 4 slips right back into that same format. Its simple, straightforward story picks up some 10 years after the old games left off. Franchise favorite characters return, with quite a few more added pixels and a slick new coat of hand-drawn animated sheen.
Story-wise, the original heroes—characters such as the bulky muscled Axel Stone, the heavy thumping Adam Hunter and the slamming beauty Blaze Fielding—are joined by the likes of Adam’s guitar-shredding daughter, Cherry, and a cybernetically enhanced guy named Floyd in an effort to bring down a sinister dystopian organization. And that is pretty much all you need to know. Let the back-alley pummeling begin.
As far as all that mano a mano combat is concerned, the gameplay mechanics will feel as familiar to this franchise’s fans as slipping into an old pair of sneakers. Players face 12 stages to battle through with a plethora of moves—main attacks, jumps, weapon throws, strong attacks, blitz moves, mid-air grabs, vaults, special character moves, etc.—to choose from. And frankly, the story mode is relatively short lived.
However, it should be noted that a long story isn’t really what this game is about. It’s about going through the tale over and over with different characters on different difficulty settings and thereby unlocking new characters that you can battle with on the next round. This is a game designed to play with friends, locally or online.
In addition to the Story mode, there’s a free-for-all Battle mode where you can beat the stuffing out of up to four friends. A Boss-Rush mode challenges you to stand, well, against an onrush of bosses. And then there’s an Arcade mode where you have to play through the whole story on only one credit with no saves. Sorta like the old days in the local arcade when you had that lone quarter in your pocket and a desire to be king of the button-punching world.
OK, we’ve got this old-school, beat-’em-up that’s been given a luscious new hand-drawn and stylish facial. Is there anything mom and dad should be concerned about?
Well, first of all, it is a fighting game. So if Junior is one of those kids who likes to mimic every gaming dropkick he sees, unleashing his prowess on a smaller sibling, that might be an issue.
The upgraded fleshed-out graphics can draw a bit more attention to the feminine curves and rippling muscles of some spandex-clad fighters and dominatrix-looking villains. And there are some bare-torsoed muscle men who are bulked-up with more pixels, too. As you go through the city streets, you’ll see storefront windows and graffitied walls with Easter egg call-backs to the older games. But I noted nothing worse than mannequins sporting nightwear and a character spouting a printed out “p-ss off.”
Although you can pick up and throw knives, pipes, broken bottles, a mace and other similar weapons from smashed rubble—and some of the character moves and weapons can unleash electric zaps, explosions and bursts of flames—there’s no blood here or anything more visceral than a lightning flash knockout blow and character grunts of pain. When hulking your way through dirty-cop stations and jails, and thug-littered alleys and construction zones, you will come across exposed electric cables and toxic ooze traps here and there. But again, no nasty visuals result.
The ultimate assessment then, really comes down to whether or not you dig these old, beat-em-up style fighters. If your answer is a “yea,” then you’ll find that the combat here is frenetically fun, the soundtrack is throwback and thumping and the game’s colorful polish has a pleasant punch of its own, too.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.