For years and through today, Dotemu has been a consistent presence in classic game preservation. From Square Enix to SNK, Dotemu can be found in the credits of myriad ports and re-releases. But that changed in a big way in 2017, when Dotemu and Lizardcube released Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, a full-on remake featuring original work in addition to replicating the original. Dotemu is following that effort up with straight-up sequels to classic games we haven’t heard from in decades. First up to bat is a brand new entry in one of the most substantial “beat ‘em up” series ever: Streets of Rage 4. Combining a deep understanding of the source material and technical prowess from Guard Crush Games and Lizardcube’s mind-blowing art and animation, Streets of Rage 4 takes the series (and genre) to a new tier of quality.
Down these mean streets
Streets of Rage 4 just gets it, man. The original, Japanese-developed Sega series took an overstuffed, popular arcade genre and interpreted it for consoles. These games weren’t just quarter-munching brawlers crammed onto Genesis carts from arcade machines; Streets of Rage was built from scratch for home play. The series was a bit slower and chunkier, but made to feel satisfying in your hands moment to moment. As the series continued it began to expand on the classic brawling play, incorporating mechanics blurring lines between brawlers and fighters like Street Fighter.
Dotemu’s teams took that philosophy and not only painstakingly recreated how Streets of Rage feels on a frame-by-frame basis, but expanded on those inklings of complexity to a level of depth I’ve never experienced in this space before. Without making significant changes to the brawler’s accessible core, Guard Crush has implemented fighting language like cancels, juggles, breaks, OTGs (off the ground), and more. You can put Streets of Rage 4 on easy and blast through it with friends, or you can play by yourself and rip this thing open like Macho Man snaps into a Slim Jim.
Fight for the future
A lot of the basic moves are familiar for this kind of game. You have your attack button, jump button, and things like special moves you can do by pressing both. However, Streets of Rage 4 gives special moves and grabbing items their own buttons as well. With these expanded controls come new options, such as a new tier of special move, a dedicated back attack, and customization options. What makes the gameplay really special however is that, while special moves drain your health (a genre staple), you get a Bloodborne-like window to land extra hits to gain that health back.
So special moves are still risky, but risky in a way that makes using them a more regular part of combat instead of a shmup-like defensive maneuver. With combo-extending juggle and OTG properties, you can get huge combos and huge damage, and all of it looks and feels amazing. Friendly fire is included in co-op almost like more of a gag gesture to the originals, but if you coordinate well enough with your pals you can seriously wreck some dudes. You can toggle friendly fire off of course, in case that phrase gives you pause.
Only trust your fists, police will never help you
While the options players have to dole out damage have been greatly expanded, Streets of Rage 4 is still thoroughly old-school. You won’t be dodge rolling, dashing around, managing meters, or even blocking. Some characters have unique mobility options, but most of the time you’ll be engaging with the classic stick-and-move, vertical positioning game brawlers demand for true success. This game is no slouch either, as while you have multiple difficulty options, you will face consequences for recklessly slapping buttons. The damage and combo output is through the roof, but you still have to carefully maneuver and create those openings for yourself.
If having continues and other modern facilities offends your old-school sensibilities, Streets of Rage 4 also boasts an arcade mode that dares you to try getting through all 12 stages on one continue. And that isn’t the only extra option. Folks always want extra content out of these sorts of contemporary releases, and Streets of Rage 4 does a great job with what’s on offer. There’s a “lifetime score” meter, which rewards you for returning with character unlocks that garishly (but in a good way) inject Sega Genesis characters into Lizardcube’s hand-drawn art. Facilitating the score meter is a PVP battle mode, online play, a boss rush, stage select, and more. It’s about as beefy as a brawler can get. Oh, and speaking of beef, you can even change what the food pickups look like. Chicken is great, but how about tofu or poutine? Why not, right?
Streets of Rage 4 won’t change your mind on the genre if you hate it, and that’s the only reason I’m not slapping a 10 on this bad boy. I’ve been playing these games since Turtles in Time on Super Nintendo, and Streets of Rage 4 is easily the most substantive, replayable, and gorgeous-looking brawler I’ve ever touched. And to boot, the soundtrack from series veterans Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, and guests like the legendary Yoko Shimomura, is GOAT-tier. After going through the story mode I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface on how much fun I can have with this thing. Catch me forcing my friends to play Streets of Rage 4 with me for years to come.
Release Date: April 30, 2020
No. of Players: 1-4 players
Developer: Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, Lizardcube
A review code was provided by the publisher.