⭐ Games that receive this star have a score of 95% or above. This is purely from a game design perspective and is not in any way related to our morality evaluation.
Back in the early 90s when Sega was still a first-party games developer riding the success of their juggernaut of a console, the Sega Genesis, no franchise was quite as beloved as… Sonic The Hedgehog, obviously. However, Streets of Rage was pretty darn close. The original Streets of Rage trilogy was a smash hit that sold millions of units around the world, but following the release of the third game in 1994 the series came to a screeching halt. Perhaps Sega saw market trends moving away from belt scrolling beat ‘em ups and wanted to focus their resources on business ventures with more monetary potential. Maybe the development team realized they didn’t have enough ideas to warrant making another sequel. Regardless of why Streets of Rage was discontinued, it didn’t stop the existing 3 games from maintaining a dedicated following and a reputation as some of the best Sega Genesis games of all time.
Over 25 years later Sega has collaborated with Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games to create Streets of Rage 4, undoubtedly motivated by the successes of other retro game revivals that are becoming all too common these days. As a fan of the beat ‘em up genre there was no way I was going to miss out on a title this big. All that’s left to do is play the game and see if it is worthy to carry the name of such a beloved brand.
Streets of Rage 4 picks up 10 years after the events of the previous games. The Syndicate that was once led by the nefarious Mr. X has risen again under the leadership of his power hungry children, the Y Twins. Series protagonists Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, and Adam Hunter return to take down this reborn criminal empire alongside newcomers Cherry Hunter, Adam’s rebellious punk rocker daughter, and Floyd Iraia, the apprentice of Streets of Rage 3 protagonist Dr. Zan. However, the odds have been stacked against our heroes twofold with the Oak Wood City Police Department having been turned against them by a corrupt commissioner. Outnumbered and surrounded on all sides, the conflict has never felt more dire in a Streets of Rage game, but that’s what a sequel is supposed to do in my book. It’s not the pinnacle of video game storytelling by any stretch of the imagination, but I can at least say the game managed to keep me invested in what was going on most of the time.
I think what made this story so effective for me was how relatable it felt. Not in the sense that I’m a vigilante street brawler trying to take down a crime syndicate while staying one step ahead of a corrupt police force. If that was the case I probably wouldn’t have the time to write video game reviews! What I’m actually referring to is the feeling of having the whole world against you, which is something everyone feels from time to time I think. As a Catholic I know the convictions that underpin our way of life are constantly under fire from countless outside groups who despise us for one reason or another. But just as Axel, Blaze, and the rest of the gang keep on fighting the Y Twins no matter how many enemies stand in their way, we Catholics must also stand firm in out beliefs because the universal truths given to us by God are infinitely more important to uphold than appeasing the demands of secular society.
The game’s story is largely told through short comic panel style cutscenes in between stages. I appreciated this approach as their brevity ensures they don’t overstay their welcome and get the player back into the action quickly. Additionally, their striking visual style fits very well into the game’s overall presentation which is simply fantastic across the board. Every character is painstakingly animated by hand to express their personalities in every punch and kick. The backgrounds are full of little details that bring the environments to life and the dynamic lighting effects in particular go a long way in creating a sense of depth its 16-bit predecessors could only dream of having.
On the subject of presentation, the music is arguably just as important as the game’s mechanics in the Streets of Rage series and they went all in for the soundtrack Streets of Rage 4. Olivier Deriviere is the lead composer for most of the game’s music, but there are many songs in the game with special guest writers with the series’s previous composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima being chief among them. The end result is a pulse-pounding soundtrack that complements the action perfectly. Even when the music dipped into genres I’m not very fond of, it still managed to get me tapping my toes.
Of course no amount of jaw-dropping visuals or funky fresh beats are enough to redeem a game if the gameplay mechanics fall flat. In my opinion they knocked it out of the park! At its core it is still the same basic game as the old Streets of Rage, moving left to right fighting any enemies that get in your way until you beat a boss and move onto the next stage, shooting for the highest score possible. Streets of Rage 4 builds upon this foundation with expanded mechanics that increase the skill potential without compromising the base experience. First up are the Star Moves, extremely powerful attacks that can only be used a limited amount of times per stage. Star Moves are very useful for when you need to get yourself out of a tight spot, but they can also be used to capstone a long chain of attacks for massive damage. Speaking of long chains of attacks, players have far more moves at their disposal that knock their opponents into the air and keep the damage going. Juggling your opponents like oranges wasn’t uncommon in the older games, but this time it feels like there are more opportunities to do so, and oh boy is it fun!
Another big change is the reworked special moves. In previous entries, special moves were powerful attacks that could be used by sacrificing a portion of the player’s health bar. In Streets of Rage 4 these special moves do not instantly deplete a player’s health, but rather they turn that portion of the health bar green. Green health can be recovered by attacking enemies with normal moves, but if the player gets hit while they have green health they will take that much damage on top of any damage the attack would normally do. I think this is an absolutely genius system as it allows skilled players to use these moves more frequently while maintaining the risk vs reward of the old system. The last and potentially most important addition to the game is the expansion of the multiplayer to support 4 players simultaneously. Admittedly I haven’t played the game with that many people all at once very often, but multiplayer is the best thing about beat ‘em ups as a genre in my opinion so I say the more the merrier!
If you couldn’t tell by now I was very impressed with Streets of Rage 4. It’s everything a good sequel should be, staying true to the original while refining and expanding on the things it does well. If the story ended there this game would already be getting a high score from me, but as luck would have it the developers released a reasonably priced DLC expansion that blew me away all over again.
Mr. X Nightmare was released one year after the launch of the base game and added a ton of extra content that increased the game’s replay value significantly. 3 new playable characters join the battle including the return of Max Thunder and Shiva from previous games in the series as well as newcomer Estel Aguirre, a policewoman who made her debut as a boss enemy in the main game. All three characters are very fun to use, but on top of everything else this expansion has to offer they almost feel more like a nice bonus than anything else. A robust training mode was added to teach players the ins and outs of the game’s mechanics which is good because there is a surprising amount of depth underneath the deceptively simple surface. All the possibilities this training mode opened my eyes to made me wonder if I was really playing Streets of Rage 4 or if I had accidentally switched to Guilty Gear or The King of Fighters somewhere in the middle of game night.
The biggest reason to pick up Mr. X Nightmare is the inclusion of survival mode. This mode sees players fighting their way through an endless gauntlet of randomized enemies that gets progressively harder the more stages they clear. Additionally, the player will be given power ups in between stages to give themselves an edge as the difficulty cranks up and at the end of every run the characters that were used gain experience points to unlock new moves, creating an opportunity for tons of customization. Combine all that with an interesting variety of new stage environments with catchy music by Sonic Mania composer Tee Lopes and you have an incredibly addicting mode that I will definitely be revisiting long after I’ve had my fill of the rest of the game.
Streets of Rage 4 was already a complete package when it first came out, but Mr. X Nightmare turned it into one of the best belt-scrolling beat ‘em ups ever made. The easy to learn, but hard to master gameplay, the stylish animation, the catchy music, and the large cast of colorful characters all make this a must play experience. Grab a few friends because the battle against the Y Syndicate is a fight you won’t forget anytime soon.
Scoring: 96% ⭐
Morality & Parental Warnings: Streets of Rage 4 is a game of violent physical confrontations between vigilantes, criminals, and corrupt police officers using a mixture of martial arts and an assortment of weapons including blades, bludgeons, and firearms. Blaze Fielding and other female characters dress in rather sexy attire. The 3rd stage includes a poster on the wall of a character named Ash, a secret character from the Japanese version of SoR3 who is flamboyantly homosexual in both dress and demeanor. The 8th stage features a storage room with a giant purple butt plug labeled “Shipping to Paris” in reference to an actual blowup sculpture in France(the stupidest things can only come from real life). The final stage features stained glass windows depicting Mr. X and his various machines from SoR3.