The arcade beat-em-up genre was very strong in the ’80s and ’90s. Enter any arcade and you were bound to find at least 10 machines from different developers all in a row. Golden Axe, Ninja Gaiden, Final Fight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons— there was no better way to get people to plunk down more quarters than by taking a popular franchise and adapting it into a beat-em-up.
While Capcom may have reigned supreme, Sega was no slouch in that department. Leaving the arcade market behind and setting its sights on the Sega Genesis, Streets of Rage was born from the Final Fight formula. Taking place in some amalgamation of Tokyo and New York City, these games were exceptionally well-crafted brawlers with absolutely killer soundtracks (well, except for 3). They had local co-op, the ability to hold enemies in place so friends could smack them, and a brilliant art style with lots of dark alleyways and neon flare.
Sadly, the series has been on ice ever since that third entry. While I could make an argument that the Yakuza series is an evolution of Streets of Rage, fans who want something a bit more simple were given reason to rejoice last year. DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games announced that a Streets of Rage 4 would finally be happening. Not only that, but it wouldn’t be using 3D models for its visual style.
The game looked stunning in its six-second teaser, sporting a hand-drawn aesthetic that’s gorgeous in motion. It may not have had exactly the same look, but this was undoubtedly the Streets of Rage fans grew up with. Now we just needed confirmation of the composer, a list of characters, and confirmed platforms to really seal the deal.
While I can’t answer any of that (DotEmu says it’s too early to comment), I can tell you that Streets of Rage 4 is shaping up to be the best entry in Sega’s once-proud series.
The short demo available at PAX East is almost over before you know it, but it gives you a fantastic look at the combat system. As we saw in the recently released teaser, juggle combos are now the name of the game in Streets of Rage. Evolving from the original games’ ability to hold enemies in place, throwing a foe at your friend can have them punching or kicking the dude into the air and damaging him multiple times before he even hits the ground.
Going a step further, weapons have a lot more utility now. Instead of being merely for knocking jerks over, you can actually take the pipe and slam it over a guy’s head, throw it at them to connect in mid-air, and then grab the item out of the air to keep yourself armed. It all happens quickly, but it feels absolutely incredible and makes you look like a total bad-ass.
If you know all of the moves from Streets of Rage 2, that kind of pointless downward jump thrust can also be comboed into. I was playing as Axel (my man!) and I kneed someone in the air, bounced back a little, then immediately followed up with his standard jump kick. Done correctly, you’ll launch the jabroni into your partner and they can add a few of their own hits to his life bar. It’s very free-flowing and smooth, which is definitely an improvement on older beat-em-ups.
One of the biggest upgrades is that your life-draining special attack finally has some utility to it. While I understand the purpose of adding a risk/reward system to that special in the older Streets of Rage games (which stemmed from Final Fight’s very similar ability), expert players would never perform those attacks since the trade-off wasn’t worth it. Why lose your health and potentially die when your double-tap special hits multiple times with no penalty? Now, if you use that attack, it will still drain health but can be restored by attacking foes quickly after.
So not only are the combos greatly expanded, but I have a reason to perform Axel’s flashy fire punch. I could just stop right there because I’m already sold. That’s not the end of the additions, though. For lack of a better comparison, each character now has a star ability that is similar to Punch-Out’s KO punch. After collecting a star on the ground, you can press two-buttons together to perform a super move that is utterly devastating to bosses (and will essentially kill lesser foes in a single attack).
It’s just awesome to see Axel surround himself in flames and send out a vortex that sucks people up. Blaze’s special isn’t too shabby either, with her performing that Bruce Lee hand maneuver from Fist of Fury and hitting everyone with an area of effect attack. While friendly fire is still enabled (what would a classic beat-em-up be without some BS?), these special moves will not hit your friend. That’s good because it would absolutely wreck them if it did connect.
These attacks flow beautifully thanks to the art style. Those short videos don’t do the game justice, because it looks phenomenal on a big television. This is exactly what you’d want from a modern reimagining of a classic Sega game. It looks familiar, but new without any rough edges or stretched pixels. (Though, Axel’s pants may be stretched. Dude has been hitting the gym hard). Little details like light reflections, steam from the sewers, and electrical wires throwing sparks around look amazing, lending depth to the environment.
And that’s really about the gist of this demo. It’s over in 15 minutes, especially if you’re playing with someone who’s competent — my partner for the demo was quite good. Banking those star attacks for the boss will make short work of her and the old-school tactics for dealing with those kamikaze knife guys still apply. This feels a lot like Streets of Rage 2, just with a slightly faster pace.
I did try my best to get some answers out of DotEmu, but the French publisher would not confirm any of my questions. I’m going to assume Yuzo Koshiro is doing the soundtrack, but maybe OC Remix will be lending their talents to a remix of classic tunes. The last trailer did show off silhouettes of more characters, but I couldn’t even pull that out of the reps (or confirmation of four-player co-op.). The one thing I did manage to get answered was the length of the game. Streets of Rage 4 will be longer than its predecessors due to how people consume games nowadays.
I wasn’t given specifics — likely because there aren’t many levels completed — but we’re looking at a game that will have save points and bigger arenas to brawl in. This won’t be a simple seven level affair that you blast through in 75 minutes. I’m not sure if that is necessarily good (beat-em-ups are great because of their efficient pacing), but Castle Crashers proved you can craft a longer arcade styled game without overstaying your welcome. I’m hopeful Streets of Rage 4 will take some lessons from that.
Maybe all this gushing is my inner fanboy coming out, but I’m eagerly looking forward to Streets of Rage 4. It might be a little late to the party, but “better late than never” is certainly applicable here.