20 or so years have passed since my SEGA Mega Drive and all of its games were flogged at a car boot sale to make room for the PS1. With SEGA leaving my house, so did Streets of Rage. I played the hell out of Streets of Rage 2 back then, mainly because I was a child who – thankfully – wasn’t a part of the labour force, so I could only play whatever scraps my parents, family, or neighbours threw my way.
Streets of Rage 2 left an impression. Years later I would get to revisit the timeless classic thanks to re-releases on modern platforms, but the magic wore away. I’d already finished the game a dozen or more times as a child. What I needed was a sequel. And yes, I know that Streets of Rage 3 existed, and I’ve played it. So what I really needed was a modern sequel that wouldn’t turn my spoilt nose upwards at “another 2D indie game.”
Enter, Streets of Rage 4.
The city streets are full of bad guys – again -, and your job is to punch and kick your way up to the big bad boss, who is actually bosses this time around. Mr X is gone, but his ridiculously named kids, Mr Z and Ms Y, have taken over the family business. The story is a side-show that doesn’t try to get your attention. That’s what the gameplay is for. It’s simple, straightforward, and there’s no mistaking where in history Streets of Rage 4 belongs. It’s a 90s game dressed up pretty – very pretty, in fact – and I bloody love it.
Come to think of it, not much of the game takes place on the actual streets. Across the 12 stages, I think only a couple of them have you beating fools in the street. The rest of the game’s stages range from the weird to the wonderful, and back to the weird. Likewise, the bad guys you come across are also weird and wonderful, just as you’d expect from a Streets of Rage game.
Streets of Rage 4’s graphics are stunningly beautiful on PS4. Like, I’m not even bothered if that sounds like the most generic, cliche, lazy description of the game’s graphics, because that’s what they are. It’s a comic book in motion, complete with hand-drawn punks, hookers, and turkeys. Or chicken. I’m not sure. This is a fight that has been raging since my days on the school playground.
Everything that makes a Streets of Rage game is here in abundance. Simple controls make putting punks in their place a joy and not a chore. There aren’t any elaborate combos to master, nor are there any obnoxious special move animations that take 3 days to finish. Instead, you’ve got one button to do your hitting with, another to jump, another to do a special move, and a very simple combo (two buttons, triangle and circle) to do your proper special attack. OK, I lie. The developers have slipped in another button, and I only really noticed this towards the middle of the game. You can pull the right trigger to do a back hit, rather than pushing the stick/d-pad in the opposite direction to which you’re fighting.
Traditionalists will insist that Streets of Rage 4 should be played using nothing but the d-pad. I thought I’d lean this way, too, but after playing through the game, I’m sorry to disappoint the hardcore d-pad fans; Streets of Rage 4 is better played with the analogue stick. I know, it’s sacrilege, and my seven-year-old self would kick me for it, but it’s true.
OK, so the controls are a touch modernised, but the rest of the game really is old-school. And I mean so old-school that it’s murderously difficult. If this was purely an arcade game that was sustained by coins, I’d understand, but for a home console release, it’s got me beaten. And I’m alright with that. I cheesed my way through the game’s “normal” difficulty by using the options within the game. If you’re struggling, you can add some extra lives to your chosen character, and even extra stars (stars = super special moves) to give you the edge, but this comes at the cost of your overall score. I’m not one for chasing leaderboards, so I wasn’t bothered. I just wanted to play the game and enjoy it, and I did.
Those of you who are into chasing high-scores, you’re in for a tough one.
If you’ve played a Streets of Rage game before, you know what’s coming. A dozen levels filled with various bad guys and bosses. The earlier stages introduce the low-level criminals who can be beaten to death with a few mashes of the square button. Then, as you get further along with the game, the enemies become that much harder to beat, as well as trickier to manage. Fighting a group of the same enemy is fine. So, for example, those ginger lads committing the biggest crime since 1996 – double denim – can be dealt with easily. But, later on in the game, when they’re paired with kickboxers or whip-wielding hookers, they become a bit of a nuisance, and even more so when several enemy types are all vying for your blood at the same time. To succeed, you need to manage the crowd. I honestly wish that somebody had told me this as a kid. I’d have finished the game and moved on with my life a lot quicker.
Each enemy has their own quirks and moves, and the sooner you can figure them out, remember them, and figure out how to use their own skills to your advantage, the easier you’ll find the game. So if the big fat guy – the characters all have names, but I’m relying on seven-year-old Chris’ lost knowledge and vocabulary – is rolling around, let him take some of the minions with him. Likewise, when the butch prison guards are coming at you, let the bad guys around them get a few licks in before you jump into the fray. I say this now like a street-wise warrior, but I only really realised it myself towards the end of the game. On my second play through…
While each enemy has their own personality and flair, so do the cast of heroes. Each character has their own set of moves, whether it’s their dash move, special, defensive special, or super star special, they’re all unique and brilliantly over-the-top. For me, Axel is Streets of Rage. He was my favourite character as a kid, and not much has changed there. He’s still my favourite to use. But now he’s a rugged older gent with arms as thick as legs and a blonde hobo-beard. Yet he still managed to look suave as hell with the way he reverse moonwalks through each stage. What a beaut of a man.
The other characters… I didn’t care much for them. Though with that said, there are some surprises in store that die-hard fans will appreciate. People who like Streets of Rage a lot, I mean. Not the John McClane fan club.
There’s nothing that Streets of Rage 4 does particularly wrong. Well, except for maybe being a little too tough, but I think my age has some part in how the difficulty is perceived. I’m not an old man, mind you, but at 29, you start to appreciate taking things easy and reducing your stress levels. But still, sometimes the bosses are easier to defeat than the dozens of goons you’ve smashed to get to the boss.
The music and graphics are at a whole other level. The game is gorgeous, and with so many cool little effects that turn a 2D game into, well, not 3D, but it’s got a lot more life inside it than some 3D games I’ve played over the years. It’s the small touches that I appreciate the most, like the puddles reflecting what’s happening, or the patterns from the church windows stinging on everyone and everything. It’s the little details that let me know, as one of those die-hard Streets of Rage fans, that the developers really cared about what they were doing, and I appreciate it, all of it.
The music is something else entirely. I can’t put my finger on why I like it – I only like The Killers and nothing else – but the music is brilliant and I can’t help but whistle along to it. At times, it felt like the music was responding to what I was doing, or maybe I was responding to the music. With the satisfying sound effects of a series of punches downing a handful of enemies, it felt like my beatdown and the music’s beat were in synch. Not all the time, mind you, but it happened enough that I’m not going to call it a happy coincidence. Some magicians worked on this game, I’m sure of it.
Now, no Streets of Rage game would be complete without multiplayer, and I’m happy to say that Streets of Rage 4’s multiplayer works well, both online and with local co-op. I played a bit with Pure PlayStation’s deputy editor, Jason, and we had a good old chinwag while enjoying the game. We the occasional hitch and stutter, but nothing worse than I’ve had in other online games.
And, to avoid a falling out between us, we used the option to turn off friendly hits, meaning neither of us could body slam either other by mistake, or on purpose. I used to do it on purpose as a kid. I was a dickhead child.
The game’s story mode is the main draw, but there’s plenty to keep you going once you’ve beaten the final boss. There’s co-op, battle mode, arcade mode, and more to tinker around with. Even if you only beat the story mode once, I doubt that you’d feel hard done by. It’s classic gaming. No annoying fetch quests. No game-breaking bugs. No disgusting micro-transaction icons sitting cap-in-hand, begging for your pennies. It’s pure fun, and that’s something I can always endorse.
Streets of Rage 4 PS4 Review
- Overall - Must Buy - 9.5/109.5/10
Streets of Rage 4 is not only a worthy continuation of the classic series, it's also the best in its class - without a doubt.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.