Streets of Rage 4 Hands-On: Those Old-School Fisticuffs

It’s hard to believe that the Streets of Rage franchise has been on hiatus for a quarter of a century. Yep, the last game we saw in the series was Streets of Rage 3, which got a fairly good reception upon its arrival, but not nearly as strong as the iconic Streets of Rage 2 that came years before. That might have turned off Sega from the idea of working on Streets of Rage 4, but some fan projects have hinted at what it may resemble, though they didn’t come close to what Sega produced.

Streets of Rage 4

However, last year, the company provided a glimmer of hope. Right before PAX West 2018 was set to take place, it was announced that the folks at DotEmu (the publisher behind such revivals as Windjammers and the beautiful Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap) were bringing a fourth go-around of Rage after a long, tiring wait. The demo that was available at the time to select press was very early, but painted an interesting picture of what fans could expect.

Then came this past weekend at PAX East 2019 where DotEmu had a much more put-together demo to showcase to fans and press alike. It definitely leaves us anticipating what the final game will end up becoming whenever it does arrive.

The Story So Far

It’s unknown just what to expect from Streets of Rage 4. There’s no word if Mr. X has once again made his return, though it’s very likely at this rate. All we know is that it appears to take place a few years after Streets of Rage 3 wrapped up. Axel, the blonde brawler that isn’t afraid to light up a flaming fist from the ground, has grown a haggard beard to match his bright locks.

And alongside him is Blaze, the female cop that isn’t afraid to get dirty when it comes to fighting. She continues to show some great fashion sense with her outfit, but don’t be fooled as she’s set to deliver a few powerful blows in her own right.

There’s a good chance we’ll see other characters introduced down the line as the game’s development goes on. We’ve seen hints that Skate, the teenage roller skater from Streets of Rage 2, could possibly return all grown up and ready to kick some butt. In addition, Adam, the urban brawler from the original Rage, may also return. And who knows, we could see wrestler Max show back up with an even longer beard than Axel’s, or perhaps even Roo from Streets of Rage 3. That’s right, a fighting kangaroo. He can certainly hold his own, we’re sure.

All we know is that there are a lot of thugs on the street, and they aren’t afraid to fight for their turf. A few familiar faces return from the Streets series, including the big hat-wearing dude that breathes fire after getting a running start, as well as a few of Streets of Rage 2’s thugs. For good measure, there are some new characters debuting here as well, ready to put Axel and Blaze into the ground.

Streets of Rage 4


Trailblazing New Visuals, But What’s the Word On the Music?

The first thing you may notice about Streets of Rage 4 is that the game has gotten the hand-drawn treatment. Gone are the old sprite visuals that made the previous Streets games look so retro, in favor of hand-drawn animations that match the flavor of DotEmu’s previous work with The Dragon’s Trap and the forthcoming Windjammers 2. The game looks like a delight thus far and comes together beautifully.

This is particularly noteworthy when it comes to each character’s attacks. For instance, Blaze’s force techniques are a lot of fun to watch, and you can actually see their radius so you get an idea of just how effective they are. We’re also big fans of Axel’s fiery attacks, where he can spin around with a powerful fist technique. He can also come rising from the ground with an uppercut that could send any given opponent flying, provided they don’t hit Axel first.

The backdrops are pretty plain at this point in time, though DotEmu is still well in development as far as Streets 4 goes. There’s still time to add in background scrolling and other little touches. Besides, this enables more focus on the characters at hand, and how nicely drawn they are at this point in time.

One question we still have, however, revolves around the music. There’s still no word if the original composer of the Streets of Rage series, Yuzo Koshiro, will be making a comeback. But the filler tunes that we heard during the demo seemed satisfactory, although taken from earlier games. Here’s hoping that by the time PAX West rolls around, DotEmu has an announcement that will literally be music to fans’ ears. We need Yuzo back, tell you what.

The sound effects, at the very least, make up for the typical tunes thus far. Axel still has amazing grunting effects with his special techniques, and Blaze can equally hold her own when it comes to striking opponents with loud gusto. The meaty punching effects are worth a listen as well, and hearing some foes taunt does get a little humorous at times. They just don’t know what’s coming, do they?

A Few Old Tricks, and Some New Ones

Those of you who grew up with Streets of Rage in one form (the original game) or another (SOR2 and SOR3) will more than likely know just how the gameplay is supposed to click. Sure, you can punch, kick and jump-kick your way to victory, but you’ll want to take advantage of special techniques that can clear the playing field in just the right way.

We’re happy to report that Streets of Rage 4 certainly has this in spades and then some. Each character not only has their blend of typical attacks that can send enemies flying, but also special techniques that they can tie together, along with a supercharged attack that can mean serious business.

For instance, with either Axel or Blaze, you can set up two different special attacks. One is usually a quick attack that hits opponents from front and behind, like Blaze’s flip kick or Axel’s spinning fist. The other is a supercharged forward attack that can do major damage to whoever is standing in front of these characters. It’s a bit more focused but pays off, especially against bosses that tend to stand in your way.

Streets of Rage 4

On top of that, you can press forward twice and hit the attack button to create a cool dashing attack. This doesn’t chip away at your precious energy and enables you to deliver a quick hit on whoever stands in front of you. These are particularly useful if you’re low on energy and just need to clear out any thugs standing in your way.

Along with the familiar, Streets of Rage 4 has some great new tricks. For instance, you can now “juggle” enemies and chip away even more at their energy bars before they hit the ground. You can throw someone at your partner and then can deliver a few punches knocking them back at you for the finishing blow. If you’ve got a good team on hand, online or local couch play, you can truly set up some remarkable techniques here.

That said, be forewarned. With the demo that we tried out, “friendly fire” was not turned on. As a result, we were able to attack each other with ease, and that could become a problem, even if you simply nail a few “accidental” blows. On the other hand, it could be fun for some players, especially those on the competitive side of things. It’s your option to turn it off if you want, though we don’t blame you if you want to have a few laughs.

Then there’s the super technique. This charges up as you dispatch of thugs over the course of the stage. Once you build up enough energy, you can unleash a super technique that clears the screen and the enemies that surround your character. For example, with Axel you can set up a glorious fire attack that has him performing a masterful move, and it blasts the living snot out of anyone that may be standing around you.

Again, this is quite useful when it comes to bosses. There was only one that popped up during the demo, but she was a doozy. She’s an “electric lady,” so to speak; a special thug that can use supercharged attacks to not only knock you back but also hit you if you try to come in with a jump kick of some kind. With her, it’s best to wait for an opportunity to strike, and then come in to see what you can do. Patience definitely pays off here.

And keep in mind, this was just the first boss encounter. Once the final game surfaces, we’ll see what other familiar faces, and newbies, manage to pop up. We’d love to see some favorites from Streets of Rage 2 show up, and maybe even make them playable in a battle arena of some kind.

Streets of Rage 4

So, What Platforms Is It Coming Out For?

There’s one lingering question that we can’t help but be wondering when it’ll be answered: what platforms will Streets of Rage 4 be appearing on? DotEmu wasn’t specific when it came to announcing platforms, just that it was coming to game consoles once it concludes development.

Granted, with a popular name like Streets of Rage, it makes sense to release the game on more popular platforms. This includes the Nintendo Switch, where the series would be right at home with the recently released Sega Genesis Classics, which has Streets of Rage 1, 2 and 3 all in one place. For that matter, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are likely choices, and we wouldn’t dare see a denial on the PC front. Hopefully, by the time the Electronic Entertainment Expo rolls around, we’ll see DotEmu confirm the platforms for the game.

That’s later on down the road, though. For now, the potential for Streets of Rage 4 is most certainly there, especially with a much more complete demo showcasing just what the forthcoming beat-em-up can do.

We’ve still got questions, mind you. Along with wondering what platforms the game will be available on, we can’t help but plead with DotEmu to do the right thing and bring Yuzo Koshiro back into the mix to handle the soundtrack. A notable request, but small, to be sure. Gotta go with the vibe that worked so well with the series, after all.

As it stands, however, the developer has made amazing progress with the game. The hand drawn visuals are spectacular thus far, showing off just what Axel and Blaze (and whoever else joins this party down the line) can do with a few simple moves. The enemy design is pretty spiffy as well; the backgrounds, while plain, really add to the hand-drawn resonance of the game.

However, it’s the gameplay that really gets you. Between some awesome fighting techniques and a few great grab moves (seriously, Axel’s spin-around ground slam is a true highlight), you’re going to be showing off to your friends and mastering the best techniques to take down enemies quickly. That’ll be helpful if you’re trying to clear a stage alongside a buddy in the fastest time possible. Just make sure not to smack them around too much, because, well, they can hit you back.

Even though Streets of Rage has been away for 25 years, it doesn’t look like it’s missed a step with this fourth iteration. It’s got the touch that the series has thrived with for years; and there’s more than enough new content here to enjoy as well. Now we just need a soundtrack, more characters and, most importantly, platforms to bring the fight to.

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10 Studios That Would Make Your Dream MMORPG

The MMORPG genre is far from dead, but it could surely use a boost from a top player in the industry. Can you imagine if the masterminds behind the Witcher franchise decided to make an MMORPG? Just how splendid that would be.

This thought alone led me to ponder on other studios that could potentially deliver your dream MMORPG. I chose to leave some renowned developers out of the equation as they clearly need a respite to reflect on their recent blunders. Who exactly, I hear you ask?

Bethesda, to begin with. The mess of a game that is Fallout 76 didn’t do any favors to its reputation, so they need the time to realign their focus – The Elder Scrolls fans are watching. BioWare also seems to be stuck in a rut following the lackluster releases of Mass Effect: Andromeda and the highly anticipated and equally unfulfilling Anthem. Finally, Destiny 2 is clearly showing that many players are getting tired of Bungie’s microtransaction-laden sci-fi worlds and the studio needs to move on to more rewarding and fair experiences.

Without further delay, here are ten studios that wouldn’t let you down – hopefully.

CDProjekt (The Witcher Franchise, Cyberpunk 2077)

Dream MMORPG Studios CDProjekt

The storytelling gurus at CDProjekt delivered three of the best RPGs ever made but are yet to prove themselves outside of Geralt de Rivia’s universe. Cyberpunk 2077 is its first stab at another setting, trading medieval fantasy for grim futuristic sci-fi. Here is a studio that doesn’t shy away from a challenge and is known for pouring its heart into each game. CDProjekt deserves extra honors for its crusade against DRM technology and the belief that players should feel compelled to buy a game for its sheer value, instead of pirating it.

The Witcher series has all the trappings of an MMORPG. Great lore, captivating characters, exciting combat and large regions to explore. CDProjekt could probably build on this to create a massively multiplayer world and considering that it owns the rights to video games based on The Witcher novels, there is no shortage of potential or visible blockades along the way – except when Witcher creator Andrzej Sapkowski realizes he needs more money.

Or they could go for something completely original instead, no strings attached. No matter CDProjekt’s decision, it’s a proven fact that they value their players and would go the extra mile to create something utterly memorable.

Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto Franchise, Red Dead Franchise, Bully…)

Dream MMORPG Studios Rockstar Games

No matter what Rockstar sets out to do, Rockstar achieves – even if it means putting its staff through excruciating long hours. That’s the ugly side of the video game industry, sadly not as unusual as it should be.

But back to the matter at hand. Rockstar Games is a huge publisher with several subsidiaries with proven track records. Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead are its two major franchises, where they show their skills both in single-player and multiplayer. There is no doubt that they would work wonders in an MMO environment…

… “But isn’t that a thing already with GTA Online and Red Dead Online?,” the observant crowd asks. Well, you ingeniously inquisitive fellows, the answer is both yes and no. These online modes for the popular franchises may be robust and excitingly entertaining, but I want to see Rockstar doing something bigger and bolder. Not just multiplayer revisions of the original gameplay, but something supporting way more than 32 players. An entirely new IP, featuring the same open world ideas from the above-mentioned games but with a more elaborate, story-based approach to the game world.

It would be an interesting challenge to tackle, and I’m convinced that Rockstar would be successful. Business as usual.

Ubisoft (Far Cry Franchise, Assassin’s Creed Franchise…)

Dream MMORPG Studios Ubisoft

Currently, Ubisoft is synonym with Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, but the French company has a lot more under its sleeve. The Division 2, for example, is just one of several games that happily dabble with online gameplay, but is it a true MMORPG? I wouldn’t say so. Oddly enough, there isn’t a single full-fledged story-driven MMORPG anywhere to be seen in Ubisoft’s enviable backlog.

Ubisoft’s experience with rich open world settings would be invaluable when it comes to building a vast and diverse map for an MMORPG. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey shows a developer with several great ideas and a brilliant grasp on art direction, storytelling and combat system. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is a potential candidate for a massively multiplayer release, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Ubisoft using its expertise and resources with an original IP.

Epic Games (Fortnite Battle Royale, Gears of War…)

Dream MMORPG Studios Epic Games

The overwhelming success of Fortnite Battle Royale coupled with the industry-leading Unreal Engine are the two main drivers of Epic Games’ unstoppable growth. The failure of third-person MOBA Paragon wasn’t enough to deter the studio, and it was convinced that Fortnite would come out of development hell and convince the masses. It did, but the “help” of a rival to steer it in the right direction was essential: PUBG introduced it the wondrous world of Battle Royale.

For a studio that was founded in 1991 and enjoyed several successes over the years, Epic Games is sitting at the top of its game. They could easily design a traditional third-person MMORPG as they have the resources – mainly the engine –, the know-how and the financial freedom. They are proven masters of every visual style, so they could go for a sci-fi fantasy theme enriched with realistic features (as seen in Paragon) or choose a laid-back cartoon approach (Fortnite). While it is early days for fully-fledged Unreal Engine 4 MMORPGs (Nexon’s Project BBQ, Blade & Soul’s Vision update, NCsoft’s Project TL…), Epic Games could easily stand out from the competition with its expertise with the engine.

Grinding Gear Games (Path of Exile)

Dream MMORPG Studios Grinding Gear Games

Is Path of Exile an MMORPG or is it not? That’s a discussion that could go on for days, but the general opinion is that it is an ‘online action RPG.’ Rightfully acclaimed as one of the best examples of the Diablo school of hack and slash, Grinding Gear Games’ title could work as a great prelude to an MMORPG.

Grim and gloomy just as Diablo is – or was? –, Path of Exile could serve as the stepping stone for an isometric MMORPG in the style of Lost Ark. With open world areas and world bosses for dozens of players to cooperate, along with the traditional instanced dungeons, it’s not like GGG’s first and only game strays too far from MMORPG territory. Their updates are renowned for being huge and going in the direction of player requests and aren’t afraid of drastically changing something that doesn’t feel right – as they did with the Fall of Oriath expansion, completely altering the campaign structure.

The big question here is if it would be worthwhile developing a second game that fundamentally would borrow many mechanics from Path of Exile. Perhaps going for a different, less grisly theme would be the best choice?

Digital Extremes (Warframe)

Dream MMORPG Studios Digital Extremes

Through perseverance and unshakeable belief in its original vision, Digital Extremes managed to surpass everyone’s expectations and showed a thing or two to many publishers of little faith. Warframe went from being a niche game to a behemoth of an online action RPG.

It’s this perseverance and long-term vision that would ultimately set them apart from other developers. Ironically, it was absent from hero shooter The Amazing Eternals, but realizing early on that something isn’t going to take off may be a positive as well.

Digital Extremes is absolutely at ease with sci-fi and fast-paced movement, so it would be the perfect candidate for a frantic action combat MMORPG. They are no strangers to open world MMO gameplay as well, with Warframe’s updates Plains of Eidolon and Fortuna showing that they can hold their own in this department.

The only downside would probably be that this hypothetical MMORPG would be, just as Warframe, in open beta for all eternity and beyond. But we all can live with that, right?

Riot Games (League of Legends)

Dream MMORPG Studios Riot Games

Riot Games must step up its game soon or risk seeing the fountain of riches that is League of Legends eventually dry out. How fun would it be to see Runeterra becoming the stage for an MMORPG? It’s not as crazy as it sounds either; it was Riot Games’ co-founder Marc Merrill that came up with the thought and fans reacted accordingly.

Of course, this is nothing but speculation. While Riot Games is said to be “experimenting a lot of stuff,” and considering the implications of going head-to-head with World of Warcraft, nothing is set in stone.

However, it should happen. League of Legends has some terrific characters and intricate lore that could work nicely in an MMORPG. The colorful cartoon aesthetic feels just right for a third-person perspective, and it goes without saying that the League of Legends player base would jump at the thought of seeing its favorite world expanding. This MMORPG must be made while the MOBA remains at its best, so that gives them… two to three years?

KOG Studio (Grand Chase, Elsword, KurtzPel…)

Dream MMORPG Studios KOG Studio

KOG Studio is something of a weird case. While an expert in online games, the South Korean studio still hasn’t dipped its feet in traditional MMORPG territory. Grand Chase and Elsword are acclaimed MMO games but they are action games at heart and couldn’t be further from the likes of World of Warcraft or EverQuest.

Nonetheless, Elsword is considered a 2.5D action MMORPG, which means that it includes core mechanics such as guilds, PvP and item trading. KOG’s latest game, KurtzPel, switches to a third-person perspective but is a focused PvP brawler experience with boss raid PvE gameplay tacked on.

So why do I reckon that KOG could deliver an outstanding MMORPG? Because they have years of experience in online games, a couple of successful titles under its belt, and a mastery of action gameplay. The cherry on top is the combat system developed for KurtzPel, which would work impeccably in an MMORPG. The same thing goes for the beautiful anime graphics.

I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old curmudgeon, but adding hub towns with proper quests to KurtzPel would be a great place to start. Follow it with complete dungeons, let it cook for a couple of years and we would get a stunning anime MMORPG. Sadly, KurtzPel isn’t going to be that game, but KOG may eventually get to it in the future.

DevCAT (Vindictus, Mabinogi, Dragon Hound, Ascendant One…)

Dream MMORPG Studios DevCAT

For many of you, the name DevCAT may not ring a bell, but what about Mabinogi and Vindictus? Now that tells you something, doesn’t it? The South Korean studio is behind these classic MMORPGs, with Vindictus being one of the best examples in action combat before TERA or Black Desert Online showed up to the party. This game is live and getting updates up to this day, further proof that DevCAT stands by its work.

A sequel to Vindictus is long overdue and was once in development, but it felt more like an arena brawler spin-off than a proper follow-up. It ended up being canceled, with DevCAT moving on to other games. The monster-hunting online game Dragon Hound is one of its upcoming titles and a very promising one, and DevCAT is also reimagining Mabinogi for mobile devices, and it looks terribly cute. DevCAT’s catalog shows that it is a studio capable of tackling any challenge, from MMORPGs to MOBAs and even card games.

DevCAT should consider updating Vindictus to the current generation, just as Neople is doing with Dungeon Fighter Online’s sequel (codename Project BBQ). A third-person, brutal action combat MMORPG mixing Vindictus’ varied character selection with an open world like Black Desert Online could be a pleasant recipe. Nexon just needs to give them the go-ahead and we’ll all be happy.

SEGA (Yakuza, Phantasy Star Online 2…)

Dream MMORPG Studios SEGA

I’m not even going to bother with Phantasy Star Online 2 anymore. I gave up on the promised western release a long time ago, but SEGA could at least be so kind as to officially confirm that this version is dead and buried, something that they didn’t even worry about telling their fans. We need some sort of closure on this subject, guys!

SEGA is no stranger to MMORPGs, as you can see, so it’s peculiar to realize that it has all but abandoned the genre. A new Phantasy Star Online game would result in millions of joyful players worldwide, but I wouldn’t rule out something based on the Yakuza franchise as well. This prolific series is acclaimed for its open world and story, as well as for the abundance of mini-games and entertaining side-quests. Aren’t those some of the fundamentals of a full-fledged MMORPG?

Between a new Phantasy Star Online and a Yakuza MMORPG, the choice is far from easy. Recently we were fooled into thinking that the latter one was happening, but Yakuza Online turned out to be a mobile card game. In your face, expectations!

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