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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