It’s crazy to think that Streets of Rage first released way back in 1991 for the Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis depending on your region).  Since then it had spawned two more sequels, with each game in the series offering refined, fun and polished gameplay that still holds up incredibly well to this very day.  However, with the final instalment in the original trilogy ending in 1994, there were countless rumours that the series would return with a fourth entry and in-fact, it nearly did for the original PlayStation, but after developers Core pitched the idea to Sega, the project was rejected and that game became Fighting Force in 1997.

Thankfully, the painstaking 26 year wait is finally over as Streets of Rage 4 has arrived with the game taking place 10 years after the events of Streets of Rage 3.  After creating the quite brilliant Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, a remake of the 1988 Sega classic, when publisher Dotemu and developer Lizardcube pitched their idea to Sega, gratefully, this was a proposal that wasn’t rejected.  It would be easy to fall into the trap of taking the loyal Streets of Rage fan base for granted, because let’s be honest, even if this game was average at best, many of us would still gladly pick it up.  But that’s not what Lizardcube or Dotemu are about, because if you’ve been following their previous work, they craft their games with a lot of love and care, especially when it involves such a beloved franchise, and Streets of Rage is certainly no exception to their high standards.

To this day, with the many re-releases, I can still fully enjoy the original trilogy and even my young son enjoys playing the series from time to time, which just shows how timeless this series is.  The beauty of this series is that it’s one that just about any gamer can enjoy, regardless of the generation or skill level.  Streets of Rage 4 expands upon that timeless gameplay, to not only give it that retro feel, but they’ve also updated the gameplay for the modern era, while not losing any of the games identity or charm.

At its core, the gameplay principle is the same, you side-scroll from A to B, beating the crap out of all those that get in your way with its non-complicated approach to gameplay.  However the fighting in Streets of Rage 4 is that more fast, fluid, swift and precise, and it even encourages almost Street Fighter-esque combos with a tracker keeping track of your streak until it ends.  Also the more bad guys you beat and cash bonuses you pick-up, it not only tops of your total score, but you’ll also earn extra lives when you hit certain milestones, which just makes you that more encouraged to beat-up the next guy to keep that streak on a roll for a juicy score bonus, not that I really needed the added encouragement.

Naturally, Streets of Rage wouldn’t be Streets of Rage without some special moves.  In total there are four playable characters to begin with, but you will unlock more as you progress in the story, as well as the various difficulties and modes.  In total you can unlock 12 characters from past and present.  At the start you can pick from series veterans Axel, Blaze and Adam Hunter with two new additions such as Floyd (who resembles Jax from Mortal Kombat) and Cherry, a speedy character that pummels foes with her electric guitar.  You can also swap and change characters at the end of each level and of course, Streets of Rage 4 supports co-op play with two-players online and four-players locally

Each character will have their signature heavy moves that will take down a little of your health bar, but it does regenerate quite quickly, so as a result you should use them sparingly, preferably to finish off a brutal combo to deal extra damage.  Each character also has their own super move which can only be activated if you pick up the special stars through the campaign.  Thankfully, this super move can’t be activated with a press of a single button, instead you must press two buttons simultaneously, which as old-school fans will appreciate, should put an end to you accidently pressing the super button to waste the move, usually at the beginning of the level.

Visually, Streets of Rage 4 is one of the most pleasing games that I’ve played in recent times.  Yes I know graphics aren’t everything, but when you combine such wonderfully crafted, hand-drawn visuals and animations, with such fantastic gameplay, the results are truly something to behold.  The soundtrack and sound-effects are also as equally fantastic, infusing sounds of previous games, but with a modern twist, making for the perfect combination of elements from yesteryear and the modern generation.

All in all, it will only take a couple of hours to blast through the story campaign, but that’s not an issue and it never has been with this series, because it’s always been about picking it up, and blasting through it for some short, yet therapeutic  gaming sessions.  However, you can of course change the difficulty to add more of a challenge and stretch out that campaign even further.  We also have some additional modes in Streets of Rage 4 such as Arcade mode, which challenges you to take on the campaign in one sitting, with a single credit and no saves.  Then we have Battle Mode which returns from Streets of Rage 2 and 3, where you pick the stage and battle it out against a friend.  Finally we have Boss Rush, which is a survival gauntlet against the games bosses and grunts.

The developers at Lizardcube have not only managed to create a game to please returning fans from over two decades ago, but they’ve also created a game that will hopefully not only be welcomed by news fans alike, but it will earn a legion of fans that will fall for this beloved series as I did all those years ago.  It seems strange to say, but nothing could be further from the truth, after 26 years, this iconic series has returned and Streets of Rage 4 is the king of the side-scrolling beat ‘em up!  Now if you don’t mind Lizardcube, do you fancy remaking the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game and Double Dragon while you’re at it?  I’ll love you forever if you do.

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