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Review: Streets of Rage 4 (Nintendo Switch)By mikem52 At 18.05.2020 20:58

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It's been 26 years between this and the last official release in the series. A few ill fated and oft rumoured attempts at a revival had been whispered over the years, but none that actually came to fruition. Notably, one failed pitch for a sequel ultimately did end up being released on the original PlayStation by Core Design, albeit with a new facade, no association with sega, and a new moniker of Fighting Force. Of all this time passed expectations of a true sequel were completely dashed, one might have thought.

Streets of Rage 4, then, has seemingly cropped out of nowhere. French developer Lizard Cube, and Guard Crush Games now at the helm. It follows a trend of SEGA appearing to throw its hands up at what to do with its dormant and treasured IPs, instead deciding to pass them on to what are essentially fans who now make games. Fans that grew up with, and understand the IP better than SEGA does itself. Superficially, it's a solid strategy, as it certainly appears to have paid off here.

Everything "feels" like Streets of Rage. Even from perusing the included concept art, it is evident that the developers really went far to understand what made the originals so good. Along with some subtle but smart gameplay additions, and a new lick of paint, the formula feels familiar but also fresh. The core idea is quite simple. Alone or in co-op, select a character to play as, make your way through increasingly difficult stages with said character, kicking the behinds of anyone that gets in the way. The appeal, and what sets Streets of Rage 4 apart, is that it engages players by requiring them to think constantly during gameplay. There are some clever additions, like being able to catch a weapon after it's been thrown, allowing the process to be repeated and keep lethal-up-close enemies at bay.

More impactful than that are special attacks, which drain health to use, and now have a cool-down, whereby that health can be repleted if combos remain unbroken, and attacks from aggressors are avoided immediately after its use. It took a while to adopt this update from the older style, but it has a great risk/reward implication that impacts the gameplay positively. There are always options to the combat, which change in the moment to moment, and all feel relevant. One constantly needs to be assessing their character placement versus enemy placement, enemy type and enemy numbers. Managing and prioritising ways of attack is key.

Environments and characters pop in the new art style. Everything has this Saturday morning cartoon vibe, which might take away from some of the grittiness of the originals, but overall is a good fit. The colour and detail afforded by the style really make the world come alive. Axel and Blaze are back but also in a redesigned, 'too old for this... shizzle' form. They are accompanied by new-comers Cherry and Floyd, although, without spoiling anything, there may be some other Easter Eggs included for long-time fans of the series as well.

Each character plays differently from one another. Axel is the all-rounder; Floyd is strong but slow; Blaze is technical, and better with a weapon; and Cherry is, of course, is the fast and nimble one. Discovering each move-set is a joy, and it's quick to find out that the trade off is that certain characters will be able to deal with certain enemies better than others. This encourages co-op play, which for the most part performs excellently online or locally, save from a tiny bit of lag experienced in particularly busy scenes.

Levels are varied but short, culminating in tough boss battles. The length is just enough that it feels substantial (ooh matron!), and added set pieces punctuate what could otherwise be monotonous or repetitious. It's possible to get through the story mode in one sitting quite happily, but that's no reason to feel short changed by the overall package. This offers a cornucopia of other unlocks and modes, as well as a robust scoring system that makes replays worthwhile.

...And. It. Is. Hard! On the normal difficulty setting this reviewer found himself getting overwhelmed and crushed by certain scenarios before sharpening up his skills. The difficulty however rarely feels unfair, unlike it did back in Streets of Rage 3, and can usually be overcome with a restart or different approach. Generally difficulty is balanced by level checkpoints and assist options when failure is inevitable, with a cost to the overall level score. With a reliable co-up partner too, this difficulty is greatly lessened, and maybe this is how the game should preferably be played.

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Final Score
[i]Streets of Rage 4[/i] does a textbook job of balancing between the new and the old. It will appease veterans as a solid update for the series that doesn't skip on fan service either. It's quite admirable how the direction for almost every element, from presentation, animation, music, and story, all adhere to a consistency and aim for a high watermark. For newcomers it's an easy one to recommend as well, as it is easy to understand, and is built upon core mechanics that engage continually when in play, all wrapped up in a modern looking package. It is unfettered by the du jour ideals that can often belie the essence of or memory of the originals. One could even argue that it supersedes them, though time will tell if this is the case. There is a possibility that it plays it all too safe, however, and this kind of approach will lead to a homogeneity and fatigue down the line, but it's been so long since the last entry that it's almost seems pointless bringing it up. No, it doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it doesn't need to either. For a certain type of person, there will be something evergreen about a close up shot of two muscular biceps locked in a reverse handshake.



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