A roguelike beat-’em-up that seems to yearn for the days of arcade brutality.
It seems like every other game on Switch falls gently into the roguelike category. I could dive into the many reasons why and circle back to how Secret Base’s debut Switch game Streets of Red is a roguelike beat-’em-up that reminds me of Double Dragon and River City Ransom, but in the case of this game, the comparison seems a little less concrete. Streets of Red is more akin to an old-school arcade game that was updated for a modern console. Regardless of how you classify this game, it’s a fantastic brawler with great co-op and a stringent difficulty.
The context of Streets of Red is goofy, with some BAX East 2018 attendees being the only ones not overtaken by a zombie apocalypse. But from that thin setup, it goes in humorous directions, with the initial four playable characters (two more are unlockable) all more or less being cosplayers who take on idealized versions of their outfits, whether it’s by mimicking a certain Hyrule warrior or donning a magical mech suit. Every character more or less controls the same, but they all have different attacks and special abilities, making them more distinct. That comes more into play in four-player co-op, where you can have a good time plotting out some light strategy by mixing and matching melee-focused and ranged characters.
After picking your character, you can pick one of four stages. Each stage kicks off a series of levels that gets longer the later you pick it. Pick the sewer as the first stage and it will be one night long. Pick it later on, and it’ll be multiple nights long. All the levels are designed and not procedurally generated, but the choose-your-own adventure aspect of stage selection keeps it from getting stale. The difficulty does increase as you work your way through the levels, though, but the structure of each level stays the same.
Something that stood out as I played was that you’re encouraged to use your special attacks to finish enemies. Correctly time your specials to slay your foes to get crazy monetary bonuses on top of the sizable damage they unleash. The special meter continually refills so it’s not like it’s a limited commodity. It’s just a nice twist that makes combat just a little more engaging.
As you complete levels, you get the chance to upgrade your hero by boosting their attack, combo, health, and more. It’s always tempting to just power up your character as much as you can, but another option might be smarter as you get deeper. Soul tokens basically function as continues. While you can buy back in after a death using accumulated in-game coinage, soul tokens let you restart after a game over, which is extremely helpful since that’s the only way to keep your save file if you run out of money. It’s brutal, especially when the game makes you delete your save file in shame when you can’t continue. An easy difficulty is available if this isn’t your speed, and for that matter, an expert mode is also present if the main game is too easy for you.
The overall length makes this all less frustrating, though. A playthrough of the game won’t take much longer than two hours if you make it to the good end, and the variety of characters, upgrade options, and in-game achievements makes the repetition less onerous. The co-op is also a good time, much like old arcade beat-’em-ups are always fun with friends. Streets of Red really does capture that feeling of an arcade game. Even with the punishing game over situation, this isn’t crazy challenging. My first runthrough of the game was a nightmare, only lasting like two stages, but after that, I consistently got near the end even as I experimented with different characters. Once you learn the mechanics, it’s about outlasting the onslaught of enemies and carefully managing your health and resources.
Whether your throughline with Streets of Red is roguelike beat-’em-up or throwback to arcade brawlers, it’s a great time. While it works best in co-op, overall this is a game with easy-to-grasp controls that builds out a wealth of variety with numerous characters and upgrades. The journey might not be that long, but everything about it is polished and enjoyable.