This stunning revival celebrates both the old and new in a wonderful fashion.
When you revive an old series, I always take a cautious step forward. Not because I don't think I can't trust developers making it, but simply because the title might not live up to expectations. Those are the feelings I held as I went into my Gamescom 2019 appointment with smaller publisher DOTEMU for Streets of Rage 4. This SEGA franchise is something near and dear to my heart as these games formed my first experiences with a beat'em up game. Could Guard Crush Games and Lizardcube knock the title out of the park? It has been 15 years since the last game, so will the new entry be one to remember? While I can't give you a complete answer on the latter question, I came away from meeting completely blown away. Not only did they managed to get the feel 100% spot on, they also made a believer out of me.
I want to dive deeper into why I think the feel is what makes Streets of Rage 4 stick in my head. You walk left and right, attack enemies and do special moves that will make you feel awesome. It takes the elements of what made the originals great, but changes the surroundings in ways that are important. Most of enemies I encountered during my demo were completely new. The element of surprise gave me new patterns to learn, and forced me to tread carefully. As you explore new environments, the stakes are raised a little higher too. The foes become more relentless and use devious tactics to pass you by. Streets of Rage 4 never feels cheap, but rather embraces the old arcade nature the Mega Drive classics are known for.
Even when comes to your fighting options, you never fight yourself out of the constant flow Streets of Rage 4 presents. The controls have the right amount of weight to them, and give you solid patterns to move work with. The tricks I used by in the day still seem to work, though more risks have been introduced. The special attacks consistently take away health when you use them. The spirit energy that Blaze uses removes a big chunk of health, so it is wise to pick your moments. By throwing items and making quick dodges, it is possible to win with very little health, but that is such a risky play in more ways than one. In my playing time, I found it is better to leave breathing space until you can pick up an essential item.
New to the Gamescom build was a character named Cherry. The daughter of Adam Hunter reminds me a ton of Skate. That is not really surprising, considering they are technically related, but she has some unique tricks as well. Cherry is an incredibly fast character which is great for any type of dodge move. That being said, she is probably the weakest character of the bunch. I absolutely love her special move though as she pretty much throws a guitar into somebody's face. Wonderful stuff.
Streets of Rage 4 just looks great. Not only in screenshots, but very much in motion. The hand-drawn art looks fantastic as you move character across the screen, and explore what the levels have on offer. The backgrounds in particular are genuinely impressive. You can see people going about their daily lives, and see the cherry blossoms falling everywhere. The player really doesn't get to soak all the details in, but please do look at the various gameplay clips online. You will sort of see what I mean!
All in all, Streets of Rage 4 is one of the best things I've seen at Gamescom this year. Not only did the developers nail the feel of a beat'em up game, they littered it with lovely details. There is a solid balance of difficulty and options, allowing you to stay just ahead of the curve. The road to completion certainly won't be an easy one, but together with a friend, I'm already to see all through to the end.