Since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world up and created measures that have prohibited us from eating in restaurants and general travel, Rant or Reason was unable to provide the type of content our readers are normally accustomed to.
Life has changed completely and with that so have my routines.
I’ve rediscovered the joys of gaming during the quarantine and what a time to do so. A remake and sequel to my two favorite games of all time were released during the same month in a season where I’m stuck in my apartment.
These two games, one being Final Fantasy VII Remake, and the other Streets of Rage 4, are part of franchises from completely different eras of consoles, so the odds of them getting modern treatments in the same month, let alone the same year, are slim to none. However, it’s happened and I can’t wait to talk about my experience with the latter of the two. (I’m waiting to buy a physical copy of FFVII on Amazon when price gouging ends. More on that later)
Streets of Rage, especially the second entry in the series, is a game I have played almost every year since its initial release in 1992. The final game in the trilogy, Streets of Rage 3, launched in 1994 leaving a 25-year gap before another entry was finally announced in 2019.
When news of a Streets of Rage 4 release first hit, I immediately texted all of my friends and family members who I have played Streets of Rage with through the years. We were all pretty stoked.
After all, this is a game that I made two songs about and constantly quote throughout my music for its mood and creative direction that greatly influenced a lot of my endeavors as an artist. (song posted below)
The beat-em-up genre Streets of Rage is a part of was one of my favorites as a kid and it dominated the late 1980s and early 1990s. I just loved the concept of fighting my way through gauntlets of enemies to achieve the ultimate goal of saving the city. And Streets of Rage took place in a city much like my own, New York City, and made me feel like I was stepping outside and beating up baddies on my block. I still would love to write a script for a Streets of Rage film.
Well it’s safe to say that beat-em-ups are back and better than ever with Streets of Rage 4. This is debatably the best entry in the series as it stays true to the gameplay mechanics of the previous games and most closely follows the character defined move sets found in the series most celebrated entry, Streets of Rage 2.
SOR4 feels as fluid as a modern fighting game allowing for players to dish out 50-60 hit combos, double team the most irritating of enemies, and deal punishment at levels the creators of the original games could only dream of.
The french studio that developed the game opted for an anime style character and level design that greatly changes its look in comparison to the pixelated goodness from the 1990s Sega Genesis era. Like most lifelong Ragers, I was critical of the change at first, but after playing through the game several times, it’s growing on me more and more.
Unlike Streets of Rage 3, which is arguably the worst entry in the series, SOR4 adds some new playable characters to the roster that are insanely fun to play with. Floyd Iraia is a cross between Max Thunder from SOR2 and Dr. Zan from SOR3. His large size allows you to pummel enemies quickly with his powerful attacks.
Cherry Hunter, another new edition and relative to older playable characters Adam Hunter and Skate, also adds a lot to the team with high jumping guitar smashing action that can keep enemies chasing you all over the screen.
The SOR4 creators also served a bit of justice by giving us a modern reimagining of Adam Hunter from the first game. Those of us who have been playing fan-made Streets of Rage Remake on the PC really enjoy having Adam back in the mix who was captured in SOR2, and only seen in cut scenes during SOR3.
Adam is a powerhouse in SOR4 who also moves pretty quick. If you like balance, Adam is perfect for you. He always would have been my favorite character if they had made him playable again, but because he was excluded from 2 and 3, Axel was that by default.
Both Axel and Blaze, characters who appear in every entry of the series, retain all of their classic moves and punch their way through bad guys at a rate that seems OP at times.
Another great modern addition to SOR4 is the Story mode which allows the player to progress through the game one level at a time. The player can save the game and also switch characters before starting a new level. This is great because it allows you to experiment with all of the playable characters while going through the story. It’s also beneficial because I get the feeling that some levels are tailor made for specific characters to fight through.
There’s also an Arcade mode for those who want to fight through the game old-school, and a ton of un-lockables to keep you playing over and over.
With all of its much needed upgrades, SOR4 is certainly not a perfect successor. The gritty 1980s NYC vibe from the first two games is noticeably absent from the new game. A lot of SOR4 takes place during the day which certainly changes the tone of the series. And even though there are some great nighttime levels, they still look very bright in comparison to SOR and SOR2.
The new music is also lacking in comparison to the classic soundtrack of SOR2. The SOR theme is noticeably absent from the game. I was really hoping for a modern take on it, but instead we got a completely new set of songs. The new music probably will grow on me over time, but for now I definitely wanted them to keep the theme since it’s the only song that appeared in every game of the series.
You can switch the soundtrack to retro, but those are the same songs from all the previous entries including the Game Gear versions which sound horrible. However, many of the classics, including the theme are here in their original forms for longtime Ragers to enjoy.
And even though I didn’t get my 1980s/90s urban wasteland, the creators gave us levels filled with art galleries and quirky enemies that we’d see in today’s hipster infested NYC. It’s definitely a product of its time much like its predecessors which I have to give it points for, even though it’s not my preference.
Overall, it’s hard to argue that SOR4 is not the best entry in the series. It’s gameplay just expands on the older games in such a way that makes it hard to go back and play them.
You really feel the difference when you start unlocking the retro characters and play with them in the new animated SOR world. And even though it shifted tonally from parts 1 and 2, it’s still a vision that the beat-em-up classic can live comfortably in and hopefully give us another trilogy to live with for the next 30 years.