A New Entry to a Cult Classic
If you owned or played a SEGA Genesis in the 1990s, there is a good chance you were exposed to SEGA’s iconic Beat-Em-Up franchise, Streets of Rage. Also known as “Bare Knuckle” in Japan, Streets of Rage had three releases between 1991 and 1994 where one or two players could play as one of a few crime-fighting vigilantes on the side-scrolling streets of Wood Oak City. Since its third installment in 1994, there have been many re-releases of the revered series as well as several proposed sequels on both Saturn and Dreamcast, but nothing had come to fruition…until now.
In 2018, Dotemu revealed the latest entry to the series. In many cases, projects like this aren’t always backed by the original developer, but SEGA consulted on the project to preserve the franchise’s integrity. After several showings at Trade Shows in 2019 and 2020, Streets of Rage 4 (SOR4) released to the public on April 30, 2020. We were able to preview the game earlier this year at PAX South, but since release, I’ve been able to get some time with the full game. Let’s take a look at what to expect!
Very much like the Genesis entries of old, at its core SOR4 is a side-scrolling beat-em-up with many modern improvements that you would expect from a game in 2020. 16-bit sprites have been replaced (although not entirely) by charmful, hand-drawn models. Level design has been updated but pays proper homage to the 2D games of the past.
Another thing I noticed immediately was some of the extra functionality with the updated controller. The SEGA Genesis featured a 3-button controller that forced multiple functions to use the same buttons as well as other functions using two-button combos. With an Xbox One controller, all of the old controls had their own dedicated input as well as the new STAR Action feature having one of its own.
SOR4 consists of 3 modes of play: story, arcade, and battle. Story mode adds some depth and dialog between each chapter and fleshes out the narrative more so than the game’s 16-bit predecessors. On top of these, there are also ways to play specific stages without having to play the entire game as well as just complete the boss fights in Boss Rush mode.
In SOR4, you can start as one of 4 characters including the original trilogy’s Axel and Blaze. The new characters are Cherry Hunter, daughter of SOR1’s Adam Hunter, and Floyd Iraia, a disciple of SOR3’s Dr. Z.
While the Streets of Rage franchise has always offered fantastic couch co-op for two, you can now play cooperatively online with one other player. In addition, you can now play local co-op with up to 4 players!
One thing that’s always stood out to me was Streets of Rage’s (2 specifically) soundtrack. The techno-inspired 16-bit fusion is something that constantly reminds me of late nights with good friends, cold Mountain Dew, and an endless supply of Doritos. When Dotemu announced that the game would feature the classic soundtrack (and 16-bit characters) I was extremely excited to check it out. Upon loading up the game on release, I didn’t want to waste time in menus so I jumped right in. Much to my delight, the SOR4 soundtrack hits all the right spots. Composer, Olivier Deriviere, captured the nostalgic emotions of the original trilogy’s soundtrack and combined it with modern fidelity and originality. This is something I think many will be adding to their Spotify playlist.
Streets of Rage 4 is a pleasant return to a revered series but at the same time a fun new adventure for the next generation of gamers. You can check out SOR4 right now with Gamepass Ultimate on both Xbox and PC with Play Anywhere. It’s also on PS4, Switch, and PC via Steam.