Streets of Rage 4 is a tremendous game. I’m not just saying that because of the cool interview we conducted. I truly love this game; it’s everything I could have wanted from a contemporary beat ‘em up and then some. A lot of that is due to Lizardcube’s amazing visuals, Guard Crush Games’ shockingly substantial combat, and the dope soundtrack. But what really, really stood out to me during my playthrough was how much this game gives each character on an individual basis. Streets of Rage 4 makes every character feel special and goes beyond just the gameplay to facilitate that feeling.
It’s hard to make a game that’s about combat, and strike a balance between complexity and accessibility. Beat ‘em ups are simple by nature, but modern gaming demands more than a button-mashing quarter-muncher. At the same time, veer too far into the other lane and you may as well make a fighting game. Streets of Rage 4 achieves that balance with just a little added work for the player, but pulls one of my favorite tricks in games like this. Rather than giving each character different moves with varying inputs, Streets of Rage 4 has each character use the same controls, but with wildly different animations and properties.
Because you only have to learn one set of controls, it’s super easy to focus on what actually happens when you press those buttons. There’s the health-draining special move that has an offensive vs defensive modifier, and the core command attack that activates if you double-tap forward before you punch. For the most part, characters share the same commands. But the actual gameplay context differs a lot! Blaze, for example, uses a flying kick move that has OTG properties. Cherry can actually run before her unique move, and Adam’s has (ostensibly) extra juggle oomph. Axel is stockier and mostly shorter range, but he makes fire and it hurts. Floyd does the Mike Haggar thing with grapples, and he also has a laser beam that goes full-screen!
Besides the gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 also does something cool you don’t see in most arcade-style beat ‘em ups. It encourages you to swap who you’re playing as, even in the middle of a run. Typically, you either go through a whole run as the character you chose, or you get to swap after you get a game over and use a continue. Streets of Rage 4 gives you the option to change characters between levels, and even gives you score bonuses for playing each level with each character at least once. Considering this game actually features several unlockable characters (even in the story!), that’s an excellent way to let the player know it’s a good idea to experiment in the moment.
Beat ‘em ups don’t always do a great job making the characters feel distinct. Sure, there’s the infamous Colossus roar in X-Men, and Mike Hagger has that piledriver. But for every Haggar there are groups of Ninja Turtles and white dudes in karate gis who barely have tangible play differences. Streets of Rage has always been about giving its characters unique moves, but Streets of Rage 4 really goes the extra mile to add depth and individuality to the play experience of each hero. And it even pokes at you in the options and rewards system to try everyone out. All that extra effort makes a world of difference, especially in this genre space.
Streets of Rage 4 is available for the PlayStation 4, the Nintendo Switch, the Xbox One, and the PC.