Streets of Rage 4 — Snap Judgement #9

How I Played: I was overjoyed to see that Streets of Rage 4 was available on Xbox Game Pass almost immediately after it was released on April 30th. The game is a perfect fit for the service: it’s something I want to play right now because people are talking about it, but I probably wouldn’t spend $25 to buy it. I made it to the fourth stage, but got burned out after that. Total play time was probably about 90 action-packed minutes across three or four sessions.

It’s an interesting time for videogame remakes. Right now the most talked about game (that isn’t Valorant) is Final Fantasy VII Remake, a game that tells the same story as the 1997 original but with a completely different gameplay structure. The original game was an RPG with 2D character movement and lots of menus, but the remake is an action game where movement and combat all take place in a 3D world. It’s a big shift, but fans of the original seem to love this new reinterpretation.

However, the developers of Streets of Rage 4 have taken the opposite tact. They have created an almost identical recreation of the original Streets of Rage games that were released for the Sega Genesis from 1991 to 1994. The graphics and sound have been up-rezed, but the mechanics and level design are practically cut-and-paste. The reception from fans and critics has been warm, but — having no personal nostalgia for the seemingly forgotten “beat ’em up” genre — I wish the game had tried to innovate more in the way that Final Fantasy VII Remake did.

The original Streets of Rage games, along with other beat ’em ups like Double Dragon and Final Fight, all share the same basic structure. You play a character that starts on the left side of a long path and, as you walk to the right, you must punch your way through waves of enemies that try to stop you. There’s typically only one attack button (Streets of Rage has a secondary “defensive” attack), but landing multiple repeated attacks will usually create a combo-style barrage that ends with a knock down blow. Pickups are often scattered throughout the level in the form of health items or weapons that you can use to inflict more damage.

Streets of Rage 4 has all of these with a few minor additions. The X button on the Xbox controller is the main attack button, and Y triggers the defensive attack. The health pickups are the same apples and roast turkeys (and the pickup sound is the same satisfying bew-woop), although you can change the type of food illustrations the game uses in the pause menu. The weapons are the same knives and pipes, but with the new addition of tasers that temporarily incapacitate an enemy. Even the animations are the same: characters only have a walking animation for left and right, so if you’re moving up the screen, your character appears to moonwalk.

But, as I mentioned, the graphics and sounds have been updated for the HD era. The visuals are sharp and crisp, and the soundtrack — though seasoned with hints of chiptune sounds — is modern and rich. It really is an interesting combination: a game that looks and sounds modern but feels retro.

I got the same simple, empowered rush from Streets of Rage 4 that I got when I played Double Dragon for the first time recently. In both cases, I was surprised how satisfying it felt to be fighting with just one or two buttons. The challenge was not the one-on-one combat, as I assumed it would be, but in managing all the enemies around you. In both cases, I liked having to adapt to new enemies with different strengths. The experience, though it seemed simple and outdated on the surface, held up surprisingly well. And perhaps that’s what some fans are responding to with Streets of Rage 4— the realization that, 26 years later, the game they loved as a kid is still entertaining.

But, as someone who never played beat ’em ups as a kid, all I can see in Streets of Rage 4 is the potential for more depth. I wished I had some sort of block or parry so I could counter enemy attacks. I wished there was a wider variety of attacks — something like the high attack/low attack most fighting games have — to add a layer of strategy to the combat. I wish there was some way to attack characters that were above or below me so that I’m not always missing my punches when my fist is lined up with their feet.

What I wanted was not a re-creation of Streets of Rage but a reinvention. I wanted the Final Fantasy VII Remake of the beat ’em up genre.

I see the value in re-creating a game instead of evolving it; I really do. It’s safer. Often the only thing that fans want is nostalgia — they want the same thing they had decades ago with a new coat of paint. Sometimes that’s what I want too. But I’d also argue that the classics are still out there to be enjoyed. You could play all three of the original Streets of Rage as part of the Sega Genesis Classics collection on XboxOne, PS4, or Switch. You could get a Genesis Mini and play Streets of Rage 2.

But, then again, had this not been a shiny new release that got everyone talking, I probably wouldn’t have any interest in the older ones. Perhaps someone is playing this game right now and thinking about how this genre is ripe for innovation. And maybe in a few years they’ll release that game. And maybe I’ll be ready to play it because I played Streets of Rage 4.

I just wish that day could’ve been today.

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Chris On Videogames

Chris On Videogames

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Videogame criticism that’s short, sharp, and insightful. New reviews every other Friday.