Nostalgia is a curse. Especially in gaming. Many of us grew up with fond memories of countless hours spent on one title or another, only to discover as adults that they don’t exactly hold up. Video games are always evolving and it hurts when a beloved game ages poorly. But is this always the case? Are there any games that appeal to nostalgia and our modern sensibility?
Streets of Rage 4 is such a game. Based on the iconic beat ‘em up franchise from the Sega Genesis heyday, this reboot is more than a freshly rendered cash grab. It’s a frenetic flurry of fisticuffs sure to delight both your inner child and grown-up gamer.
Streets of Rage 4 succeeds by keeping things grounded so old fans feel represented while adding enough new elements, characters and story that anyone can jump in and play. It is pure beat ‘em up joy in that sense. Pick up the controller, go right, and mash the punch button. It doesn’t take long until you stumble into some fun combos, eat whole roasted turkeys off the sidewalk for health and encounter cool bosses with names like Koobo.
The joy in punching your way to the right is in how smooth everything feels. Attacks are crisp and quick and you don’t run into some of the weird hang-ups you’d get with the originals like having an enemy get caught on something just off screen so you can’t advance. The aesthetics heighten everything. Gorgeous hand-drawn details and cel-shading effects give off the vibe of a graphic novel come to life. The soundtrack is top-tier, too.
Streets of Rage 4 keeps its eyes on the original. Subtle things like sound effects or the way thugs hold certain weapons (knife hilt to the belly is my favorite) will send old fans back in time. The warm and fuzzy brawler feels are perfectly balanced with some new ideas, too. The most notable is the combo counter. It adds a nice sense of achievement and progression as you move through the game and rack up higher and higher scores. That gives the completionist and perfectionist fans something to focus on if they want to craft the ultimate run through the game.
There’s also a new special move system that allows you to do powerful attacks that cost health, which can also be replenished depending on how much damage you deal. New super attacks called Star Moves are even more powerful, but you only get one or two to use per level. They’re welcome additions to the arsenal and add a tactical layer to the knuckle sandwiching.
There’s also solid multiplayer, both local co-op and online. You can play with up to three players which can be a game-changer for the highest difficulty settings (there are five in total, including two ultra-hard modes that are locked until you finish the game). If that doesn’t seem hard enough there’s also an arcade mode that challenges you to beat the whole game without losing all your lives and a boss-only mode too.
Story-wise, it’s about what you’d expect. An evil crime syndicate has control of the city, there’s no one to turn to except for series originals Axel and Blaze aided by newcomers Cherry and Floyd (plus a few surprises). It’s enough straightforward villainy to justify the vigilante pugilism but don’t expect any breathtaking cutscenes or heart-wrenching dilemmas. It’s called Streets of Rage not Streets of Dialogue Trees. If you’re not here for punching and kicking (and family) then you’re in the wrong place.
Streets of Rage 4 is available on PC, Switch, PlayStation and Xbox. It is also available on Game Pass until April 30.