The glory of arcade days is far gone, but thankfully, the brilliance of the early 90s beat 'em ups is still alive and well. "The Streets of Rage 4" is the newest addition to the much beloved series of its namesake.
It is a modern take on the classic genre, built on top the basics that made the retro-era series so addictive.
The Streets of Rage, or Bare Knuckle if you are from Japan, is a trilogy of 2D beat 'em up games developed by SEGA in the 1990s. The series gained a cult classic status throughout the years, known famously for its non-stop action and electronic dance influenced music.
Many gamers consider it one of the best beat 'em up series of its time, and the latest sequel arrived 26 years after Streets of Rage 3.
Featuring hand drawn visuals, Streets of Rage 4 builds upon the classic trilogy's gameplay with a new story, fresh mechanics, and a gauntlet of dangerous levels.
The game stays close to its retro counterparts. I wandered around the streets of Wood Oak City, beating the living daylights out of criminal punks and corrupt cops. However, Streets of Rage 4 also modernises the experience in two major ways, through its visuals and design.
It has been ten years since Axel and Blaze, with the help of a few others, took down criminal mastermind Mr X. But the peace did not last long. A new crime syndicate led by Mr X's children the Y Twins rises up and takes the city into a stranglehold.
Blaze Fielding puts together a team of old friends Axel Stone and Adam Hunter. Adam's daughter Cherry Hunter and a cybernetically enhanced dude named Floyd Iraia join the ragtag group to free the city from corruption.
The core gameplay is simple, yet very satisfying. You will move to the right while punching everyone who looks suspicious. You can knock enemies out and steal their weapons, such as pipes and knives.
You can break open mailboxes to get roasted chicken and apples, which will restore your health.
Each playable character has basic moves and two special attacks. One of the special moves will drain your health but does massive damage, and another is an even more powerful attack, which requires rare stars that you have to pick up throughout the levels.
A massive improvement from the previous game is how the characters feel completely distinct from each other, suiting a wide range of play styles, while keeping the difficulty level balanced.
Cyborg Floyd is a slow and hulking powerhouse, while Cherry is a fast and nimble brawler capable of better mobility. Blaze, Adam and Axel are in between those two with different levels of power and speed.
Grappling moves are automatic if you get close to an enemy. But there is no block or dodge move in the game, so you better keep moving to avoid incoming damage. The characters are colourful and distinguishable, and the animations are smooth and expressive.
Enemy characters are equally unique and gorgeous. They show a variety of movements, different attacks and health levels. Do not underestimate even the common enemies, as they can take down a good chunk of your health with unpredictable attack combos.
The soundtrack is beautiful, and feels like a love letter to the 90s with modern tech upgrades. Streets of Rage 4 can be played with two players online, or up to four players in local multiplayer.
But a retro-inspired game comes with a tough-as-nails difficulty level. The game does not have any level checkpoints. A number of times I punched my way through a nearly 20 minute level, only to get pummeled by the boss. The game then sent me back right at the beginning of the level.
Streets of Rage 4 however has adjustable difficulty levels, which lets you fine tune how many lives you want to play with. Taking more lives with you will decimate your score, but the option is there if you need it.
The trademark 90s aesthetic featured in the game is absolutely gorgeous. Its smooth, hand-drawn art style gives off a comic book vibe, but the retro-era style remains true to its core.
It is somehow gritty and tough, while also colourful and bright. "The Streets of Rage 4" is available in Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.