2020 saw quite a few series being resurrected, their decaying corpses being dug up, dusted off, jammed into some new clothes and shoved out of the door. Crash Bandicoot came back to a great reception and Desperados emerged after years and years of hibernation, just two prime examples. But for me the best comeback after a lengthy absence in 2020 was Streets of Rage 4, the first game in the series since Streets of Rage 3 way, way back in 1994.
The mark of Streets of Rage 4’s brilliance is that after I beat it, I went back and beat it again and again on multiple difficulties with different characters. I just wanted to keep playing it, and even now I still fire it up from time to time in order to play a level or three.
I suppose I could tear Streets of Rage 4 apart for being an incredibly safe sequel that has only made small changes and improvements in the 20+ years since the last game. And I think that would be fair, in some ways. But the kid version of me who spent dozens of hours playing Streets of Rage on the Sega Genesis would never forgive me. And I wouldn’t blame him. Sure, Streets of Rage 4 does not innovate, but I don’t think myself or any of the other fans of the franchise wanted it to. What we wanted is what we’ve got: a pure Streets of Rage game with enough tweaks and small additions to make it feel like it can hang out in 2020 while still being true to what the franchise is all about. By which I mean punching dudes in the face. And by Axel’s glorious facial hair does Streets of Rage 4 do punching dudes in the face well! Like, really, really well! This is a glorious example of the side-scrolling beat ’em up genre, perhaps the very best we’ve got. It’s easy to learn but hard to master. I can’t wait to spend dozens more hours seeing if I can master it, or if I’ll forever be stuck getting measly C-grades on every level.
Yes, the fact that Streets of Rage 4 essentially plays like the original games despite being released in 2020 is absolutely a legitimate criticism. But, and this is important, I DON’T GIVE A RAT’S HAIRY ARSE! Seriously, the simple act of going from left to right (and sometimes right to left) while punching, kicking and throwing bad guys feels so damn good that I don’t care if it hasn’t changed much. There’s a perfect purity to the gameplay that would have been ruined by adding anything else to it.
Despite the simplicity there’s genuine depth there, too. You can get good at Streets of Rage 4, and I spent a while trying to work on my skills and nab those high scores. Normally, I don’t bother chasing high-scores and better level rankings in games, but because Streets of Rage 4 feels so satisfying to play I was happy to replay levels and work on getting S-ranks and chasing down Achievements.
Now that Streets of Rage 4 has cemented itself as one of the best games of the year and the developers have proven they know how to make a classic Streets game, I can’t wait to see what happens in Streets of Rage 5.
Categories: Opinion Piece