Game Review: Streets of Rage 4 (and Mr. X) – Steam

Title Streets of Rage 4
Platform: Steam / Windows
Available on OS: Windows
Genre:First person, stealth, action, combat
Date completed: November 2021
Game number:17 of 1005 steam games (< 1%)

Summary review: I read a short review of Street Fight V that described it as a rhythmic combo game. I had never seen that term before but I think that describes Streets of Rage 4 perfectly. A modern take on a classic formula that somehow works flawlessly. And the sound track is fantastic.
Graphics: I really enjoy the graphics. High quality textures but not pixel art. A very comic book/stylized art style.
Music: The soundtrack is the reason some people even buy this game. Just a fantastic music score.
Controls: Anything I miss I blame myself. The controls seem incredibly responsive.
Replayability: This is one of those games you can play through just once and forget about…or replay over and over again, learning the complexities of the game. I must have put 100+ hours into this game on PS4. Then bought the steam version. So I’m going to say “high”.
Total score: 98 / 100 – Given the chance this game will demonstrate why it’s so widely praised.


Introduction

I should perhaps mention I only really played this single player. What little I did play of multi-player seemed quite hectic and “friendly fire” seemed to be on by default.

I didn’t have a Sega Genesis or a place with arcade games within walking distance growing up, so I never got into the Streets of Rage series at all. I mention this to establish I don’t have any particular rose tinted glasses or nostalgia for the series in general. For the genre, I did play Double Dragon and Battletoads. I was more of an NES/SNES guy.

At first this game seems straight forward and quite simple: wave upon wave of identical enemies come at you for you to punch and kick your way out of over the course of twelve stages. Your basic arcade “beat ’em up” in other words.

But actually, if you dig deeper, there is a lot more going on with how the mechanics work: each enemy type has a very predictable pattern to them and a specific amount of hit points. It’s up to the player to take out all the combination of enemies in the most efficient way possible. This is where that “rhythmic combo” bit comes in.

The Premise

Lately it seems like I’ve been playing a lot of games with heavy emphasis on narrative. But this game is the opposite of that. I mean sure there is something of a story happening. It’s not a deep story or anything, it just exists: ten years after the events of the last game a new criminal enterprise has some how taken over the city without our heroes noticing. And also corrupted at least a portion of the police department. That’s about it. Taking out the kingpins of the crime syndicate will apparently fix this issue forever. There might be some lore I’m missing, but it’s fine.

Your main goal in this game is to land as many hits in a row as possible without getting hit yourself. This builds up a combo counter higher and higher resulting in the highest possible bonus score. There are also “specials” that deal a little more damage but also deplete your health bar. So you’re essentially using up health as a credit line, which you can earn back later by landing lots of non-special hits in a row without getting hit. Health items also replenish the life bar. The higher the score the more extra lives you’re earning as well.

You build up this combo counter higher and higher and then either you go a few seconds without hitting something consecutively or an enemy hits you. If you wait a couple seconds between consecutive hits you’re awarded a bonus score based on that number. If an enemy hits you it says “Break!”. Either way the combo counter is reset back to zero and you have to start the combo counter over again.

To be more clear: you use specials and your yellow health starts to work its way left while turning green. So if you use too many specials your whole bar is green and one hit from an enemy will kill you. Finding a turkey or apple with fill that green bar back up (or just restore the life bar as may be required).

Character select screen: Lifetime score character unlocks plus Mr. X added characters

When first starting the game there are only four playable characters to choose from but upon playing the campaign for the first time (including on easy mode) only part way through a fifth character – Adam – is unlocked as playable. The recently released (August 2021) DLC adds three additional player characters (some new modes too but more on that later).

Technically you continue to unlock characters over time: the SOR1, 2 and 3 versions of the SOR4 characters as well as some classic characters from the first the three SOR games. I haven’t actually tried to play through the whole game with one of these classic characters yet as it seemed like something of a novelty and like those 16-bit pixelated characters weren’t really anything like the main characters (with custom specials etc).

As you play through the stages the game adds up the score and gives you a letter grade based on how you did on a particular stage – S being the highest score possible. This is accumulated into a life time score. Over time certain score bench marks are achieved which unlock those classic SOR characters.

Actually, you can unlock “Roo – SOR3” with a “secret” gamepad combination as well. Well not that secret. I’m sure that means something to long time fans of the series. I think it only works with the Mr. X DLC…

Just set it to easy

The first few times I played this game I tried it on normal difficulty and got all the way to the 12th stage – the island shaped like a big “Y”. This was challenging enough I had to play it over and over and over again. I think it’s the stage I’m most familiar with in fact because I had to play it so many times.

Eventually I set it to easy difficulty and had a much easier time of it. By which I mean I was able to finish the final fight of the game with relatively minimum frustration.

Actually in addition to setting it to easy you can also set up some assists like additional stars to start, more lives and dealing more damage. I used this to practice different combination of moves.

A relaxing game loop

As I said I played this game a lot and and eventually it became somethign I could “zone out” while playing.

I think the highest consecutive combinations I ever achieved was 110. Something like that. Not anything close to the “real” players you’ll find on YouTube. It took me a while to figure out some of the basics of racking up combos.

The basic game loop is to approach each group of enemies with different combinations of moves in mind. For instance if an enemy type can catch a weapon in mid air or uppercut you out of the air you want to stick to ground based attacks. Conversely if you’re up against enemies that slide along the ground you might want to do a lot of air juggling to groups of enemies at a time to avoid this.

Stay in your lane

Learning to line up “lanes” will aid greatly with playing this game.

What I eventually realized – after playing for way too long – is that the characters have their own “lanes”. By knowing how close to being in an an enemy lane you are you can catch an opponent already in a head lock (as they land or finish their special) or move just far enough out of their way to catch them (like the enemy pictured here: fat-firebreather-bro who is vulnerable immediately after his walking 45 degree flame thrower special).

The game actually tries to indirectly teach the player this in its own way: on almost every floor surface are horizontal lines going across for the player to use to try and line opponents up. This is all useful for later when playing on the higher difficulties. I tried “mania+” once but died within a few minutes of the first stage.

Variety from character to character

I really appreciate that there are short/small of stature/fast moving characters as well as large muscular slow moving characters in the game. The characters are not just “pallet swaps” of each other, they each bring their own styles in and each of them can rack up ridiculous combo strings given the opportunity.

The short/fast character, Cherry, for instance has very short reach and can’t throw opponents but she also carries around a guitar to use as a weapon and can jump on opponents shoulders and punch them in the face pretty much indefinitely (I watched this on YouTube but haven’t reproduced it). On other end is Floyd, who is tall and strong but basically can’t jump and moves very slowly. He has two robotic arms so he can extend out his hand to grab an opponent then hold them up and electrocute them or throw an opponent against a group of opponents. He can also grab a pair enemies from his left and right and smash the heads together (I find it amusing for some reason).

Boss rush mode

There is a mode where you can take on all the bosses one after another. I never made it very far in this mode but I think it helped immensely in learning the different patterns when I went back to story mode.

Mr. X and the nightmare man (DLC)

As I write this I have only really scratched the surface of the DLC: I played through the whole story mode with the new playable characters and played a few hours of “survival mode”.

Survival is kind of like a “holodeck” from Star Trek where the randomized variations of different mini-maps (or arenas? I guess?) are generated with different sets of enemies.

Each time you make it through the requisite number of waves of enemies you’re given two options for perks or trade offs for the rest of the survival run. For instance maybe +15% damage dealt, -15% damage taken, +15% movement speed…but no more jumping. Or maybe every time you deal a hit to an enemy it’s +8% hit points but food no longer replenishes health (I don’t like that one). There’s actually a fairly extensive list of a options that might come up to choose. And almost always one is preferred over the other. It does make you choose one to continue. That’s too bad as sometimes neither options is great. Once you choose an option a portal opens up and the next level loads. Theoretically this could go on generating random scenarios like this into infinity. I’ve only just started playing and I have only made it to level 11.

As with the main story mode you build up a score as you play and at certain score values new things get unlocked – the most significant of which is a variation of one of the specials. It’s something to keep you coming back continually.

As for characters: they’re from the story mode and seemed like they would make good playable characters. Actually if you put the story on easy mode and play as one of the three new characters the game is really easy. Probably too easy. But those characters are really for harder difficulty story mode and survival mode primarily.

I would say buy the base game and see how much you enjoy it. If you decide it’s great and you want more the $8 is more than fair for what you get. And there’s always a sale around the corner if that’s too much.

Now some negatives…

I’m not sure I can find anything actually negative about this game. It can test my patients at times. Try to beat the last fight of the game for 16th time in a row and even this game can start to wear me down.

There are perhaps some inconsistencies in when a special can or can’t be broken. That’s more one of those things you just have to remember as part of playing the game.

Conclusion

The controls are perfect, the music in universally praised, story mode varies enough it doesn’t get boring playing it over and over again and there’s always another YouTube video to point out the more obvious way to get through a waves of enemies.

And this isn’t my usual genre of game either. Usually I’m neck deep in games like The Last of Us a TellTale Walking Dead season with heavy emphasis on characters and story. That I somehow spent this much time on a game such as this…well I don’t what that says. It says something.

One minor bonus: try hitting an arcade cab with a stun weapon. You’re welcome.


Metadata

Method of control used XBox one gamepad
Controllable via both one analog stick or digital four-way (“HAT”) yes
Hardware requirements: Relatively low, but better than an Atom
Supports 21:9 aspect ratio screens?in 5120×1440 has letter boxing but looks fine
PCs tried on ~2019 era core i7 laptop/nVidia GPU
Works with 4:3 screens (untested)
Initial setup required5120×1440 setup, subtitles
Time to complete~10
Steam UID985890
Random Meta data

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