Head right and a dominatrix is hurling her whip at you; turn to the left and there's some punk in a yellow parka just itching to throw a punch for some reason. While I have no idea why every single person you encounter is out to get you, that's really the whole point of Streets of Rage, isn't it? The streets are angry, and so are you - and it's up to your bare knuckles to help you let off some steam.
While violence is never the answer in real life, when it comes to Wood Oak City, it's the only weapon you have against crime syndicate members wielding busted pipes - and after more than two decades, I'm happy to report that these streets are still as filled with rage as they've ever been.Table of contents:
Of course, the narrative here is, in my opinion, cheesy as heck, but that's part of the appeal of the franchise to me. It's not the most intellectual game out there, and it doesn't really want to be. Stepping out onto the streets felt exactly as it did way back then, and it's almost like very little time has passed since the third game.
In that sense, Streets of Rage 4 is a true celebration of everything that made the first three games as magical as they are - I instantly felt like I was transported back to those side-scrolling classics in the blink of an eye, which is something not a lot of modern games trying to revamp old titles can do.
The gameplay is as straightforward as ever - you go on your side-scrolling journey beating up thugs and bringing the pain against anyone who stands in your way. But while I used to button-mash like crazy during the game's previous instalments, this time around, I had to make use of the combo system and the extended move set for each character, which definitely added a layer of strategy to my playthroughs as opposed to just mindlessly punching and kicking.
Of course, you can always just barrel your way through all the Donovans and Signals if you wish, especially with how satisfying those Star Moves can be. Special attacks can take out a small chunk of your HP as usual - only this time, you can earn that lost HP back by executing combos right after, making your mindless punching even more rewarding.
The DLC also adds three new playable characters - Max Thunder, Estelle Aguirre and Shiva - into the fray. I was particularly excited about Shiva, a playable boss you can unlock in Streets of Rage 3. This guy was extremely fast way back when, and he still is now, so it's an absolute thrill to play him again but with revamped graphics.
In general, you can set your difficulty level to suit your overall game goals best, which I found pretty refreshing. Hardcore gamers can get their fill of the unforgiving mechanics retro arcade games used to have, while those who're simply in for the nostalgia of it all can still enjoy the game without any frustrating wipeouts.
That said, apart from the regular Story Mode, you can choose to challenge yourself with the Arcade Mode that lets you play through the campaign with only a single token in your pocket. You can also challenge bosses in the Boss Rush, or practice at your own pace with the Training mode (you can also choose different food items, but why would you swap those iconic apples with something else?).
For instance, a special "attack" for Streets of Rage 1 was Axel or Blaze simply calling for help from the police, and that's still entirely true here - I couldn't help but giggle to myself when I hit that button and a pixelated police car popped up with a rocket launcher to the rescue.
The game is also compatible with controllers (both my Razer Kishi and my PS4 controller worked perfectly), and it automatically detects your inputs as touching the screen will reveal on-screen buttons while using your controller will make the virtual pad disappear. I struggled with the virtual D-pad, to be honest, and played most of the game with my controllers for better manoeuvrability.
One thing I wasn't particularly thrilled about here is the music - for some reason, I just felt like it didn't live up to the awesomeness of the first three games, which is a darn shame. I was really looking forward to those beats, and they sadly didn't deliver. Thankfully, you can toggle the Retro Soundtrack on and off in the settings if you wish, just to get that old-school vibe back.
I also didn't enjoy how I could only play all by my lonesome at the moment - playing Streets of Rage with my brother was one of the highlights of my childhood, and not being able to experience that local co-op mode on mobile takes away from the fun of it all.
Still, Streets of Rage 4 managed to do what a lot of games struggle to do - it successfully straddles that fine line between creating fresh content and staying true to its source. There's a whole lot of fan service here, and while I'm not sure how someone who isn't familiar with the franchise at all can find the game as enjoyable, it definitely ticked all the right boxes for me.
By the way, my first introduction to the series was Bare Knuckle, which is the Japanese version of the game. If you spot retro arcade cabinets sporting that name littered throughout the game, be ready for a nostalgic trip down memory lane.