A gorgeous, glorious love letter to our video gaming childhoods
If, like me, you grew up as a kid gamer of the '80s and '90s, then Streets of Rage undoubtedly has a very special place in your heart.
Nearly 20 years on, since Streets of Rage 1, 2 and 3 set the benchmark for side-scrolling beat-em-ups, the long-awaited Streets of Rage 4 has finally landed on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Windows.
A buzz of nostalgia
I cannot even begin to describe the absolute buzz of nostalgia you will feel firing up Streets of Rage 4. From the menus and mind-blowingly good soundtrack, to the Street Fighter-esque art style, it is immense.
The game takes place 10 years after the events of Streets of Rage 3, in which the criminal mastermind, Mr X, was finally defeated. Initially thought to be in peace, Wood Oak City falls under the control of a new crime syndicate, led by Mr X's children, the Y Twins, who are planning on brainwashing the city by using hypnotic music.
Speaking of hypnotic music, a brilliant Easter egg included in SOR4 is to be found in the audio settings. There you will see an option for 'Retro soundtrack'. Tick it, and you will bring back all the classic tunes from the originals - it really does leave the game dripping in nostalgia.
And it’s not just the music which makes the audio pop. The sound effects, right down to picking up health-restoring apples and roast chickens, are a throwback you’ll never get tired of.
Super slick fighting and a great soundtrack
Back to the storyline, and Blaze Fielding calls in some old favours to topple the evil twins. Joining old friends Axel Stone and Adam Hunter are Cherry Hunter, Adam's daughter, and Floyd Iraia, a cybernetically enhanced apprentice of Dr Zan.
Each fighter has different attributes, skill moves, mobility, strength and durability. And, the great thing is, I used all five of them along the way.
I must have paused SRO4 10 or 11 times in the first 10 minutes of playing to send video clips to my brother and friends because I was so thrilled by what I was seeing and doing. I was so ramped up from the trip down memory lane and, after such a long wait, I was not left disappointed with super slick fighting that was both enjoyable and responsive, matching the superb graphics and soundtrack.
As I mentioned the visual style is outstanding. The graphics are fully hand-drawn and animated by the studio behind Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. They have a similar feel to that classic Street Fighter look, and the level of detail is top notch.
All over too soon
The biggest drawback - and in many ways the biggest backhanded compliment I can pay SOR4 - is that it was all over too quickly. There are 12 stages, each one beautifully crafted and memorable, with a host of different enemies and bosses.
I played on medium difficulty first time around. And, while it was certainly no cake walk (I think I had to sacrifice a shedload of points to keep continuing - maybe eight times in total), I did manage to complete story mode in around three hours.
Of course, there are a host of difficulty settings to keep you coming back for more. The game is even more fun in co-op mode and difficulty (or at least the number of enemies) is adjusted accordingly.
There aren’t a truckload of meaningful or memorable extras. But I have since discovered another awesome Easter egg - that you can replay old boss battles from the original games by tasering four arcade machines dotted throughout the levels. I went back and replayed once I knew, and it once again scratched that retro itch, a superb little addition and a real reward for fanboys and girls.
A must play for any gamers of the '80s and '90s
SOR4 is only half the price of a fully-fledged current gen game. So in many ways you get what you pay for in terms of longevity.
What I will say is that I have not enjoyed three hours of gaming that much in years. A classy, stylish, super cool return for this Godfather of the beat-em-up genre.
Streets of Rage 4 is like a love letter to '90s gaming. I just hope this is the start of the series being rekindled, and perhaps coming back in a more substantial way, over the next few years as we enter the new generation of even more powerful consoles coming our way soon.
Despite the short lifespan, this is simply a must play for any gamers of the '80s and '90s, or indeed any fans of the beat-em-up genre.
Out: NowRating: 8.5/10