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"Streets Of Rage 4"

Posted: 29 May, 2020

I’ve never understood all this talk about there being more than one Streets of Rage game. There's only SoR2, in a perfect little bubble, smoking a doob, trying to work out the melody from Move Any Mountain on a cheap Yamaha keyboard it cadged from Argos. It's a gnat’s ball short of Final Fight, for my money, but it’s far-and-away the best co-op brawler on the MD, and easily has the best soundtrack. (At least, until Final Fight on the MegaCD came along…)

I was sniffy about the SoR4 announcement. I’m not a massive fan of the whole “16bit reboot” thing. Flipping chunky pixel art over to flat-shaded, cartoon-style stuff, is also an insta-nope, for me. Doesn’t matter how well drawn, I’m out. Usually...

I’m on Gamepass now, which means things arrive from the internet at a press of a button, so I have no excuse not to try things, and I'm very very glad I did. Lizardcube have produced a love-letter of a game, that's polished to a shine.

The graphics, that I hated in the stills, look pin-sharp, jump off the screen and are nicely animated, with just enough frames missing to keep the flick-book nature of the originals intact. The faux comic halftones don’t actually annoy. In fact, after an hour or two with it, I can’t imagine it looking any other way.

The soundtrack may not be ripping off Boss Drum, but it does manage to catch the vibe without drifting balls-deep into Synthwave/Outrun. SoR needs to be resolutely 90s and Yuzo Koshiro fucking gets that. Cheesy Organs. Monobass. Crunched 8bit samples. Each of his tracks is a perfect little throw-back banger, even when he’s ripping off himself. The other musicians also deliver, with nods to garage, house, early acid, even a bit of dub nestled in among the modern, grimier, wubbier influences. There’re a lot of tracks to choose from:

Even with all this, the gameplay could have been a let down. There's not a rich vein of gold to mine here, but Lizardcube have been savvy. Rather than a heavy-handed reimagining, they’ve sprinkled in tweaks. Timing windows are fairer. Grabs feel reliable. Energy, otherwise lost to supers, is regained by hitting enemies. Tells are more overt. Back fists and jump kicks, maybe more essential. It all results in a modified, smother cadence of play, a dance of attack, setup and recharge, that’s not SoR as it was, more how I remembered it to be. The 12 stages are short, doing their thing, quickly moving the player along, sprinkling in the odd cut-scene here and there, giving a constant feeling of progression that matches the pace of the fighting.

It is definitely not what I was expecting. It's much much better.

It’s not a hard game to complete – a friend and I got to the end in our first sitting – but it doesn’t give everything away quickly. The difference between properly rinsing a level and just scraping through is large enough to make a good run pretty satisfying. And you know what? That’s actually made me come back for more. Considering this is a genre that was paper-thin to begin with, that’s quite something. The more I think about it, the more well pitched it seems.

The amount of discipline on display, from a dev point of view, is impressive. I can’t imagine what the stupider execs at Sega would have been saying during this, (actually, I can) so seriously, well done everyone at LC. I've pre-ordered the Switch physical version because I want this in my collection.

Now, if you'd like to have a crack at Golden Axe, that'd be great :)