Streets of Rage 4 fucks
Listen: I'm not a big beat-'em-up fan. First of all, there has to be a better name for the genre than that, right? Wikipedia says "brawler" but I don't think I've ever actually heard anyone say that. Anyway, my point is, they've never really grabbed me. Actually, most of my experience with them is in arcades, where they kind of fall into that Gauntlet category of games that seem to exist just to drain your coins. The reason I think that is because, like Gauntlet, beat-'em-ups aren't exactly what you'd call "strategic." Playing them, for me at least, mostly boils down to mindlessly mashing buttons until all your lives are gone and then inserting a coin to continue. If it sounds like I'm being overly harsh, it's because I totally am, but my point here isn't to drag an entire genre. Mostly what I'm getting at is that I think beat-'em-ups are a game that work in a specific context but, again like Gauntlet, don't necessarily translate super well to a modern console experience. Streets of Rage 4, however, absolutely rips ass.
The first thing you'll notice about Streets of Rage 4 is that it's really pretty. This was kind of surprising to me, because one of the game's developers, Guard Crush Games, previously made Streets of Fury, which looked like The Quiet Man by way of Mortal Kombat. The background art is vibrant even when you're traveling through mundane places like an office building, and I seriously adore the character designs. Axel's a big beefy dude with a sick jean vest and an even sicker hairband, while Floyd looks like Jax ate an even larger Jax. The music isn't the most memorable, but it fits the aesthetic and does its part to add to the game's charming vibe.
I'm not going to sit here and pretend that Streets of Rage 4 is a super deep game, but to me it feels like a game with more variety than other beat-'em-ups. Your basic combo feels really crunchy and satisfying, especially when you get an enemy bouncing between your fists and the edge of the screen. There's also an awesome rush attack that I use constantly, which is different for every character. Axel charges forward and does a fiery uppercut, while Cherry rushes into enemies and catches them in a super-quick combo that sends them flying across the screen. The game's core roster consists of five characters who all play differently. Axel is your classic Streets of Rage guy, with strong attacks but not a lot in the way of maneuverability. Floyd is even slower, but he can also carry enemies around and toss them across the screen, which is especially awesome when you find yourself near a ledge. Cherry is super fast and can build up big combos. Personally, I'm a big fan of Adam, who falls somewhere in the middle, with strong attacks but solid maneuverability. They're all fun to play as, and it's worth checking them all out to see what their special attacks look like. Even if you've found a favorite and want to stick with them, there are times when it might be beneficial to switch to a different fighter.
In addition to the core roster, you can also unlock a bunch of classic characters by playing. These are literally sprite characters ripped straight from the original Streets of Rage games, which I'm assuming will be fun for fans of those games. I've got no affection for those games myself, so I really just ignore them. With that in mind, I do wish the roster of original fighters was larger, especially since there are several characters who appear during the story who I imagine would be fun to play as. My only other real complaint with the game is the
fucking freaking shielded police officer enemy. I like that the game introduces enemies that require more than mindless button-mashing, but these guys can bring the pace to a halt, since you kind of have to just slowly chip away at their laser shields to expose them to attacks. They're bad people, I can tell, and they're not satisfied at their jobs or at home.
Overall, like I said before, Streets of Rage 4 rips ass. It takes all the fun parts of those old beat-'em-up games that I don't like very much and injects them with a nice dose of variety, charm, and polish. Even if, like me, you don't have much of a hard-on for other games in the genre, I really think you should give this one a chance. It's probably the most pure fun I've had with a game in 2020. It made me a more thoughtful husband to my wife, a more caring member of my community, and a more loving father to my six large sons.