Everybody has a favorite old game series that they’d like to see make a comeback, but modernizing a long-dormant franchise requires a deft touch. Not only do you have to please the old fans–who see their longtime favorites through rose-tinted nostalgia goggles–but you also have to find a way to make the game appealing to a newer audience. Fortunately for longtime Sega and beat-’em-up fans, Streets of Rage 4 adeptly walks the tightrope of classic and modern appeal while busting some heads in the process.
Taking place a decade after the third game (which released 26 years ago), Streets of Rage 4 reunites Axel and Blaze to unmask an evil plot devised by the children of series uber-antagonist Mr. X. Joining them are two new fighters: Cherry, a hard-rockin’ young woman with deft moves and (literal) killer guitar riffs, and Floyd, a cybernetically-enhanced hulk who might not have speed or high jumps, but definitely has a myriad of ways to get his giant metal fists up in somebody’s business. As the story unfolds, you meet characters old and new, sometimes in surprising places… but don’t expect much from the plot, as it exists simply to take you to new and exciting locales where you pound a rogue’s gallery of enemies into the pavement.
And there is a good amount of pavement-pounding to be had. The 12 stages in Streets of Rage 4 offer a lot of variety in scenery, obstacles, and enemies. While the clean, sharp lines of the new art are very different from the low-res, gritty pixel look fans have come to love, the HD hand-drawn characters and backgrounds look spectacular, and are packed with fun details and little Easter eggs that’ll take you by surprise. The stages are fairly typical beat-’em-up settings–a dive bar, some sewers, back alleys, Chinatown–but the animations of crowds, steam, critters, and machines make these archetypal stages feel fresh and exciting. Equally excellent is the soundtrack, a techno/dance-inspired collection of hot beats from Eastern and Western game music composers, including veteran Streets of Rage alumni Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima.