The last time I attended PAX East, SEGA was showing off Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Hell Yeah, and Aliens: Colonial Marines. And there was also that incident where I got kicked out of the World of Tanks after-party for punching balloons on the dance floor. So … yeah … suffice it to say, a lot has changed in those eight years.
For one, SEGA didn’t have an official presence at PAX East this year. Oh, and I also no longer attend after-parties. But while there were no SEGA-developed games on hand, there was one SEGA-owned title available to play in Streets of Rage 4.
If you haven’t heard, Streets of Rage 4 is being co-developed by Lizardcube (the same awesome people who did Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap), Guard Crush Games and Dotemu, who are also publishing the game. Set 10 years after the last game, Streets of Rage 4 has the entire original cast back in Axel Stone, Adam Hunter and Blaze Fielding, but also has new characters in Cherry Hunter and Floyd Iraia. Most recently, Dotemu announced the game will have four-player couch co-op and two-player online co-op play, which is huge news as it will mark the first time in series’ history to allow for four players simultaneously.
Fighting in the booths
At Dotemu’s booth, they had stations set up demoing the PlayStation 4 version for two players and also one giant screen, where four players could sit on a couch to play together. The first day, I played with Arnaud De Sousa, Dotemu’s head of marketing, who chose to play as Adam, and I opted for Cherry. I learned that aside from being able to use her guitar to smash enemies, she is also the only character who can sprint, which makes her agility handy since the rolling mechanic introduced in Streets of Rage 3 has been removed.
As you might know, one of the biggest changes in this sequel is the art style, which has shut the door on the pixel-based sprites the series is known for to the handdrawn-art style that’s become Lizardcube’s hallmark. I have to admit I was a little concerned with the decision at first but have warmed up to it over time and after seeing gameplay video. Finally getting the chance to see the game in action, though, obliterated any remaining doubt in my mind whether this was the right choice.
The character sprites look gorgeous in motion, with lots of frames of animation, and they’re a lot bigger than I was expecting. As beautiful as the sprites look, the backgrounds are just as magnificent, with tons of detail poured into every area. It really is impressive to see some of the same kind of locales in previous games represented in such high detail. Also, many of the enemies we encountered in previous games are back, and just like our heroes, they, too, look better than ever.
That familiar feeling
But perhaps the best part is the team has absolutely nailed the combat and gameplay. It feels like a Streets of Rage game, and that’s the most important aspect for me, and I’m sure many other fans of the series. De Sousa said nailing the combat was a top priority and they worked closely with some of the original SEGA design team to ensure its authenticity. They have added some modern combat features, as well, like juggling enemies in the air and off of walls, and there’s also a combo system for the first time.
The special meter is also a bit different than previous iterations. When you use a special move, a small portion of the character’s health bar will diminish, but if you don’t take any damage for a short period of time, your character will regain that health. This is a cool feature, and I found that I used my specials a lot more than in previous games, where I wanted to save them for the end boss.
There’s also an uber powerful “super special” move that you can perform when you have a star icon, which every character has when the level begins and when they respawn. You can also pick up additional stars by breaking crates and other destructible containers littered throughout stages.
I have to say that I really enjoyed playing as Cherry. She’s kind of the fast, agile character, like Skate from previous games, but she also packs a punch thanks to her guitar attacks. I also had a chance to play as Floyd, who I was told received his cybernetic arms from Dr. Zan, who, of course, was introduced in Streets of Rage 3. Floyd feels a lot like Max Thunder, being that he’s a huge, powerful guy but also slower than the other characters. One interesting thing about him is he can extend his cybernetic arms when punching, giving him some of Dr. Zan’s increased reach.
On the second day I was at PAX East, I was able to try out the four-player co-op with a group of strangers. This time, I opted to play as Adam to get a sense of how accurate some of the classic characters feel. As I expected, he played great and has dash ability that can be used by double pressing the left or right direction. It’s not a full-on sprint like Cherry, but it does allow you to close the distance between you and an enemy very quickly.
There were times during the heat of battle that I momentarily lost track of my character because there were just so much chaos on screen, but it wasn’t so bad that it negatively impacted my experience.
Too darn loud!
Unfortunately, it was too loud to hear the game’s music, which is a bummer since I would have loved to hear the tunes. Of course, Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, Yoko Shimomura, Hideki Naganuma and Keiji Yamagishi are contributing music to the game’s soundtrack, so you know it will be legendary.
I asked De Sousa if there are plans to add unlockable characters, alternate endings or branching paths, like in Streets of Rage 3, and sadly, neither will be the case. It’s not a huge deal, but it would be pretty cool to see Roo back in action one more time.
Suffice it to say, I fell in love with Streets of Rage 4. Everything about the game feels so right, and with how it’s looking right now, I’m sure Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games and Dotemu will have a hit on their hands.
Streets of Rage 4 will release this Spring on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch and PC.