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Streets of Rage 4 hands-on: welcome back to 1992

Yes. It feels like classic Streets of Rage.

Today I got to play Streets of Rage 4. I'm full of emotions. All the nice ones.

Like most of you, I grew up with Streets of Rage 2. It was always the default cartridge in the Megadrive. Two player co-op for endless nights, forever strutting forward, punching the living s**t out of everyone in our path. Eating chicken. Beating up phone boxes. Throwing dudes across the screen.

Streets of Rage 4 is exactly that. It's as you remember it and the muscle memory comes flooding back. I played as Blaze Fielding just to make me feel even more nostalgic and I'm not ashamed to admit she will always have a little piece of my heart. After all these years I'm still crushing on her beauty and her ability to punch the patriarchy in the kisser. She's as quick as she ever was, jabbing and leaping between enemies. I still wish she would kick me down the stairs. These are complicated emotions.

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Streets of Rage 4 initially feels almost like a reskin of the original games, just with that added cartoon art style ramped up to 10. So you walk-drift from left to right, punching, launching flying kicks and slapping punks to the curb. Some of those punks have the exact same attack moves they did more than twenty years ago. The dominatrix comes at you with a whip. Fat Big Ben breathes fire. That guy with the spikey hair slide tackles you by surprise. What an asshole.

But developers Guard Crush and Lizard Cube are adding tweaks, new move sets (the dominatrix has a whip combo) and subtle evolutions to the gameplay to earn that sequel number. Five minutes in and I realise it's definitely not just a remake.

You have the simple moveset; jump, attack and a special. But now the special uses up some of your health bar, and if you follow it up with normal attacks without getting hit you'll earn back that health. It's a small change but a smart one, adding an element of gambling when the screen begins to fill with tough guys. You also have another special by tapping forward-forward attack that doesn't cost any health but it's slower to execute leaving you open to a slap.

You can throw enemies at others and keep them in the air by juggling more attacks. So Axl can toss an enemy across the screen to Blaze, who proceeds to use her deadly fists to punch-juggle the bad guys into oblivion. The music rages on. You clear the screen, smash an obstacle and keep strutting to the next location. Just remember friendly fire is on, so you'll need to get the timing right or accidentally layout your co-op homeboy.

The developer is also cleaning up some bad habits. Remember standing at the edge of screen and blindly punching enemies off screen? That doesn't happen anymore, thankfully

There's a lot more to be announced, so at this point I only see Axl and Blaze in action. We should probably expect the return of more of the original characters, although I'm personally hoping Eddie "Skate" Hunter doesn't show up because roller blades were just straight-up wack, son. Expect a big announcement regarding the classic soundtrack too. I did ask about online co-op but the team remained tight-lipped. The build I played was early, using the original sound effects as placeholders.

The Streets of Rage 4 announcement came as a surprise, and speaking to the developers it sounds like they were surprised Sega said yes to their original pitch. But then this is the team who did a great job of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap and is working on Windjammers 2, so they clearly respect the license and take care of those classic names.

Is Streets of Rage 4 just a nostalgia trip or can it find a new generation of fans? There's people out there who will have never played a side-scrolling beat-em up as it's one of many genres that seemed to get left behind. But good gameplay never dates, and Streets of Rage still feels, frankly, f**king ace. I am fully prepared to kick off my DC Shoes, stick Fu-Schnickens on the CD player, and spend a few hours beating down a city full of goons like it's 1992 all over again.

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