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Hands-On: Streets of Rage 4 is bringing back the beat-em-up thrills

DotEmu and LizardCube’s hand-drawn brawler is a fine entry in the series thus far.

When it was initially announced earlier this year, Streets of Rage 4 blew our minds. I mean, here was a series that hasn’t been seen since the Sega Genesis days. And not only is it coming back, but it’s coming back under the development team at LizardCube, with a hand-drawn design to match. And it’ll have an all-star soundtrack featuring the returning Yuzo Koshiro and a number of his friends, making sure it matches the vibe of the original games. So how much better does it get than that?

Well, surprisingly enough, better than you might expect. We recently had a chance to go hands-on with the game during a session at PAX West, and it’s shaping up quite nicely to be one of next year’s leading beat-em-ups. And, yes, that’s even with the just-released River City Girls in mind. The team behind Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap’s awesome remake (alongside DotEmu) are ready to do some real damage here.

The game has once again brought back Axel and Blaze, veterans from thee original Streets of Rage series. They continue to be in fighting form, with Axel sporting a beard and Blaze continuing to have plenty of power behind her kicks, despite her age. But the real thing of interest here is the introduction of a new character, Cherry.

Like Skate from Streets of Rage 2, Cherry is stepping in to represent her date, Adam, who starred in the first game of the series. No word on what his status is, but she’s angry about something, so we can only imagine that he might have been kidnapped. That’s not official, just a guess. But she comes onto the scene ready to make a difference, with a number of athletic moves that make her just as powerful – and speedy – as Skate was. Not only that, but she packs a mean guitar, and she can use it to rock out and shake everyone surrounding her to their very core. She’s ready to clean house with her abilities.

Streets of Rage 4 does feel like a classic entry in the series, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any new ideas on display here. In fact, along with the juiced-up power moves that each character possesses, there’s an awesome new combo/juggle system. Once you employ this, you can send enemies flying and hit them in the air a few more times, doing additional damage before they hit the ground. You can also pick up occasional weapons for bonus hits, as well as food items that are scattered in the environment, hiding behind drums (of course) and cones. You’ll want to make sure you’re stocked up, because these foes are ready to knock you for a loop.

The game’s even more chaotic in co-op. That’s because you can team up with a friend to get into fisticuffs. A word of warning, though. During our hands-on session, it appears that all bets were off, and we could hit each other along with the enemies that were coming after us. Maybe keep your distance a little and don’t smack someone around by accident.

Streets’ gameplay feels natural and easy to come by, though the game does pose a challenge, especially when we were introduced to the boss, a shadowy character with the ability to knock us for a loop with a few shadow kicks. We weren’t able to defeat him, but the crew told us not to feel that bad – he’s a lot tougher than he looks.

As for the visuals, they’re spectacular. The hand-drawn aesthetic really lends something to the game, particularly with animation and character design. And the backdrops really look better than ever, with more detail than we ever could’ve gotten out of the previous games. (Well, maybe about on par with Streets of Rage 2.) The music we heard was great as well, and just the beginning for Yuzo and company’s amazing technical soundtrack.

We still have to wait a little longer for Streets of Rage 4 to bring the action, as the game isn’t coming out until sometime early next year. But it should be a real romp for beat-em-up fans, as well as those that have been (patiently) waiting for Axel, Blaze, and the crew to make a comeback. It’s just about time… 

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