What’s New Is Old Again
Similar to other media, it’s hard to pinpoint when video games became the snake perpetually eating its own tail. Going from memory, Super Mario Bros. All Stars is one of the first recollections I have of old games being repackaged. With the launch of the Super Game Boy, the compatible version of Space Invaders soon followed, and the remake of Frogger was one of the final releases for the 16 bit generation.
Since then, each generation has seen old games repackaged for the current consoles; however, the launch of New Super Mario Bros. in 2006 for the Nintendo DS ushered in the idea of using older game play mechanics with updated graphics. From there, the oxymoron of new retro games has become a staple of both indie and larger game developers.
There have been plenty of variations on this idea. Street Fighter II was remade with updated graphics and online play, and Mega Man 9, released in 2008, was a new game made to look like it debuted on the NES. With developers losing control of IPs they originally made famous and taking to Kickstarter to develop spiritual successors, practically every famous gaming franchise has seen some take on a retro-style release.
10 Years of Rage
One of the long-rumored sequels of these types was a followup to the beloved Sega Genesis franchise, Streets of Rage. Back in the long long ago, a 3D sequel was planned, but it was ultimately reworked into a forgettable title called Fighting Force.
Eventually, Dotemu and Lizardcube were able to slide their hands into Sega’s pockets and pullout a somewhat fondly-remembered franchise, after a less than satisfying handy, I’m sure.
Growing up, we had a Genesis, but I only remember renting Streets of Rage 2 once. My brother and I enjoyed it, but I never really played any of them again until Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection came out on the PS3 and Xbox 360. It took me until then to realize that they even made a third one.
Streets of Rage 4 takes place 10 years after the last game. Apparently, there was a fellow named Mr. X who was causing problems for our heroes, so they took to the rage-filled streets in order to alleviate the issue.
Being a beat ’em up, the story is pointless. Although this new game does an admirable job of trying to tell a story through cut scenes, I can’t believe there are too many players out there invested in Streets of Rage lore that it has them on the edge of their seat. After all, one of the main things I remembered about prior games was a boss that was an amusement park ride, or something like that.
A Visual Punch to the Nards
One of the criticisms of the game when it was first announced was the art style. While the developers went for more of a hand-drawn look, rather than a stylized pixelated approach, I can’t help but shake that it feels like a fancy flash game.
Initially, I enjoyed the graphical approach and thought it quite breathtaking. After playing awhile though, the luster wore off and it felt too copy and paste. Granted, one of the staples of any beat ’em up is palette swapping enemy characters, but it feels much cheaper nowadays.
Even though it’s been awhile since I’ve played any of the games in this series, I was able to recognize enemy characters from previous games, which are just many of the Easter eggs surely hidden in this game. Long time fans are sure to enjoy picking these out, but for me, it felt more like guessing something or someone was significant to the larger mythos.
Players are given the option of choosing between four characters at the beginning and unlocking more as they complete the game or hit other milestones. Like similar games, there is an all around balanced fighter, a chick, a different kind of chick, and a heavy dude with giant metal arms. You can tell how they play just by looking at them.
Outside of the regular punches, kicks, and combos, special moves are included. While they still take life to use, players have the opportunity to negate that by stringing together a combo. If it lasts long enough, you might be able to use it without any adverse effects.
The game is as satisfying to play as any beat ’em up, perhaps more so. The week prior to playing this game, I played through an old Neo Geo beat ’em up that was about half the length of Streets of Rage 4, but it felt twice as long. So I guess it has that going for it.
SoR4 is 12 levels long, and most of these are able to be beaten in under 10 minutes. After beating the game, the player can select particular levels to replay, which is a nice feature. There’s also an arcade mode that challenges the player with beating the game on one credit, but, for me and most casual fans, they may have well as not included it as I will never even attempt that.
The Normal difficulty is just right, and I enjoyed how the game would give the option of taking on levels with more lives or additional star moves if I was willing to sacrifice my points. This makes beating the game less of a pain in the ass for those of us with limited gaming time due to our terrible life choices.
Maybe I’m Just Dead Inside
It’s both a blessing and a curse that developers want to give players more of the same things they loved in their childhoods. Unfortunately, that leaves the player with more of the same.
The BloodStained franchise, if you can call two games a franchise, both excels and fails at this. The first game to come out in the series, Curse of the Moon, was an 8 bit inspired Kickstarter reward. I originally loved this game and still feel it hits all the right buttons of how to tingle the member berries while providing a new experience. Being able to complete the game in less than 2 hours also helps disguise the cracks in the dam.
Flash forward to the main course, Ritual of the Night, and I can’t help but feel how much I would rather play one of the Castlevania Metroidvania styled games. Yes, it’s fine in every way, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like a greatest hits compilation of things we’ve already seen and done. In the end, it’s a hollow experience that was done better more than 20 years ago, and putting in the 12+ hours to beat the game felt more like an obligation.
That isn’t to say that retro-inspired games need to be short. If done right, a lengthy experience would be welcomed. Unfortunately, it too often feels like a Frankensteined version of former games rather than its own thing, and Streets of Rage 4 falls into this category for me.
One of the main exceptions to this rule is Sonic Mania, which for the first few levels is a rework of Sonic games we have seen before, but with a twist. After these member berry levels, the game slowly morphs into its own, serving as more of a celebration of Sonic, rather than a mere repackaging of its husk.
Streets of Worth a Play Through
SoR 4 accomplishes its goal of being a fun diversion. For those who spent hours playing the originals, I’m sure you’ll get more out of it than I did. For me, though, it falls into the chasm of beat ’em up games, the fast food equivalent of video games.
Seeing as the game was on Microsoft’s Game Pass, I forked over my dollar for a trial month, and the game is definitely worth that. If I paid the full price listed on Steam of $24.99, I would be less enthusiastic.
While there are unlockables that will keep more hardcore fans interested after one play through, I could not justify a similar investment, especially at a time when gaming dollars are limited. Having bought the aforementioned Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for less than $20, forking over more money for what amounts to an updated reskin of the three games that can be purchased on that collection does not compute for me.
Regardless, I have seen the giddiness that some of my favorite YouTubers have used to describe their time playing this game. While they are not unknown to the ways of shilling, there was a genuineness that led me to believe they were not bought off. If this game tickles your nostalgic gland, then have at it.