The beat-em-up genre has all but faded into the ether. Double Dragon, Golden Axe, and Final Fight are all games from a simpler time. But the retro resurgence is real, and Streets of Rage is coming back. It’s taking a trifecta of companies with the expertise and enthusiasm to make a sequel nearly 25 years after the last entry in the series.
Leading the way is publisher DotEmu, known for retro revivals like Another World and Windjammers. The publisher is teaming up again with Lizardcube, who developed the gorgeous Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Lizardcube is handling art for Streets of Rage 4, which already pops off the screen (much like Wonder Boy).
The final studio on the project, GuardCrush, is responsible for the campy Streets of Fury (a live-action fighting game that looks a bit like Pit Fighter.) GuardCrush has built a proprietary engine for beat-em-ups, which has rapidly accelerated Streets of Rage 4’s development. Production got off to a fast start, in part thanks to an existing relationship with Sega.
“Since we had a track record with creating Wonder Boy and DotEmu has an amazing track record of publishing Japanese licenses and working with Sega, we went to them with a presentation,” says Lizardcube art and creative director Ben Fiquet. “They trusted us. It was a natural fit. We went into full production in the beginning of 2018.”
With less than a year under their belts, the trio of development partners showed off a short demo to the press at PAX West. The sound effects in the demo build are placeholders, ripped right from the original Streets of Rage games and GuardCrush’s Streets of Fury. A retro audio mode would be a welcome inclusion, as the throwback sounds still work quite well.
So far, only two characters have been announced, with more promised to come. Axel has aged significantly since Streets of Rage 3, and while he’s still a force to be reckoned with, he’s rocking a bushy beard and a dad bod now. Blaze seems to have aged a bit more gracefully.
The action has been freshened up just enough to modernize some of the dusty old genre tropes. Each playable character in Streets of Rage games has a couple of special moves that deal devastating damage at the low cost of some of the health meter.
In Streets of Rage 4, players have a chance to earn some of that health back. After executing one of these moves, the section of the life bar representing what was expended in the special attack turns green. Pummeling foes earns that health back, but take even a single hit and the opportunity is lost.
Combat is also being tuned for this installment. Players can now work together to juggle enemies, and keep combos going longer. As of this build, players can also be nearly endlessly juggled by enemies, leaving me helpless when caught in a flood of foes. It’s early yet, and combat is going to be tuned along the way.
”The idea is that we’re trying to recreate the experience, but we’re bringing more, because it’s a new installment,” says DotEmu head of marketing Arnaud De Sousa. “It’s a balance.”
While it’s only an early look (DotEmu hasn’t even announced a release window or target platforms), Streets of Rage 4 impresses. Like Lizardcube’s Wonder Boy before it, this up-and-comer features bold art, stylish animations, and tight combat. The beat-em-up genre is a tough nut to crack these days, but the assembled team seems ready to do it justice.