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Streets of Rage 4 turns special attacks into a bet against your own skills

How long can you survive?

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A character stands in front of a fiery backdrop DotEmu/LizardCube/Guard Crush Games

Streets of Rage 4 is a remarkable game, delivering a true sequel to 1994’s Streets of Rage 3 that innovates how the series looks and plays without losing any of its original magic. And one of the best innovations is how the developers decided to handle special attacks.

Now, instead of always losing a certain amount of health just by attempting a special attack, the game treats that chunk of health as a bet you place against your own future performance.

Which means you can win it all back, lose it all or, more likely, find some middle ground. It all depends on how well you do after the special attack lands or misses.

Don’t get hit!

The idea of the special attack came from arcade beat-’em-ups like Final Fight, as a way of sucking health — and therefore also quarters — out of players. Special attacks were handled differently by different games, but they tended to either take health away outright or remove health if the attack landed.

It was an easy transaction to think about: If you needed a little more offensive power, and weren’t nervous about giving up a little health to get it, you used a special attack. Easy!

Streets of Rage 4 does things a little differently, although what looks like a small change has a big impact on how you approach certain fights. Launching a special attack now turns a section of your health green, which means it’s at risk for being lost, but it’s not lost yet. You regain a little bit of your health back for every attack that you land against an enemy, potentially regaining all the risked health, but you lose any of the green health if you take even a single hit from an enemy.

See what I mean by special attacks now operating more like a bet than a straight-up trade of attack power for health? Talented players will be able to use a lot more special attacks, knowing that they can get the health back by playing well, but this also means that each special attack raises the stakes for a variable amount of time after it’s used. Getting hit during this time means a lot more than getting hit in most situations. Less-skilled players can still use the special attacks in the regular way, knowing that it’s less likely that they’ll earn the health back.

Regardless of your skill level, this change completely shakes up the mental calculus that goes into the decision about when and where to use special attacks, and injects a small amount of easily understood complexity to a genre that can often seem very simple. It’s the sort of small, incremental change that looks limited on the surface, but ends up changing how the game is played — especially by the most skilled players — in a substantial way.

This is how you update a classic: with care, and in ways that keep the game’s spirit while forcing players to adapt to a new way of using an attack they thought they understood.

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