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Streets Of Rage 4 hands-on preview and interview – ‘It’s gonna be like listening to an album’

Streets Of Rage 4 – Dotemu do what Sega don’t
After over 25 years there’s finally going to be a new Streets Of Rage and if nothing else it’s set to have one of the best soundtracks ever.
In today’s edition of Games You’d Swear Would Never Get Another Entry we have Streets Of Rage 4, a sequel to Sega’s beloved trilogy of scrolling beat ‘em-ups that will arrive over a quarter of a century after the last one on the Mega Drive. And yet it’s not really anything to do with Sega. They’ve licensed out the names and characters but all the work is being doing by three separate indie companies and a handful of long-time fans. And the end result is… still not quite what you’d expect.
Indie studios Dotemu and Lizardcube have already worked together on Wonder Boy: Dragon’s Trap , while Guard Crush Games are best known for their unofficial Streets Of Fury fan game. We met co-founder and technical director Cyrille Lagarigue at Gamescom and he explained that Dotemu work on the design and project management, Lizardcube do the graphics, and Guard Crush handle the technical side of things.
All of which brings us to the elephant in the room: why do the graphics look nothing like the Mega Drive originals? Instead the art style is very similar to Dragon’s Trap, which doesn’t really seem appropriate given the originals were presented as fairly realistic (in a cheesy, arcade kind of way) action games and if released today would almost certainly have used a standard photorealistic art style.

‘We didn’t want to do a pixel art game because we wanted to have something different, that felt like a next step. It’s hand-drawn graphics because that is what the art director is good at doing’, jokes Lagarigue.
‘And also, in my opinion, it fits very well with the style of game because it’s very precise looking. It’s a style that is very detailed but still very clear. And the characters are very different from the background, so that allows you to really see what’s happening very clearly.’
That at least makes sense and it’s certainly clear that the three developers understand why Streets Of Rage is so beloved, with even the short section we played featuring some well-paced action and a fun boss encounter. Just like the original there’s only one main attack button, which is context sensitive and used for punching, kicking and most of the other moves. Beyond that there’s only a jump, a reverse attack on the right trigger, and a slowly charging special move.
The characters revealed so far (many more are promised in the final game) are Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding from the originals, but we played as brand new character Cherry Hunter – daughter of Adam Hunter from the first game. She carries a guitar and her special moves involve electricity attacks and an amusingly cheesy knee slide along the ground that can take out multiple enemies at once. But like any of the characters she can also pick up weapons and items lying around on the ground, from a naginata to a very Final Fight-looking metal pipe.
Streets Of Rage 4 – the music may be the best part
Much like on-the-rail shooters, scrolling beat ‘em-ups may look extremely simplistic but you only need to play a bad one to see how much skill goes into the level design and pacing of the action. And on that basis Streets Of Rage 4 is definitely a good one. It also aims to solve a long-standing issue with the genre, where you’d often end up fighting enemies who were almost entirely off screen on the left or right of the playfield. But that doesn’t happen here, with Lagarigue revealing that enemies are specifically prevented from getting too close to the edge.
And then there’s the music. Streets Of Rage was always famed for its soundtrack as much as its gameplay and the line-up of Japanese musicians contributing to the game is literally the stuff of legend. Not only are Yūzō Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, who worked on the original games, involved but so too is Street Fighter II composer Yoko Shimomura, Jet Set Radio’s Hideki Naganuma, and Ninja Gaiden’s Keiji Yamagishi.
Admittedly, we couldn’t actually hear much of the soundtrack in the noise of Gamescom but when we asked Lagarigue why the music is so authentic to the originals but the art style isn’t he made a valid point: ‘They’re not necessarily gonna do the same thing as before. And the technology is not the same. They’re not using a Mega Drive sound chip or making MIDI tunes.’
‘The music is going to be very good’, he promises. ‘You’re not gonna here the same music twice in the whole game. Because Streets Of Rage II is like that. It’s gonna be like listening to an album.’

The scrolling beat ‘em-up is an unusual genre, in that despite being extremely popular in the 90s it doesn’t really have any modern-day equivalent, with only distant evolutionary relations such as Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. So we asked Lagarigue why he wasn’t tempted to deepen the gameplay of Streets Of Rage 4 with more complex moves and combat.
‘We didn’t want to make it overly complex, but we did want to make it deep. We wanted to keep the feeling of the original game, to make it very pick up and play’, he said. ‘It’s very deep in the mechanics, in all the implication of how the moves work together. Each move has several uses, so there is that deepness to the fight system – not in terms of skill trees or anything like that but how you play’.
It’s easy to dismiss Streets Of Rage 4 and other beat ‘em-ups as mindless action but they require as much concentration as any action game, with crowd control being especially important. ‘We had a very good Streets Of Rage player, probably the best in the world, play our game and he described Streets Of Rage as chess but with 60 moves a minute.’
Streets Of Rage 4 – will Golden Axe be next?
We’re not sure we’d go that far but the experience is certainly refreshingly different to anything else around today and whether you think the art style is appropriate or not the animation and attention to detail is amazing.
Although we can’t help but wonder why Sega didn’t just make a new Streets Of Rage themselves, or at least employ Dotemu and co. directly – rather than hiring out the licence to them.
‘I think the reason is there have already been many cancelled Streets Of Rage 4 projects. Both inside and outside of Sega’, says Lagarigue. ‘I think we got lucky because of the timing, because they’d just released Sonic Mania and they realised they could give their most iconic IPs to fans that grew up with the games and understand them very well.’
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We can’t resist also asking Lagarigue about what he thinks might come next, even if he’s not personally involved with it. ‘Golden Axe is the obvious one’, he answers. ‘Maybe Altered Beast. Dotemu have a track record now with two games, and there is never two without three in games!’
We hope he’s right, because if Sega won’t update their old franchises themselves then it’s clear that fans are more than capable of doing it themselves, and in the process creating something just as good as the originals.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Dotemu
Developer: Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games, and Dotemu
Release Date: 2020

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