Today we’ll be discussing The Bare Knuckle series, or, as it’s known here in the West “Streets of Rage” which if you don’t know, is a sidescrolling beat-em-up video game that K.O.ed the 90s gaming scene with its magical combination of a kickass electro synth pop soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, memorable characters, seamless action, and vaporwave before it was vaporwave neon backgrounds that all coalesced into one gritty, street vigilante, detective story told through the medium of an arcade video game, later available for the Megadrive and Sega genesis.
The first three entries in the series were genre-defining and took the world by storm through 1991 to 1994. With Axel, Blaze, Adam and their numerous friends and allies teaming up in different combinations to lay down the law onto crime-ridden street scenes, beaches, clubs, arcades, robo-labs, rooftops, high rises with attacking meal carts. Guess nobody tipped the serving staff, thanks Mr. X.
But after enjoying immense popularity both in Japan and abroad, there was a long hiatus for well, about 25 years. There were numerous attempts to bring back Streets of Rage. One such attempt later became the PS1 game Fighting Force. There were also indie developers who developed amazing tributes to their favorite brawler series, like the sheer perfection that was Streets of Rage Remake by Bomber Link, which Sega quickly put the Kibosh on and The Takeover which draws tons of inspiration from the franchise and which we actually did a video of here. However, it wasn’t until just recently that gamers finally got an official fourth entry in the series.
First let’s talk about the design since that’s what we do here at Designercore. Here we see a complete overhaul indicative of the loooong gap in between games and the different creative design of this latest title’s development team. Styles have simply changed. We’ve seen this in many cartoons and in many “remakes” of retro games like Final Fantasy which are cleaned up, recolored and uber-stylized.
The colors are richer, the proportions are a bit less realistic and more cartoony and the characters, though recognizable, look very different from their original sprites way back in the 90s. That being said, it’s a change I gradually after a few hours of play, came to appreciate. The spirit of the characters you know and love is still very easy to recognize. I will say, although the backgrounds are lushly designed and the color really pops in a smooth, fluid way…I yearn for the Neon signs and overall vaporwave-y ambiance of the 90s version.
One great thing about this entry into the series is that it knows its audience and knows that the designs may be a bit too much for some old-timers. And it offers them the chance to play as the original pixelated sprites you remember. Something that is a pretty cute novelty and increases the replayability factor, but which loses something when they’re thrown against the updated stages where they’re battling against the revamped enemy designs.
It creates a bit of a design clash which is slightly mitigated by the retro filter option, but could’ve been handled a bit more seamlessly. But this probably would’ve led to a longer wait, and I know beggars can’t be choosers so we’ll overlook this…for now. We also get the option of a retro soundtrack or new soundtrack with contributions from series composer Yuzo Koshiro. The retro soundtrack incorporates the older themes, but they sound a bit re-worked, overall still pretty Dank beats.
Newcomers Floyd and Cherry are welcome additions to the crew and Cherry was my second-runner for playthrough…mostly because she was the only character that could run? I guess they think once you hit your thirties like Axel and Blaze you just stop moving? I mean I have, but I’m sure they haven’t. Just look at the guns on Axel! This was less a stylistic choice, but certainly a kink in the design of the game that makes movement less fluid that it should be in 2020. I just really can’t understand this move…since the older versions of the characters (barring the similarly non-running SOR 1 versions) are still capable of running and it just seems like a weird feature to exclude.
The design of the story itself is kind of bare bones, which honestly is something one expects with the franchise. It’s a simple formula…crooked cops get pwned by the only good guys left who quit the force and become private detectives/street vigilantes hoping to overthrow the evil racketeering of the pompous, criminal mastermind known as Mister X. Only now, it isn’t Mr. X. It’s his children Mr. and Ms. Y. Although they’re not as iconic as daddy dearest, they do come across as a depraved, grown up, vaguely Nazi version of Hansel and Gretel.
The Game Play
Many of the improvements I’d say come as some of the exclusions…no endless streams of annoying motorcyclists you have to jump kick while getting cold-cocked 9 times out of 10 and no annoying jet pack pricks rocket kicking you and then flying away and laughing like the Duck Hunt Dog. Ultimately, Streets of Rage 4 available for PC via Steam, PS4, Nintendo Switch and probably some other consoles is a delightful return to the classic series
…Although, and I’m gonna play hardball here, to me the real comprehensive version of the Series will forever be Streets of Rage Remake and I truly believe Sega should’ve second-guessed their decision and pursued the devs of Remake to work on 4…you could tell this game was a true labor of love, from multiple levels, to every character…
YES EVEN ROO, who was not invited to the 4th installment, only a cameo working at Bourbon’s bar ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME?! Along with original characters like Rudra, Shiva’s shuriken-slinging sister and an undercover Electra, multiple features like, changing swords to lightsabers, creating your own stages, palette customization, etc. It’s any Streets of Rage fan’s dream game. And of course, the big boys were intimidated. It’s no longer easy to obtain, but with a little private detective work…who knows?
All things considered. I liked Streets of Rage 4…could it have been a bit more robust? More flavorful? Yes, and so could tofurkey. But, at least we have something to eat for thanksgiving. And I’m Blaze Fielding and that’s my two sense. SOUL FIRE!