The Beatdown is Coming Back

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  • One might not expect an upcoming entry in the Streets of Rage franchise to demand a walled off, no photography demo at PAX East, let alone to command an hours-long line of thirsty Genesis-era acolytes. While the 80’s-noir trilogy of Sega games is rightly revered, decades have passed since its heyday, and the beat ‘em up genre Rage heralded hasn’t exactly made an evolutionary leap beyond the old days of trapping quarters. But the hidden secret behind these games is part of the appeal of their rebirth—that they’re a singular kind of multi-media experience, and Streets of Rage in particular was as much a mixtape rhythm game as it was a brawl simulator.

    Which was all a part of Guard Crush, Lizardcube, and Dotemu’s pitch to Sega to bring the Rage series back—that same spine of stacked rhythmic experiences, but with some crisp threads and new jams. And given the success of the hand-animated Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap remake, it makes sense that Sega would shift its focus to more of the same. They’ve also proven a desire to do it right, rather than settling on a soft-focus spirt-swap like some companies, by adding structural improvements along the lines of the AGES series of ports that has made more playable the notoriously gristly Phantasy Star.

    So Sega has a real hankering to fix these up right, and from what was secretly shown of Streets of Rage 4 at PAX East, everyone involved aims to satisfy the itch for proto-grime and punchy nostalgia. Guard Crush has thrown up their own take on beat ‘em up games with their obvious homage Streets of Fury EX, and from that first-hand experience they’ve set clear stakes that Rage 4 is the next step in the series deserving its numeration, not a redefinition or complete overhaul. Beyond their explicit technical knowledge, they’re looking for inspiration in the design documents of the original Rage team, as well as regularly bending the ears of super-fans to make sure they really hone in on what makes this series so valuable to so many.

    Part of that is building off the strong visual identities of the original characters, which for this demo included Blaze and Axel. When the trailer for this series first landed it veered towards an over-Flash-iness, with the texture of paper puppets skating over a conveyer belt. But the animation surreptitiously fed into my eyes in person was fluid, the friction of every button-mashed hit felt bracingly hefty. Just as with Wonder Boy, Lizardcube cribs the best elements of high-budget action animation and the on-screen thrum of Arc System Works fighters. And while each of these developers is in tune with the original feel of the series, that doesn’t mean they’re chained to the past—expect new characters, special attacks, and even the ability to throw enemies at each other or your crew, accidentally or otherwise.

    Beyond adding more haymakers and high-kicks, Guard Crush spoke on the importance of music, tempo, and flow to the Streets of Rage games. It’s not uncommon for fans to have locked into the soundtrack so hard that they’d wind through the game just to ride those sound waves again, and that’s the kind of groove and direction these developers want to tap into. They intend to use the music to guide players into proper positioning, to read enemy behavior, and to set up a path of attacks rather than simply slamming on that attack button. And while they have nothing specific to say about any upcoming tracks or artists in the game at this time, the devs are very excited about some of the beat-smiths and musicians they’re working with to sonically scaffold these rolling battles.

    This is the kind of extended jam that Streets of Rage 4 not only hopes to replicate but build upon, layer by buttery layer. It’s just under a year in development and literally behind closed doors but already got a satisfying shine, and it’s clear that those involved aim to polish this one correctly. Sega’s proven commitment to do more than just shuffle the corpses of its older IPs matched with Lizardcube and Guard Crush’s expertise and love of the source material suggests that this series is heading down a deliciously dank alley full of chumps to throttle.

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