How Streets of Rage 4 Will Update a Classic Formula

The last Streets of Rage game came out in 1994, and a lot has changed since then. The brawler genre, or beat ’em up—where Streets of Rage was the high watermark—seemingly didn’t make the jump into the third dimension. The fantastic series has been absent ever since. But now two studios in Paris and one in Montreal are putting a new Streets of Rage game together. So what’s it like to make a sequel, the fourth game in the series, after two decades and change?

“It can obviously be frightening,” says Ben Fiquet of Lizardcube, an art director on Streets of Rage 4. “But at the same time, we are developing a new vision for the series which we believe is a step forward in the right direction, while respecting the license and the fans at the same time. It’s always a thin line to be walking.”

The look of Streets of Rage has certainly changed. The new game jettisoned 16-bit-graphics for a hand-drawn look that shows the fists, faces, and places in a greater fidelity. So far series regulars Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding are confirmed to return, and they’ve aged a bit.

“The events of Streets of Rage 4 take place more or less 10 years after Streets of Rage 3,” says Fiquet. “Despite the beard and rugged look, Axel is honestly quite fit for his age, and while Blaze is now a 30-something woman, she’s still a badass. There are definitely more characters to be revealed as well.”

For those hoping to see Skate, Max, Adam, Roo, or Dr. Zan, designer Jordi Asencio adds: “We’ll have a very varied cast that hopefully suits every player’s personality and playstyle.”

Streets of Rage 4

Updating a Classic

The beat ‘em up genre peaked in popularity from the end of the 1980s into the mid 1990s, and seemed a close cousin to the simultaneous fighting game boom. Beat ‘em ups were less strategic, but they weren’t just mechanically watered-down fighting games. Nonetheless, Streets of Rage 4 will add something more to the mix.

“We’re adding some new tools and removing some frustrations from the old game,” says Asencio. “In the original games, the player used to lose life when they would perform a special move. We kept that idea in Streets of Rage 4, but you can now regain that lost life if you’re skilled enough to hit a string of enemies with normal attacks without being hit, as a follow-up to the special. We’re adding combo juggles, too. They create a nice interaction between players, as a friend can continue the combo you began. We’re experimenting a lot with new mechanics and we’ll only put the good stuff in the final game.”

Streets of Rage is well-remembered. While it doesn’t feel like some secret revelation in modern times, it is still great. It feels tight, the characters and environments look great, and the sound design is incredible. But the music? The music, in my opinion, has elevated this series above and beyond its individual parts. The music of Streets of Rage has kept these games alive.

Composer Yuzo Koshiro created the soundtrack for Streets of Rage, and the next two sequels were collaborative efforts between Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima. Drawing from the burgeoning house and techno scenes at the time, the music (and even sound design) of Streets of Rage is exactly what people mean when they talk in reverence about the sound of the Sega Genesis.

The Sound of Violence

Sonic the Hedgehog represents the sound of the Genesis to most folks, sure. But Koshiro and Kawashima managed to squeeze every texture and synth lead they could from the console’s sound chip. It’s still inimitable, incredible-sounding music today.

“Stay tuned,” Asencio says, “The OST will have its own announcements in the future.” They wouldn’t tell me who is making the music for Streets of Rage 4. Dotemu, the game’s publisher, has been pretty coy about that exact question so far. But the developers also didn’t tell me who is not making the music for this game. Surely they wouldn’t string fans along like this if the “correct” answer wasn’t forthcoming. Right?

Streets of Rage 3 came out the same year the PlayStation did in Japan. For a little while, people did try to crack the code on making beat ‘em ups in a 3D world. A pitch for a 3D Streets of Rage 4 was scrapped, and turned into Core Design’s 1997 game Fighting Force. A separate rumor claims Die Hard Arcade began as a Streets of Rage sequel. Capcom’s 2006 game Final Fight: Streetwise was yet another ill-fated attempt to bring a classic beat ‘em up into a 3D space.

But in the past 10 years, as games have gotten bigger, they’ve also gotten smaller—mostly in the independent and “mid-tier” development spaces. Brawlers are starting to reappear. Some are throwbacks. Some are contemporary (albeit 2D) and many (like the much-loved Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game) are somewhere in the middle.

But even outside of indies, the brawler may have been alive all along. The recent Batman games, plus Sega’s own Yakuza series have a lot in common with the beat ‘em ups of yesteryear. It’s true that those games have much more than simple street brawls, but their meat and potatoes are punching (and kicking and hitting) groups of bad guys in the face—usually two to three at a time. So is the brawler truly dead?

Streets of Rage 4

The Future of Fighting

“If we did believe the brawler was a dead genre, we wouldn’t have worked on one for 10 years!” says programmer Cyrille Lagarigue of Guard Crush Games. They were referring to both Streets of Rage 4 and Guard Crush Games’ previous project, the handcrafted labor-of-love that was Streets of Fury.

Dead genre or not, the world still needs to wait a little bit longer for Streets of Rage 4. The pedigree is strong for each of the three developers individually. Sega, much like they did with Sonic Mania, seemingly decided to hand the reins over to the best possible people for this project: the capable fans who really give a shit about it, the people who are the most passionate about Streets of Rage and its ilk.

“We are so proud that Sega accepted our proposal,” Asencio said. “It has been a game that I wanted to do for so much time that the excitement overcomes the intimidation. Fans are waiting for us and we won’t let them down.”

Lagarigue added that “When we see all the love that people have for Streets of Rage, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to make the game they have been waiting such a long time for. There is pressure, but it is the good kind of pressure that makes us want to do the best work we can.”

Per the team, Streets of Rage 4 is still “early in development”, but has a lot to announcements coming in the near future.

Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.