Streets of Rage 4 arrived in 2020 to test the limits of my games industry prognostication instincts. I thought surely, all these years later and without much of the team that made the original trilogy so slick, so cool, and so catchy, developer/publisher Dotemu and company wouldn’t be able to recapture the magic. I was wrong. Super wrong. It’s not rare for me to be wrong, granted, but I certainly didn’t expect Streets of Rage 4 to be in my top 10 games of the year.
With its Mr. X Nightmare DLC, the best beat-em-up of the past decade gets even better with new weapons, balance tweaks, playable characters, a proper training mode, and a survival mode. If those additions aren’t blowing your socks off by name alone, let me stop you there: the new Streets of Rage 4 survival mode, on its own, might be my game of 2021 so far.
“Survival Mode” calls to mind a fairly simple formula of endless waves of enemies with item and weapon scarcity ramping up as the difficulty does. While that formula is roughly intact, Dotemu et al. (remember Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games also work on this joint) tore a page right out of Fanbyte 2020 Game of the Year Hades — introducing distinct stages and post-level powerups to the mix. What we get is a tactical and tense game mode that really challenges the player to use every single morsel of a character’s arsenal to dive as deep as possible.
Inside the mode itself — which is canonically a simulation created by Streets of Rage 3 playable cyborg Dr. Zan — is an evergreen “Random” option. As you might expect, it randomizes the stages and overall setups as the difficulty ramps up. There’s also a weekly challenge, which is a set sequence of rooms and encounters the devs create themselves. In both, I saw wieldable swordfish, ferocious environmental hazards, old school encounters taking place in the bizarre HR Giger room of Streets of Rage 2’s amusement park level, boss fights against bizarre combinations of established bosses, evil clones of player characters, and much more.
Most of all, the buffs you choose after each completed encounter add a deep and exciting element to a beat-em-up that’s already fun to play on repeat. Elements like fire, electricity, and toxic add advantages to your arsenal that allow you to control the crowds of high-powered enemies you face (particularly in later stages). Fire creates a pool of flame when the enemy hits the ground, spreading to more foes if they stand too near. Electricity spreads to other enemies on contact, but isn’t very damaging. Toxic drains life over time, which is particularly useful to discourage grunts away from you with a blitz attack. That way you can focus on tougher enemies. Chances are those grunts will die off-screen as they try to recover, too.
Other buffs come with a catch: like the Grounded effect that boosts most of your vital stats. At the same time, it prevents you from jumping. Or there’s Glass Cannon, which increases your damage output and input by 100 percent, which is a great choice for folks adept at evasion. I found it very difficult to use — given the many environmental hazards introduced in the mode — but it’s definitely there for someone. One of my favorite buffs is one that removes the health benefit of food, that old Streets of Rage trashcan standby. The tradeoff is that you regain health by attacking enemies instead.
Many of the buffs you find are invitations to play with your chosen character’s vast moveset. I’m guilty of rarely using each character’s Special attacks in normal play, which can interrupt enemy attacks, but shaves off a chunk of your own life. Though it can be reclaimed, Bloodborne-like, if you land normal hits without getting hit yourself. In Survival Mode, buffs are attached to your combo-finishing heavy attack, your double dash blitz attack, or your Special attacks. All offer different benefits and, of course, your mileage for each may vary depending on your character.
If you liked the variety of the original game’s five main playable characters, you’ll be pleased to know that the three newbies introduced in Mr. X Nightmare are a similar delight. Max the wrestler, a boss from Streets of Rage 4 and playable character from Streets of Rage 2, might look like Floyd in stature, but offers more versatile grapples than his robot-armed counterpart. Estel, the bazooka-toting boss from the game’s story mode, brings MMA-like clutches and a really devastating heavy attack that hits standing and prone enemies alike. Shiva returns from story mode, too, playable for the first time since being a secret character in Streets of Rage 3. He can unleash air combos unlike anyone else Then he uses shadow versions of himself to deal damage with Special attacks. His powerful default moveset comes at the expense of not being able to wield weapons. At least not traditionally. He simply kicks up weapons and throws them forward. Though this creates unique combos — not to mention the instant fluidity made me feel like John Wick during my five or so hours playing Survival Mode for review.
The new Training Mode in the DLC, finally, takes the player through the combos and kits of each individual character, while also teaching the general and advanced mechanics of the game. Didn’t know you could catch thrown enemy grenades? Training Mode will teach you. Curious about the limits of wall juggling? Training Mode explains it all. Frustrated with enemy attacks that seemingly lock you into place? Training Mode shows you how to deal with it. There’s even a cool free training option that allows you to place certain characters and items in six different slots to create little sandboxes to test your mettle.
After playing Streets of Rage 4‘s story mode multiple times with several characters last year, I was ready to hang up the game aside from random multiplayer sessions with friends, but Mr. X Nightmare‘s Survival Mode has pulled me all the way back in and I’m going to have to fight my way out.
Streets of Rage 4 Mr. X Nightmare DLC is out now for PC, PS4, XBO, and Nintendo Switch. It costs $7.99. A review code was provided to us by the publisher.