For many people, their first foray into the beat-'em-up came not from 'Street Fighter II' or 'Mortal Kombat', but from the Sega Mega-Drive's 'Streets of Rage' series.
While 'Mortal Kombat' was gleefully and comically violent, almost to the point of being post-modern about it, 'Streets of Rage' was much more about ambience and atmosphere. The first level of the first game saw you dropped into a neon-soaked street with nothing but your fists and feet, ready to dole out some street justice on punks and skinheads all around you.
Twenty-six years on, 'Streets of Rage 4' embraces both the nostalgia of the original by changing very little about it. After all, why does it need to? When you look at 'Streets of Rage 2' and 'Streets of Rage 3', the only real difference between them was upgraded graphics, better music and bigger stages.
'Streets of Rage 4' swaps the pixels for beautifully smooth, animated avatars stepping across a screen and beating the crap out of people. The music is every bit as ear-worm inducing as the original, and the controls feel solid and familiar. By the end of the first stage, you're back in action and throwing enemies across the screen with ease.
Side-scrolling beat-'em-ups enjoyed a heyday in the '90s, but more recent efforts like 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World' go out of their way to evoke that era. 'Streets of Rage 4' straddles the line somewhere in the middle. At its core, it's the same basic mechanic as the previous three games with some improvements and acroutements.
There's now a combo system that fills up your health, but if you take a hit during a combo, you lose the health permanently. Additionally, each selectable fighter has a 'Star Power', which is essentially a finisher that clears out the screen of goons. You also have improvements to the weapons system - including a neat catch-throw system for some weapons - that takes time to master, but vastly increases your chances of getting through a stage.
When it comes to difficulty, however, there's no denying that 'Streets of Rage 4' has the same level of frustration that the previous entries had. You can find yourself caught up and unable to fight your way out of a stage due to poor AI or a lack of planning, often forcing you to restart the whole stage.
Likewise, of the four characters you start with, it can often be the case that the characters vary so wildly that some stages can be next to impossible if you've chosen the wrong character. That being said, the game is rewarding and when you do finally nail that one boss or stage, it's just as satisfying as the original.
Like other nostalgia-heavy games of late such as 'Final Fantasy VII Remake', 'Streets of Rage 4' recognises that it's not enough to trade on the name to get people playing. It has to make subtle and considered improvements, otherwise people will just stick with the original instead of trying the next game. 'Streets of Rage 4' has enough of these to warrant picking it up, but it's the way it honours the original that has you playing it for much longer.
'Streets of Rage 4' is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4 now.