Streets of Rage 4 Design Review – Why does this work so much better than Double Dragon?

I’m Kinglink and today we’re doing a Design Review for Streets of Rage 4.

Though I want to do something a little bit different this week. Normally, I go over a game and tell you what I like and don’t like, and don’t worry, I will go into that, but Streets of Rage 4 was a challenging game to cover.

When I play most games, I try to think up interesting topics for videos, and there are times like The Crew 2 or Mortal Kombat 11 where I just don’t get enough content or want to rant about microtransactions and grind yet again. I did a video on that a long time and while I probably should cover the topic again, ehhh, it’s not exciting.


So when I started Streets of Rage 4 I thought of a very specific question. But let me roll back a bit.

So I grew up in the arcades in the 80s and 90 and I would often see games like.. We’ll start with Double Dragon Trilogy because it will be important in relation to Streets of Rage 4. I would go to the arcade and pump quarter after quarter into Double Dragon arcade machine, This was the hot game at one point and man it ate quarters.

But there are games I loved. Metal Slug is one I was thrilled to get ON PC because I loved this game in the arcade, and the art is so freaking good as is the gameplay, and the ability to drive the tank and the major enemy design, so playing it now is true joy or so I thought. After playing through Metal Slug and Metal Slug X I didn’t have a ton of fun and wondered why.

I remembered these games fondly but there’s something that doesn’t work while playing these games as an adult which meant, it wasn’t as fun. I kind of assumed any game of the same vein would have similar problems. When I played Raiden Legacy… yeah, same problem. It’s a fun game for an hour or so and then that’s it.

So picking up Streets of Rage 4 which people were loving gave me two possibilities. I could enjoy Streets of Rage 4 or I might hate it and either way I was hoping to talk about what made Streets of Rage 4 work where so many older arcade games failed.

The answer to this is simple. When you die in Streets of Rage 4 and have to continue you start at the beginning of a level, so you can’t just “pop another quarter” into the game and get more lives.

This is relatively simple game design. When there’s no penalty to continuing the game, the game loses its meaning to difficulty or gameplay. Think about how trivial Dark Souls would be if you could just instantly stand up each time you get a game over. In the arcade, you had a finite amount of quarters so deaths were meaningful because you wanted to maximize the time playing arcade games with those quarters or the quality of the games you played. But as a home consumer, you can just infinitely continue your way through these games.

Streets of Rage 4, ha. No, you’re going to have to earn your wins and if you can’t beat a level in a single continue, get better, and just this one change makes Streets of Rage 4 infinitely better than most arcade games on the PC.

This isn’t some new game design though. Ikaruga actually shows how continues could work. Ikaruga is a tough as nails shooter which has the player changing the polarity of their ships to absorb bullets and it is a bullet hell game. In Ikaruga you start with 3 continues possible and every hour of Ikaruga you play you get more continues until you get 9 continues in 6 hours, and you get infinite continues which you might need, at the seventh hour. Players will get better over those seven hours as well, and it’s a great experience.

However, on Steam’s version of Ikaruga, it appears that you get infinite continues out of the box which kind of ruins this progression. Rather than earning the right to beat the game through skill or time spent, you can beat the entire game in about fifteen minutes. I honestly wish they kept the original unlock scheme.

So, continues need to matter in Arcade games and that’s why I like Streets of Rage 4 more than all those other arcades games. Is that all I have this week? Well no, let’s go back to the first arcade game I showed. It’s the most similar to Streets of Rage 4, it’s a Beat’em called Double Dragon. This version has limited continues, difficulty selectors, and it’s a classic game. So what’s wrong here?

Well, let me get this out of the way. The controls are quite janky on Double Dragon Trilogy, and I really can’t recommend this version just because of that. It’s also decently hard because… well, the arcade game was intended as a Quarter Gobbler.

Let’s try a more modern take. Double Dragon Neon. This was released at the end of the Xbox 360 console lifespan. There are no control issues here and honestly, I think Double Dragon Neon is a rather fun game at times, but it’s not as good as Streets of Rage 4, and as I played both games I didn’t have an answer of why. I would argue the level up system with the tapes is better than Streets of Rage 4, but I didn’t have as much fun with this one, and to be honest, I had played this before Streets of Rage 4.

Just to round it out, the newest Double Dragon game, Double Dragon 4 has similar issues. It has those instant death pits, which honestly I think ruins any game, limited continues, and a classic fighting style. Yet with Double Dragon 4, the entire game feels like it wants to spam the most powerful move over and over. It’s not a great game.

Alright, so we have a question. What made me enjoy Streets of Rage 4 as a better Beat ‘em up than any of the Double Dragon? I spent a couple of nights on this thought I’d like to take you on the journey rather than just the answer.

So originally I had some thoughts about what makes Streets of Rage amazing. The combat has to be better, the music is fantastic, the different characters are great, the continue system is far better, and the bosses are amazing. Right? I started to think about this while I played the second level of the game. One of those reasons was why I was having a good time with this game and didn’t have as much fun with Double Dragon. There is a part of each of those subjects that are true, but the more I thought about this topic, the more I realized there was still a problem.

Let’s start with the combat. I like the combat in Streets of Rage 4, but it is a bit simplistic. I don’t like the special move button as it risks life for damage, so I mostly attack, jump, and dodge. But most of the interesting special enemies, especially the ones who have non-standard attack patterns come in later levels like the shielded enemies in the second level. If these enemies are the reason I loved the game, what made me love the original level? This is going to be an important key to this. I enjoyed Streets of Rage from the first time I played it, til I beat the final boss.

After really thinking about it, I’ll argue that Double Dragon Neon and Double Dragon 4 have slightly better combat systems. Having a punch and kick button alone is a huge improvement. The different combos, special moves, running, spin kicks and all should make that combat system better

So it’s got to be the music. It’s Streets of Rage, it’s got a great soundtrack right? Well yeah, I’ll layer some music in here, and just this opening soundtrack is so good. I mean the music here is incredible during the whole game, and man it sets the mood. So if that’s it, I can just mute the audio and I’ll have less fun. I admit muting the audio does detract a little bit from the experience, but it’s not the music. That adds to the experience but there’s something more important.

So it’s the characters, right? They all are different and have their own style, and I’ll be honest, I like that fact. The fact that you have a ton of characters here and each one feels different is a great feature for Streets of Rage 4, and probably one of the better features. It reminds me of Final Fight and playing as Hagar instead of Guy or Cody. And I don’t care what anyone says, I’ll always pronounce him as Guy in Final Fight.

Yet… I enjoyed Streets of Rage 4 from the first level on my first time through, so how could it be the different characters that matter if I was enjoying myself so much from the first level? So no… it’s not the characters.

I’ve already made a big deal about the continue system, right? Well yeah, the continue system is excellent in Streets of Rage 4, but I didn’t lose all my lives in the first level, so it’s not just the continue system. The challenge of the game is good, but nothing exceptional at that point. Also, Double Dragon Neon pulls the same shtick of restarting a level when you die, so … why don’t I like Double Dragon Neon if it’s just that?

It’s the bosses, right? Well, let me start by saying yes. The bosses do matter and they are amazing in Streets of Rage 4. At least to the point that Double Dragon 4 has almost no boss fights worth mentioning unless you count these guys who get killed in seconds. Double Dragon Neon uses the same boss multiple times, and Double Dragon Trilogy only has a boss at the end of the game. Problem solved… except, I was enjoying myself before the bosses.

So let’s just get one more out of the way, Graphics. I like the graphics of Streets of Rage 4, I think the backgrounds are amazing, the detail in the characters is great, and the animations are so well made. I will often say Graphics don’t matter, but if I’m honest, this game would not be as good if it looked like Double Dragon 4 I like the pain animations of the enemies, so try to look at those when I’m fighting. But to slightly disprove this I’ll reference Double Dragon Neon, which looks almost as good.

At this point, some fans might just be shouting that it’s the entire package, and I’ll be honest, I was ready to accept that Streets of Rage 4 is a better game than Double Dragon for a lot of reasons, and we can call it a day. That isn’t enough for me though, I like to understand why I like games and to me, it’s more important. It’s important as a reviewer to be able to correctly identify what makes you like a game rather than just a blanket “this feels good.” You can FEEL like batman? But why you feel like Batman is so much more important.

You might also think that it’s probably that Streets of Rage is a franchise I love. It might be possible, the only problem is I don’t think I ever played through a Streets of Rage game. So let’s fix that. I have that Sega Genesis collection and let’s boot up Streets of Rage 1.

This is… oh god, I’m going to have to anger Streets of Rage fans aren’t I… I am not a fan of Streets of Rage 1. It’s a good game, but I don’t think this is the masterpiece people make it out to be. At least not in 2020. Nostalgia probably adds a lot to this, and most people talk about playing through the game with friends and all. It’s a good game, but I don’t really like this one. Though I do like the Bosses. I wonder if there’s a clue in that?

Let’s try the sequel, Streets of Rage 2, and Oh My God, my childhood was awful since I never had this game. Streets of Rage 2 is freaking amazing, and I love this game from the first moment to the end. The graphics are great, the music is killer, and the game is so much fun. I love beating up all the enemies and just going to town. Streets of Rage is AWESOME.

Wait, what? Didn’t I just say Streets of Rage 1 isn’t good? This was my eureka moment. I love Streets of Rage 2 but only like Streets of Rage… what’s different. Well, let’s take a look at my actual childhood. That’s right if I was an arcade kid, and didn’t play Streets of Rage, I had to play something else, and that something else was Final Fight. And I had to know if Final Fight is still amazing.

I Grabbed the Capcom Beat ’em Collection and sure enough, Final Fight is still awesome. I mean I can’t express how much fun this game is and it is a worthy experience that is still enjoyable.

So I think we have enough evidence, what do Final Fight, Streets of Rage 2, and Streets of Rage 4 have that Double Dragon Trilogy, Double Dragon Neon, and Double Dragon 4 do not have.

Let’s give one more specific question. Why did I enjoy the bosses in Streets of Rage 1 but didn’t enjoy the stages as much?

Hopefully, you caught it, but the answer I found is the enemy’s life bar. You probably have said it but I’ll say it myself, “That is dumb”. And yet it’s possible, right? So I had to prove this conclusively for myself. Could the enemy’s life bar be an important difference in my enjoyment? I didn’t want to say it if I couldn’t prove it. There had to be a way.

Well, the answer is there was… We’ll go as low tech as possible to prove this. While playing Final Fight I threw a Jack in the Box coupon on the screen to cover the enemy’s life bar. And sure enough, I started having less fun. Then I went on to Streets of Rage 4, coupon sheet in the same place, playing the same game I loved before, and sure enough… I wasn’t having the same amount of fun.

That confirms it for me. I like the enemy’s life bar, but why? Let’s take a look at Double Dragon again. As I beat up enemies how much life do they have left or better yet how much life do I have? I have some number of cubes, how much is each attack taking off when I get hit. I don’t know, and there’s probably a guide online to get that information but… why? Why are we hiding that information?

Now as I play Streets of Rage 4 again, we know how much damage my attacks are doing because we can see the enemy’s life going down. There’s a ton of value in that, I can judge my attacks, my damage, which enemies might be easier to kill or who I should focus on. You can have enemies with different amounts of HP, and there’s an absolute boatload of information on how I should approach enemies.

And I can tell you as I play Streets of Rage I now notice that while executing a combo I know I can feel my eye drift up to the upper left of the screen. Developers understand the importance of a UI so much that play testing which already should be tracking the player’s actual hands on the controls as well as the game screen, they also will record eye movement because that is incredibly useful to the developer to know which elements on the screen are the most important, or perhaps needs to be made bigger.

As a designer, it’s also important to give players the information to make decisions in the game, and a life bar for enemies if well designed is a valuable tool for that. It might not seem important but it is. There are tons of ways to implement similar information, whether it be heavy breathing as enemies stand up or blood, or damage models as characters take damage, but games need the right system to deliver the right information and make sure the player understands it.

I hope you enjoyed my dissection of Streets of Rage 4 and what makes it stand out as a Beat ‘em up. I do want to say that this is only my answer to why I like Streets of Rage 4 more. Someone else could say they don’t care about the health bars, and that might be true. What I think is important though is how my thought process was when I was breaking down the game.

I wanted to bring it up because right now there’s currently a lot of divisive discussion in the game community and I hope I’ve shown you that rather than just assume you like something or dislike something because of whatever reason you think, there are ways to dig deeper and try to understand if that is that important to your love of a specific game, genre, or experience.

Understanding what does matter to you is beneficial for you. If I see a Beat ‘em up such as another Double Dragon game in the future I might give it a shot but mindlessly punching on enemies might not be enough. On the other hand, I picked up The TakeOver just because it has similar features, including that little life bar, and after playing it for a little while…It’s good, I’ve actually refunded because I’m scratching that itch currently with Capcom Beat ‘Em Collection and Streets of Rage, but it is still a fun game.

As for Streets of Rage 4, let me just go over a few more pieces. So I did show the retry screen a little earlier. This is great, I love the idea to give assists and the ability to change characters on a continue screen, with those assists only penalizing players score.

I also think scores is an outdated mechanic in videos game and outside of leaderboards isn’t very important in the modern games industry. Yet Streets of Rage 4 has a great combo system and gives free lives if players rack up enough points. It makes the score worth something more than just a leaderboard slot.

Lives systems too are a bit outdated but again, they work perfectly well here and I’ll be honest, I don’t think Streets of Rage 4 would be as good without the lives system.

Finally as for the purpose of the score? After each level there’s a tally and players will add their score to the existing score, and at certain milestones, you’ll earn new characters, with a massive 8 bonus characters from previous games that get unlocked. Though I would love to see Roo return. It’s another way to make score meaningful, but I would say it takes too long to earn the first unlockable, it’s good otherwise.

Overall Streets of Rage 4 is an amazing game. I have enjoyed my time with it and it’s only made me appreciate the Beat ‘em up genre far more. I honestly have fallen pretty hard for this game and series, and I can’t wait to see if we’ll get a Streets of Rage 5, hopefully it’s not another 26-year wait, but I think the positive reception to this game should mean we’ll see another before long.

So that’s what I think of Streets of Rage 4. Honestly, there have been some major technical issues with the game crashing while in Big Picture Mode and even wiping my save game, and yet I still keep coming back and playing it. That’s a sign that they’ve done something right. Overall though, I like this game and I recommend it to everyone.

So, how is everyone else enjoying the Streets of Rage 4? Do you think I’m right on the health bar being important or am I just blowing smoke? we’ll have a Humble Choice before.

Thanks for watching, if this has made you think, I’m glad, and I hope this will at least make you consider what you love about other games. If you think this earned your subscription, great and if you want to ring the bell too, that’s super awesome. If not, I understand, and thanks for giving it a shot.

If you’re interested in more from me, I’ll pop up my set of short reviews from last week and some other videos so feel free to check them out.

Until then I’m Kinglink and thanks for watching.