It’s been a very long time coming for Streets of Rage fans. 25 years have gone by since we last saw Axel, Blaze, and the rest of the gang kick ass and take names. Thankfully, the folks at Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games, and DotEmu have teamed up to convince SEGA that now is the time for these cult heroes of gaming to make their return. And thus, Streets of Rage 4 has been brought into our world in glorious fashion, and those who play its demo this weekend at PAX East know that the wait was truly worth it!

At DotEmu’s PAX East booth, myself and another player was given the chance to go hands-on with the first level of Streets of Rage 4. While we don’t know its narrative just yet, we do know that it takes place ten years after the end of Streets of Rage 3. Diving into the game as Axel & Blaze is just as easy and memorable as it was when I was a kid, with its side-scrolling beat-em-up style still intact. As you beat up the various enemies, players will uncover power-ups, health items, and even some handy weapons that can be thrown or smacked upon the bad guys’ ripped bodies.

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An improved feature of the game is how one’s powerful attack is used. In the past, using such an attack would cause damage to the player’s character; here, it’s a little different. While you do take damage, the health bar will slowly heal so long as you don’t get hit. Once you do, the bar stops filling right then and there. (So take my advice and learn to either block or quickly punch & kick your way through until it refills again.)

At the end of the level, we were greeted with a nice little boss battle that demonstrated the smart AI system Streets of Rage 4 was packing. With electric snakes in tow, the villain stopped at nothing to make sure Axel and Blaze felt some painful electricity running through their bodies. Making it even tougher were her hired goons to keep us from landing enough attacks on her. Fortunately, after some tricks pulled here and there, I finally took her down via a German Suplex. And said action was greeted with loud cheers from the developers watching us play.

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Streets of Rage 4 is thus far looking like a flawless brawler. Its hand-drawn animation is simply gorgeous, capturing the style of the 80s and 90s all in much greater detail. The controls were very easy to learn, to the point where I was wishing I could play this game on an arcade stick. Most important of all was how teamwork came into play. While there were many moments of accidental friendly fire, myself and Player Two quickly learned how we could use our skills and literally toss each other into the goons’ way to take them down a little easier.

I cannot say this enough: Streets of Rage 4 wowed me at PAX East. It has the spirit of the original games intact, all with a nicer coat of paint. While we may not know who else will be featured in the game, players can bet that some cool and familiar faces will be popping in to kick loads of ass in the long run. Leaving their booth with a giant grin on my face, I could seriously bet that DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games will be taking very good care of this beloved series.

There is currently no word on when Streets of Rage 4 will hit PC and consoles. Until then, train your thumbs and digits, because it’s going to be a slobberknocker when it comes time to throw down!

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