Recently it was announced that Streets of Rage 4 is coming. Lizardcube are the developers behind this 20+ year separating entry in the popular 16-bit brawler franchise that helped push Sega forward against Nintendo. Sega of the 16-bit era was like no Sega since - not even the 32-bit era that followed closely the demise of the Genesis. Brawlers was one area that Nintendo had to rely on third parties to fill as the Big N did not have anything of their own in this genre (Super Smash Bros saw life begin on the Nintendo 64). With such an iconic brawler series you would think Sega would have done more with the franchise going forward.
Sega knew they had a hit on their hands with the original Streets of Rage release. They finally had a franchise that Nintendo could not compete with. Streets of Rage 2 being the high watermark of the franchise re-enforces the “third game curse” that SNK is best known for - though Sega was largely able to avoid it’s obvious problems which SNK could not.
Had Sega had their right mind about them we might have gotten a new Streets of Rage game on Saturn using the Astal, or the Clockwork Knight, engine. Either engine would have been suitable for a brawler in 2.5D. I am not knocking either of those games, just saying Sega could have easily used the engine of either game for the basis of a new brawler to get development moving forward quicker and cheaper.
I am sure there are technical reasons they did not do this.
Unfortunately, all we got was the original three entries in the franchise (with SoR 2 being the high watermark) and two SoR games for the Game Gear. Since then we have been doled out re-releases on compilations for Sega CD (of all things) and many platforms since then including the Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Steam, etc. These re-releases have no real additions to them - no improved graphics, no new levels, no new characters, no new anything. Unless you count problems with the emulation software to run the re-releases which have brought lag infested controls, bad sound emulation, and more problems as “upgrades”.
Capcom, Sega’s biggest competition in the brawler world, attempted 3D with their 32-bit Final Fight offering and it was less than a quality entry worthy of the name. It didn't help that Final Fight Revenge took the franchise into Street Fighter II territory with 1 on 1 fighting instead of scrolling brawler.
Until recently, it was clear that Sega had very little interest in bringing the Streets of Rage franchise a new entry - rather the company chose to simply re-release the originals in some form and collect money from fans wanting to relive their gaming heydays.
The Streets of Rage franchise are still remembered as some of the best games on the Sega Genesis, if not from Sega in general. To know that for all intents and purposes that Sega left this franchise in the 16-bit era on the Sega Genesis is a shame.
No, I do not count re-releasing the originals on newer platforms as “keeping the franchise alive”. I call that simply keeping the games available. Keeping the franchise alive would be like what Nintendo does - new games in their iconic franchises along with keeping key older titles available as well.
While I myself was more of a Final Fight (the first one, not the sequels) fan myself back in the day, I grew to realize just how good the Streets of Rage franchise was. Since then I have covered many SoR 2 hacks (available here) and have grown to like that particular entry more and more with each new character hack fans have made available.
To say that Sega completely forgot the Streets of Rage franchise as they went forward with the Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast would not be a completely true statement.
Over the years that has surfaced proof that Sega at least had interest in bringing a Streets fo Rage 4 entry out sooner, all the way back on the Sega Saturn console (later an attempt on the Sega Dreamcast).
One such purported title that was to be Streets of Rage 4 was a little title from Core Design that became Fighting Force. It is clear from the very similar character designs in Fighting Force that it could have easily been a Streets of Rage franchise entry.
According to the Wikipedia page for Fighting Force we are told that Sega only pulled the Streets of Rage 4 name after disagreement over porting the finished game to rival consoles (oh, if only they knew what was coming less than a decade later).
Core Designs apparently had no idea where to go with the Fighting Force franchise either as the second entry almost completely dropped hand to hand fisticuffs altogether.
Maybe Sega pulling out of the eventual Fighting Force deal was a good thing as it is rumored that none of the franchise mainstays (Axel, Blaze, etc) would have been in the game. Instead, there was to be a completely new cast of playable characters and enemies.
A big no-no when updating a franchise that is remembered fondly.
Another 3D brawler that was alleged to at one point be Streets of Rage 4 was Die Hard Arcade (which did see release on the Sega Saturn). Sadly, had this happened it could have worked quite well as Die Hard Arcade brings brawlers into the third dimension quite well, featuring Quick Time Events for portions that would be tough to allow full player control. It is unclear why Sega did not follow through with this and went with the Die Hard Arcade title.
Years later another company, Ancient, was put to work on a Streets of Rage 4 game - this time for the Sega Dreamcast.
The information we have on the Sega Dreamcast version of Streets of Rage 4 is scarce at best.
There is apparently some portion of the game available online somewhere as there is a YouTube video of an early portion of the game in action.
What is presented in the video is quite rough and, well, ugly. Not because they were going to attempt a first-person mode, but because the game looked like a slightly better Sega Saturn 3D game.
If this was what was coming for Streets of Rage 4 then maybe we dodged a bullet with the cancellation of the Dreamcast version.
I mean, what is shown is previous little of the actual game and it would be unfair to give judgement on it based on the early work shown but man, did that Sega Dreamcast version certainly had a long way to go to. Ancient had quite a steep hill to climb based on that video.
There is a reason First Person view does not work with fighting games, or anything relying on melee weapons. It just doesn’t work. It barely works for most platforming games.
Based on the early footage that we have seen so far, Streets of Rage 4 by Lizardcube is not going to go 3D on us. It appears that it is going to use a standard viewpoint for scrolling brawlers. This is great news for fans that want more of the original.
There is concern over Axel’s weight though as there are already two versions shown in the official video.
The animated portion has Axel visibly fit while the in game footage shows a much more obese Axel. Not a great start. This could be due to the animated look Lizardcube are going for with the actual game versus a straight pixel based sprite method more akin to the 16-bit versions.
Hopefully, much like the Wonderboy game, there will be an option to turn off the new art style and go with something 16-bit looking, even better, 32-bit looking with more detail and better looking sprites rather than recreating the Streets of Rage 3 look, considering SoR 3 is arguably the best looking Streets of Rage game.