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Critiquing the Survival Mode in Streets of Rage 4

The new survival mode of Streets of Rage 4 is a ton of fun, but it strays away from the main game’s design in some major ways.

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Streets of Rage 4 survival mode Dr. Zan

The Mr. X Nightmare DLC for Streets of Rage 4 was released a few weeks ago, and to say that it adds extra value to the experience would be an understatement. All three of the newly introduced characters (plus the secret fourth character) are outrageously fun to play as, and they help give the already intensely replayable campaign even more longevity. To some, however, the new survival mode is the main attraction of the DLC, and for good reason.

The survival mode is absolutely bursting at the seams with new content and assets, including a whole host of new weapons, enemies, and arenas that make for truly off-the-wall scenarios. And because of the randomized nature of the mode, players can potentially replay it for days at a time and still experience something new. All of this being said, the survival mode has very different design sensibilities compared to the main campaign, both for better and for worse, and it is worth examining where the mode succeeds and where it potentially strays away from what made the main campaign so engaging.

The Appeal of the Base Game

One of the best aspects of Streets of Rage 4’s campaign is the fact that nearly every gameplay element is designed with intention. Every move has a specific purpose, whether it be for launching an enemy off the ground or granting the player character invulnerability frames, and players are expected to know which moves to use during any given situation. The game enforces this need to strategize through the enemy designs, which often counter specific moves and take advantage of players’ vulnerability periods.

And because players have the same moves and stats (not counting unlockable characters) from the beginning of the game to the end, the primary factor that contributes to whether players succeed or fail is their own skill. At first glance, it is easy to think that the crowded enemy waves of the higher difficulties are too excessive or unfair, but watch any full combo video of any stage on Youtube, and it becomes much more clear what the developers had in mind when designing the game’s combat system.

Streets of Rage 4 survival mode Estel
Image courtesy of Dotemu

How the Survival Mode Changes the Game

Streets of Rage 4’s survival mode, on the other hand, only contains traces of the calculated design featured in the main campaign. The mode starts similarly to the campaign in terms of the enemy layouts and players’ movesets, but at the end of every stage, players equip perks that can alter the player character significantly. Some of these perks are simple stat increases, but others give moves elemental buffs with multiple areas of effect, and a few give players certain benefits while imposing some sort of disadvantage.

By the 20th stage or so, players end up controlling a character radically different from what they started with. Additionally, players have to contend with massive enemy waves that dwarf even the ones found in the newly added Mania+ difficulty. Waves often pit players against multiple bosses at once, and enemy movement speeds and stats eventually increase to a comical extent. More than anything else in the game, the survival mode emphasizes pure chaos, which is made even more evident by the arenas’ plentiful environmental hazards.

The Mode’s Successes

To be clear, the survival mode’s design approach is not inherently bad. In fact, the mode’s endless nature means that presenting these kinds of overwhelming scenarios is one of the only practical ways to prevent situations in which a skilled player repetitively builds their score until they grow bored. And even aside from that, the survival mode handles many of its mechanics quite intelligently. All of the perks are relatively simple and easy to understand at a glance, and they avoid bogging players down in numbers and obtuse jargon. Some of the perks, such as the double jump, allow players to extend their combos far beyond what was originally possible, which makes these upgrades much more interesting and enjoyable to play around with than a simple stat buff.

Boss stages and difficulty increases are encountered every four stages or so, which gives the mode a refreshingly quick pace compared to similar modes found in other games. Best of all, players that dislike the mode’s random elements can choose the weekly-generated gauntlets, which feature fixed stages, enemy layouts, and perks. Streets of Rage 4’s developers clearly thought extensively about how the survival mode could appeal to as many players as possible, and that attention to detail definitely paid off.

Streets of Rage 4 survival mode Floyd and Blaze
Image courtesy of Dotemu

The Mode’s Shortcomings

Despite how enjoyable Streets of Rage 4’s survival mode is, it suffers due to its excessive encouragement of dominant strategies. The later stages spawn absurdly powerful enemies in such abundance that most of the strategies used in the main campaign lose their practicality. Instead, players rely mostly on the aforementioned elemental buffs to keep large swaths of enemies at bay, and the best way to dish out these elemental buffs as fast as possible is by spamming a single move. The best move for these scenarios depends on the character, but the blitz, which is executed by double-tapping forward before pressing the attack button, is generally the safest bet.

Blitz attacks cost no health, deal decent damage, have invincibility frames on startup, and usually keep the player character mobile. Spamming this move does not leave the character completely invincible, and reaching the later stages of survival mode still requires an immense degree of skill, but the strategy’s sheer dominance almost completely invalidates the varied, expressive options that make the rest of Streets of Rage 4 so compelling. Watch any high-level survival mode video on Youtube and the player will almost always resort to this exact strategy (or they will spam the forward special move if they are playing as Shiva). If anyone was hoping to watch advanced players trouncing the mode’s later stages using the most stylish combos imaginable, then they will be sorely disappointed, as those stages actively discourage that type of play. It is entirely possible that players will discover ways to make survival mode runs more mechanically engaging, but based on what the playerbase has produced so far, that does not seem likely.

Streets of Rage 4 survival mode Adam
Image courtesy of Dotemu

A New Flavor of Streets of Rage 4

Ultimately, though, it is important to emphasize that the survival mode is absolutely a worthy addition to Streets of Rage 4. It brings so much new content to the game that it is almost suffocating, and the seemingly infinite number of ways in which runs can play out makes the mode incredibly addictive. Although the mode’s issues may seem damning on the surface, it is easy to forget about them when clobbering 20 bad guys at once and watching the combo counter skyrocket. It is considerably more mindless than the main game, but maybe that is okay. As long as the main game remains intact, there is nothing wrong with having a little bit of dumb fun.

Daniel Pinheiro has an M.A. in Community Journalism. He is deeply passionate about gaming experiences and the lessons they can teach us. Although he tends to gravitate toward platformers, he is willing to try out any game made with love and care. He also enjoys seeing the world and what it has to offer.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Galsia

    September 20, 2021 at 2:53 pm

    Overall, I’ve come to the conclusion survival mode is flawed. See below for critical issues (in my opinion)

    -Enemy damage dealt seems to be based on some sort of exponential growth algorithm, which makes taking defense upgrades obsolete, because in the higher levels of say 35+, you are going to face practically one hit kills from most enemies no matter what. If the devs wanted to make the levels nearly impossible at only around 1 hour of gameplay (for most characters), then they succeeded. But it should be relatively possible for strong players to be able to continue for a few hours before the levels actually reach ‘impossibility’ status. Because of this, most characters have a “cap” or “ceiling” where you’ll notice every run, even with very optimal play, reaches about the same point.

    -The mode is strongly tailored towards only the new characters, making the former characters practically obsolete in the entire game, but notably severely obsolete in survival mode.

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