The Super Nintendo is no pushover when it comes to the RPG genre; taking the Super Famicom into consideration, the console’s roster of RPGs rises even more both in quantity and quality. RPGs more or less defined the SNES, and it’s hard to pair any other console with a singular genre. This is not to say that the Super Nintendo lacked in other titles (far from it), but its RPGs were more than often on another tier entirely. Chrono Trigger is still considered one of the greatest games of all time, blending fantastic gameplay with a meaningful narrative; Secret of Mana is remembered fondly for its charming atmosphere and unique take on the action RPG format; Final Fantasy VI broke defined narrative conventions to push the genre further. And while it lacks the same legacy as the aforementioned games, Terranigma deserves mention in any discussion regarding the Super Nintendo’s roster of games.
The last game Quintet developed for the Super Nintendo, Terranigma released in the fall of 1995 in Japan, followed by a PAL region release in the winter of 1996. Selling rather poorly due to the Nintendo 64’s looming presence, Quintet’s SNES run ended on a rather quiet note. In some respects, Terranigma can be compared directly to Chrono Trigger, a JRPG that released a year earlier and lacked a full worldwide release, but that game managed to miss the threat of the Nintendo 64’s presence while cementing its status as one of the most influential games to release on the SNES.
Alas, Terranigma was not destined to share the same fate. The dissolution of Enix America Corporation, which had served to localize Quintet’s SNES titles in the United States, also meant that Terranigma never saw a U.S. release. With all this stacked against the game, it’s no wonder that Terranigma fell under the radar of great SNES RPGs. As of 2004, Quintet has gone silent and likely defunct, but Terranigma nevertheless remains a testament to the talent the studio was working with.
Even if Quintet was not able to find the success it needed to stay afloat, and even if their best games more or less faded into the background — simply pieces of the Super Nintendo’s greater library — that doesn’t change how meaningful, beautiful, and well crafted Terranigma is. From its gameplay to its story to its level design, Terranigma is everything an end-of-life SNES RPG should have been, and more. It has more combat depth than any other action RPG on the console, a story so thoughtfully written that it puts modern gaming narratives to shame, and creative dungeon design that rivals that of A Link to the Past. Terranigma is the full package that barely anybody played.
What’s particularly interesting about Terranigma is just how aware it is of its genre conventions, presenting a deceptively simple RPG that eventually turns the world it has seemingly presented on its head. To be fair, this is a trait Terranigma shares with both Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia — its sister games also developed by Quintet — but it takes the premise one step further than either RPG, fully committing to darker and more mature moments with a considerable amount of tact. At its core, Terranigma is a lonely game, one that carefully examines the cycle of life and death. Like many RPGs, it all begins in a small hometown.
Unlike many RPGs, however, players are greeted to a horrifying sight once they leave protagonist Ark’s home of Crysta. Instead of walking out into a lush field of greenery begging to be explored, Ark’s world is desolate, dark, and filled with bodies of lava instead of water. The overworld is more of an underworld — a perverse subversion of what players would naturally expect when exiting a town. There are similarities between Ark’s underworld and, say, Final Fantasy VI’s World of Ruin, but Terranigma’s land is outright apocalyptic, with virtually no life outside of Ark’s village.
The impact of this setting is made all the greater by the fact that Ark’s village is, for all intents and purpose, an average JRPG hometown. Ark is almost generically rebellious, has a love interest who seems to exist solely to benefit his character, and listens to a much older grandfather figure who offers him guidance; in fact, most NPCs feature whimsy dialogue that showcase just how sheltered Crysta is. Leaving Crysta for the first time is a genuinely shocking moment that flips the script completely. Terranigma is anything but atypical, and Crysta exists solely to mislead the player.
Quite blatantly in hindsight, too. Shortly after the game begins, Ark inadvertently opens Pandora’s Box, freezing everyone in Crysta save for himself and the Elder. What follows is Ark traveling to the underworld’s five towers in order to not only restore life back to Crysta, but to also seemingly resurrect a dead world. As the player has intimate knowledge of Crysta but not the other world Ark is resurrecting, said resurrection naturally takes a back seat to Ark’s main motivation of saving Crysta.
It doesn’t take much to realize that Ark will eventually visit the world he’s resurrecting, but the underworld segment intentionally hides something from the player — after the final tower is cleared, Ark will not be able to return to Crysta. The first chapter is easily the shortest in the game, but it’s also the one chapter that plays out the most like a typical RPG. Ark’s relationship with his love interest, Elle, is meaningfully developed, while a clear quest with guidelines is given to the player, and the story moves at a natural pace, clearly presenting the next step. When Ark leaves the underworld at the end of Chapter 1, it comes as a genuine surprise. All familiar ties are severed, and an already lonely world is made all the lonelier.
Although the first chapter gives players access to more or less their entire skill set, it isn’t until Ark leaves the underworld that the combat and dungeon design truly begin to shine. The towers themselves feature plenty of puzzles and enemies, but they’re still very much tutorial-esque. They serve to teach the player, not challenge the player; as a result, it’s easy to get the impression that Terranigma doesn’t offer much of a challenge early on. Once Ark reaches the overworld, however, and players are left to fend for themselves, the entire experience changes. Enemies are more aggressive, puzzle solutions are more inconspicuous, and the comparatively massive overworld begs for deep, detailed exploration.
With enemies targeting Ark more often, his natural move set ends up getting greater use. Fighting with a staff, Ark’s basic attack has him stabbing towards enemies, but by briefly button-pausing between stabs, Ark can carefully move while attacking as well. Should a player start spamming the attack button, however, Ark will lunge into a flurry of jabs that, when properly positioned, can do an incredible amount of damage towards enemies at a frantically fast pace.
Ark can also jump and run, both of which fundamentally change how Ark attacks. By simply jumping while walking, Ark will leap into a spin attack that can reliably knock enemies back while doing fair damage. Running, however, is where Ark shines most. By dashing into a jab, Ark will leap forward with his staff, smashing through whatever is in his way. By running, jumping, and attacking, Ark can also dropkick his enemies; should a player attack immediately after the kick lands, Ark will then transition into his forward attack, chaining two useful attacks together.
Of all of Ark’s abilities, his block will naturally get the least amount of use throughout the game; since Ark is so mobile, an adept player will simply be able to dodge damage. That said, the block does play a crucial role (especially in the final boss where it’s downright necessary for survival) in deflecting certain projectiles, and decreasing the amount of damage that Ark takes. While there’s not much players can do to make blocking as fluid as attacking, it can be used strategically and intelligently.
Outside of his natural abilities, Ark can also use magic through the Magirock system. By trading Magirocks to magician shopkeepers, Ark can purchase rings and pins that augment his natural abilities. The Fire Ring allows Ark to blast out a burst of flame, the Elec Ring delivers an AoE attack over the whole screen, the Grass Pin serves as an alternative to healing, and so on and so forth. Interestingly, as there is a finite amount of Magirocks in the game, players cannot solely rely on magic to get by. This is invoked by the game design itself, outright blocking the player from using magic in some boss fights, and it adds another layer of strategy to the core gameplay loop.
However, good combat is nothing without good enemy and level design. It doesn’t matter how varied Ark’s moveset is if said moves don’t amount to much. Thankfully, Terranigma is Quintet’s best game when it comes to enemy and dungeon design. While Soul Blazer had its fair share of interesting enemies, the simpler combat meant that encounters rarely got too exciting, even with magic. Illusion of Gaia featured more varied combat options, but let the enemy design falter in favor of placing an emphasis on puzzle solving (with a few notable boss fight exceptions). Terranigma follows after IoG’s example, ironing out the kinks in the process.
Enemies constantly target Ark, especially later in the game. Their aggression inherently puts his abilities to the test at all times. While Terranigma isn’t particularly difficult on a whole, the enemies do put up a good fight, and getting careless can quickly lead to a game over. Simply attacking blindly — especially in boss fights — goes against the natural design of the game. Of course, by the end players likely won’t be having too much trouble, since Terranigma is rather generous with giving Ark strong equipment, but the level of challenge never gets as brain-dead as it eventually does in Soul Blazer, or as downright punishing as Illusion of Gaia can occasionally get (Bloody Mary’s boss fight notwithstanding).
In the same way Illusion of Gaia used real-life locations for its dungeons, Terranigma opts to share in that same spectacle, albeit with its own twist. Rather than having the dungeons be based on real-life locations, they’re located in real-life locations instead. For example, the first major dungeon in the overworld — the Ra Tree — takes place smack-dab in the middle of the Amazon. And where Illusion of Gaia relied on more obtuse puzzle solving, demanding that players pay attention to the world around them in order to proceed, Terranigma takes a more Zelda-esque approach. While both games are valid in how they present dungeons, Terranigma’s take is a bit more universal in execution, perhaps depriving the game of higher highs when it comes to dungeon design, but also avoiding lower dips in quality.
Every now and then, Ark will find key items in major dungeons that allow him to bypass puzzles. If items don’t play a role in said dungeons, then the overall designs skews more towards pure exploration, setting players loose and allowing them to explore in order to make progress. Terranigma does require an attention to detail in later dungeons more often than not, but most puzzles are designed around being solved in a way that feels natural and conclusive in regards to the gameplay. Dungeons are spacious, but never so big where players are bound to get lost. Puzzles are engaging, but never frustratingly so.
The biggest contribution Chapter 2 brings to Terranigma, however, is its approach to NPCs. Throughout the second chapter, Ark enters dungeons so that he can resurrect all the life that’s been lost on Earth. In a sequence that mirrors the creation in the Book of Genesis, he brings back greenery, water, and plant life before restoring birds, land animals, and humans — in that order. What this means is that Ark is truly alone for the entire chapter, as humans aren’t resurrected until the very end of Chapter 2, and can’t be interacted with until Chapter 3.
During the second chapter, Ark gets to know the animals around him, as do the players. They form natural connections with one another as animals actively help Ark on his quest. One of the most meaningful interactions in the game comes from Ark helping a young lion cub, Leim, finish his trial into adulthood so that he can go home. The dungeon itself isn’t too long, but it sees Ark interacting with Leim all the way to the end. The two form a bond, getting to know each other, and Leim ends up as one of the game’s more memorable characters as a result.
However, when it comes time for humans to be resurrected, Ark loses his ability to speak with animals. While it seems natural that Ark would have more in common with the humans who have been revived than the animals he had previously interacted with, there is a key difference in how the game depicts animals and man. Animals live in nature, live off nature, and act by their nature. They are not evil, they are not cruel — they just are. Their actions exist for their own survival, and they live off the land as is.
Humans are in direct contrast to this. They aren’t all friendly, with many betraying or misleading Ark during the events of the third chapter. They fundamentally change the world around them, building settlements, tearing down nature, and even showing cruelty towards animals in some specific cases. Mankind does not exist to live in nature, but to change nature. With few exceptions, it is in man’s nature to look out for themselves, even at the expense of the world around them. By the time Ark can communicate with humans, it seems as though he has nothing in common with the people around him, yet no longer has means of communicating with the animals.
In a world teeming with life, Ark ends up coming off more alone than before. Even as he interacts with a larger supporting cast during Chapter 3 — a cast that develops and appears quite often, in fact — any attempts made to forge a relationship with Ark end up falling through. He is an outsider in the overworld, but no one else can save it but him. While Chapter 3 brings out quite a few twists and turns, it really isn’t until near the end when Terranigma puts its theme-building on the back burner in order to push the narrative further.
Ark’s arc isn’t like Will’s from Illusion of Gaia; while it’s easy to fall into the trap of interpreting his story as a typical coming of age narrative, Ark’s is more complicated than that. He’s the only person who can save the Earth because he’s the only one on Earth who sees the full picture. He’s been with the planet since its resurrection began. While other characters do acknowledge the mystical nature of the world, only Ark truly understands its full scope ¯ or at least, that’s the impression that the game gives off.
By the end of Chapter 3, it’s made clear that Ark was tricked the whole time. He was never truly saving the Earth, but prepping it for the embodiment of darkness to take over, eliminating all unnecessary life and locking whatever remains into a state of perpetual immortality. This minor change completely recontextualizes not only what Ark had been doing the entire game, but has implications on his arc as well. He simply followed orders, believing that what he was doing was right, and remade the world as he was told; however, he likewise did something that gave him the strength to carry on even after his supposed failure: he remade himself.
Terranigma’s final chapter is titled “Resurrection of the Hero.” Unlike other chapters in the game, the finale sees Ark tackle one singular dungeon without willing anything else into the world. Rather, Ark’s main act in the chapter is destroying the embodiment of darkness, Dark Gaia. This act restores the world to its most natural state, but requires Ark to die in the process. The resurrection of the “Hero” is not the revival of a person, but the affirmation of an idea that man can change and remake themselves.
By the end of the game, Ark is quieter, calmer, and more mature. Just as he lost his ability to speak to animals, he also lost his innocence in the process. He saw the world as it was — a world that wasn’t his — and remade it so that others could live, not knowing that he would never get the chance to see it flourish. At the same time, however, this is Quintet’s way of once again reaffirming the idea that mankind has to recognize the whole picture in order to survive. Soul Blazer dealt with this directly, and Illusion of Gaia alluded to it multiple times in its narrative. Terranigma places the idea front and center one final time.
Ark has been controlled the entire game, and it’s only the finale where he stands out as his own individual, free to live how he chooses. When Ark dreams for the last time, he dreams of being a bird, flying free above the overworld — free from the control of the player, from the control of the plot’s masterminds, and from his own fate. The final resurrection in a game all about life, death, and reincarnation is that of Ark himself — not as a hero, but as a simple bird.
As the credits roll, players get to witness the world that they created alongside Ark. Control has been wrested away, but that in itself is what makes it such a poignantly beautiful conclusion. Terranigma presents itself as a basic RPG at first, but slowly unravels into something all the more meaningful. Ark’s story is tragic, but it’s a necessary tragedy that never holds back. Quintet built its reputation by telling mature stories with engaging gameplay on the side, and Terranigma is the logical endpoint of their design philosophy.
Terranigma tells an amazing story about life, death, resurrection, and what it means to exist, but it does so while understanding its medium. It isn’t so much that Terranigma’s story is compelling in its own right (though it is), but rather what makes Terranigma such an incredible experience is the mere fact that it’s a video game. Players are in control. They resurrect the world alongside Ark. They play out Ark’s tragedies firsthand. They die alongside Ark and put the controller down, closing out the game. Quintet’s final SNES outing may not share the same legacy or status as its contemporaries, but that doesn’t make it lesser. A must play for anyone who likes engaging combat, well-told stories, or just wants to meaningfully reflect on life, Terranigma may very well be the best action RPG on the SNES.
PAX South 2020 Hands On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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