Streets of Rage 4 is real. Publisher DotEmu and developer Lizard Cube are making it right now. Their goal is to build a sequel to Sega’s classic beat-’em-up franchise that feels like the original team made it using today’s technology. That’s something DotEmu has a lot of experience with. To achieve that modern-retro balance, Lizard Cube designer Cyrille Lagarigue is meticulously combing over the original games.
Streets of Rage and its sequels launched on Sega’s Genesis, even though they played like arcade games. They featured multiplayer cooperative action. You would control a hero like Axel or Blaze in a long-form street brawl against punks, muay thai boxers, and other villains. The beat-’em-up genre was well established by this point, but Sega pushed it over the top with striking art and an incredible Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack.
The Lizard Cube team is aware that beat-em-ups have evolved into character action games like Bayonetta. But the studio doesn’t want to go that route. It wants Streets of Rage 4 players to recall what it was like to experience the 16-bit entries but with a new, thrilling makeover. And Lagarigue and the rest of the Lizard Cube team are going to some extreme lengths to ensure they capture that.
“How we work is, we try to work from the original timing — how it feels, and we build on that,” Lagarigue told me during an interview at the PAX West fan event earlier this month. “It starts from the original timing. I think Axel’s punch is pretty close to the original punch. Maybe one or two frames more to show more of the animation.”
To test that timing and feel, Lagarigue has rigged up something special for this project.
“Often I have two games running at the same time, playing with the same controller,” he explained. “An emulator and then our game simultaneously. Just to see if the feeling is right, you know? If I have the same kind of feeling.”
When I played Streets of Rage 4 at PAX West, the first thing I noticed were the stylized HD visuals, but then I just kept thinking about how Axel played and felt right. At the same time, this is a sequel. It isn’t a remake. The developers want to do some things that are new or different.
“I analyzed the game frame by frame,” DotEmu marketing boss and developer Arnaud De Sousa said. “But we made some changes. We wanted to try to get the feel of the games, but we made some little tweaks here and there. For example, Blaze’s combo now ends with a different kick. We take inspiration from the games, but it’s changed a little.”
It’s all about taking the approach that Sega would have taken for a hypothetical Streets of Rage 4 in the 1990s.
“We really think about, what if the devs of the time had our technology,” said Lagarigue. “What would they do? That’s why we don’t go for pixel art. We think that if devs at the time had this technology, they wouldn’t have had pixel art. We’re looking for that, but we’re also doing our own game. We have our own experiences. We like fighting games, for example, so we try to bring that.”
And that’s what fans of Streets of Rage should want — a developer who is going to bring it.