Last month DotEmu, LizardCube, and Guard Crush Games took the gaming world by surprise by announcing Streets of Rage 4 a sequel to the acclaimed SEGA series which has a place in many 90s gamer’s hearts.
With only a brief press release and a trailer, many including ourselves were very excited for the upcoming sequel even if it’s art style was a departure from the pixel art we were familiar with back in the day.
At EGX 2018, we caught up with Cyrille Imbert, DotEmu’s Owner, CEO, and executive producer on Streets of Rage 4 to talk about the game and to try and squeeze a little more information out of him. One thing we learned was that the studio was very passionate about the game and that we can say that the sequel is certainly in good hands.
We did wonder why they decided to tackle a Streets of Rage sequel, especially considering their previous games, Windjammers and Wonder Boy, were more modern takes on a classic games than straight up sequels in a series.
“if there’s no passion behind it, and it only makes sense because it’s successful or whatever, it doesn’t work”
“I’ve been a fan of the game for a long time, I used to play it a lot, I was a SEGA kid and then, y’know it was kind of the logical next step after WonderBoy,” said Imbert. “I still wanted to work on a SEGA license but I was like ‘okay, let’s try, we have nothing to lose’.
“We managed to gather an awesome team with Ben Fiquet from LizardCube and Guard Crush Games. Ben Fiquet is a huge fan of the series, as well he’s a great artist, Guard Crush Games have been working ten years on a beat ’em up engine that they’ve been improving with their community, they’ve played every single beat ’em up that exists so it just makes sense. We really started to think about the whole vision of the thing, why we wanted to do a sequel instead of a remake and what we wanted it to be and what we would include.
“I went to Japan and met with SEGA and explained everything and they liked it so a couple of months later it was a real thing!
“The way we search for licenses, we ask around, and if there’s any sparkle at some point, and we’re like ‘Yeah, that’d be so cool!’. That’s more about this because what we’ve learned with DotEmu, working only on retro licenses, is that if there’s no passion behind it, and it only makes sense because it’s successful or whatever, it doesn’t work. You need to do it because you want to have it in your hands at some point and play it and if you’re not doing it, and someone else is doing it, you’d be super happy as well if it’s well done, y’know. So that’s the main point, to be passionate about it.
“Sometimes there are ideas and if everyone agrees with you, like with Streets of Rage, everyone was excited. And when Ben came in from LizardCube when Guard Crush Games came in, we were like, ‘we can really make something awesome out of it’.”
With the press release being a basic rundown of what we can expect from the game, and the trailer showing us some of the game’s art style, we wanted to know much more about what to expect from Streets of Rage 4. One thing that Cyrille made clear was that while it is a sequel and they’re intending to respect the game’s legacy, it’s not really a sequel if there isn’t anything new.
“What I think you need to understand is that it’s a sequel so it’s not a remake so we’re not trying to reproduce everything, we’re trying to respect the legacy of the series because we are fans and because that’s something we feel is really important, but at the same time we wanted to make a modern game, it won’t be the same Streets of Rage from back in the day it will be a Streets of Rage from now. Because basically what we do as fans is what we would like to see, it’s not to make something very complicated or crazy, we’re just like ‘okay, we’re doing a sequel, we’re doing a modern sequel of Streets of Rage, what shall we do?’ And the answer is pretty obvious with what you would expect from a Streets of Rage, right? That’s what we’re doing.”
Fortunately for DotEmu, the reception from fans and the media has been overwhelmingly positive. People are excited about Streets of Rage 4, something Cyrille didn’t expect, at least not at the level it came in.
“Actually, I was expecting a bit less [support], maybe? Because I know it’s a bigger license than WonderBoy or Windjammers, so maybe not to that point. I was kind of surprised but in a very positive way, we were all super happy to see that, super excited, and it gives us a lot of confidence to go further with it and to really give the maximum of our abilities to make it a great game.
“We’re listening a lot to the community, and that’s why it was so awesome to see the people react that much to a trailer because it gave us a lot of feedback. It’s still early in development so not everything is set in stone, right? But most of the feedback we received, a huge majority of it, confirmed our vision in many ways. We do have some convictions and we won’t move from that because we want to provide something new, and we don’t want to do only fan service. I really liked the new Star Wars, Star Wars 7, but I was a bit disappointed, it’s only fan service, so I was expecting more, but it never came. We’re not doing that, right? We’re trying to do a sequel and with a sequel you bring something new, we have our convictions, we’ll take some bold decisions, but with the conviction that people will like it, seeing the whole thing.
“Like when you look at the art and just look at one mechanic, it doesn’t make the full game, you have to look at it as a whole, and with all of our convictions combined, and all the feedback we have, it should be pretty good.”
“In every aspect of the sequel, we’re really trying to balance legacy with modernity”
One of the many things that made Streets of Rage fantastic in the beginning was its cast of memorable characters. Not only playable characters such as Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding who we know will be returning, but characters like Adam Hunter and his brother Sammy “Skates” Hunter, the police support, or the leather-clad woman with a whip. Cyrille spoke a little about this, saying that while these characters may not be in the game directly, their spirit will be.
When asked about whether the thug on rollerblades would return, Cyrill did have a cryptic response:
“I’m more of a skateboard guy, so I don’t really like rollerblades, but no… he’s not in the trailer… “
As for Adam, who was playable in the first, but only cameod in the second and third games:
“In every aspect of the sequel, we’re really trying to balance legacy with modernity, and that applies to characters as well, and that’s all I can say.”
Finally, when asked about other characters, such as calling the police to dish out a rain of mortar fire, Cyrill said:
“That’s something we can’t really say right now, but definitely, I mean, those mechanics or at least the spirit of those mechanics is super cool. And if it’s not in the same shape as it was before, there will be the same spirit… so you won’t be disappointed. You will be surprised for sure, but not disappointed, I think.”
Aside from the gameplay and characters, one of the other more memorable things about the Streets of Rage series was its soundtrack. We’ve already had a comment, or should we say a “no comment” from the series’ original composer Koshiro San, but we wanted to find out more from the developer directly.
“So again the music is one of the most important aspects of the sequel, the first and most important aspect is the gameplay because that’s what made the game successful first, the second thing which made a success of the series, was music. So it’s super important for us and we have a vision for that, we have our plan, everything is set up, we are in contact with people and that’s the most I can say, basically.
“Of course, what made a success of the series back then in terms of soundtrack was the technical aspect was because the sound was amazing for MegaDrive, the second aspect was the style of music that was chosen which was really edgy at the time, it wasn’t really heard on the radio, techno music, dance, and stuff like that, it was really the early ages of electronic music, and Koshiro San put that in the game and you never heard that in a game like this, especially a beat em up from this era. That’s why it’s so awesome and still awesome to listen, it’s still modern, it doesn’t feel really old school as a soundtrack, and the third thing is the diversity of tracks, so we can have Jazz, Funk, Electronic music, Dance, whatever you know, depending on the stage you are in. It changes all the time and that also made that, it’s not repetitive, it’s not just like Techno all the time, it changes depending, and every track is really well mastered, it’s not like a techno guy that’s trying to do some jazz, it feels like it fits.
“So these three pillars, except the technical aspect because nowadays it doesn’t mean much because all the machines are the same, but in terms of diversity and in terms of the novelty of the music that’s what we’re aiming for. Always with the same spirit of respecting the legacy. So not completely obliterating what’s done in the past, but kind of like transforming it or at least keeping what’s best in terms of spirit, in terms of rhythm, or whatever, but doing something very modern and very new.”
Finally, one of the other aspects we wanted to touch on was the art style which is already a departure from the series we know and love. Now instead of MegaDrive-style pixel art, the game takes on a more hand-drawn animated HD look.
We didn’t do any market study [with the art style] or say that pixel art is done we should do HD or whatever, at the beginning when I was thinking about Streets of Rage 4, I didn’t have a preconceived idea on how it should look, my most important idea was to find someone that’s passionate and talented enough to be up to the task and Ben is beyond that. So when I saw the first draft I was like ‘yeah, I want that!’.
Currently, Streets of Rage 4 doesn’t have a release date as it’s still in the early stages of development, you can find out more info over on the game’s website. The game is being shown to press, however, the current build isn’t enough for public preview. We could have gotten hands-on with the game, but sadly Cyrill didn’t pack an EU to UK adapter with his PC. We’re totally not bitter about this… at all…
Update (06/10/2018): So it turns out that, because I’m an idiot (and probably because I personally didn’t play Streets of Rage 2), I mistook some characters for enemies. The article has now been edited to reflect that.