Last year’s Streets of Rage 4 was an easy highlight. I wasn’t at Prima just yet when it dropped, but you can consider this 9/10 review as part of the official Prima Games canon. Continuity is important, you know. Lizardcube and Guard Crush made a tremendous game in a genre screaming for evolution. So it makes sense that a year later we’re looking at some new content. And while there’s only so much you can do, Mr. X Nightmare simply leans on what Streets of Rage 4 does best and twists it just a little, and I’m hooked all over again.

Related: Streets of Rage 4 Beginner's Tips

First off it’s important to make a distinction between the Mr X. Nightmare DLC and an update to the base Streets of Rage 4 happening at the same time (today-ish). The update is mostly tweaks under the hood, but it also adds a Training Mode. Streets of Rage 4 is an arcade-style beat ‘em up, but it also leverages the older games’ interest in special moves to add all kinds of fighting game flair. Now you can lab combo tech, which is exactly what this game needed to close that loop.

Mr X. Nightmare adds the new content. Three of SoR 4’s boss characters are playable now, including Estel, whom I’ve been dreaming of playing as in this game. Shiva and Max are cool too of course, and have history here. Estel is totally new, and her moveset is pure OTG madness. And Training Mode only helps emphasize how much these characters (old and new) are truly capable of. But the real main attraction here is Survival Mode, and frankly I can’t believe I’m looking at one of these with such enthusiasm.

Survival Mode is often one of those things you expect to see in a fighting game or sometimes a brawler as just an extra mode. It’s an endless wave of enemies, you can practice or just get in extra “for the sake of it” play time. But not here. This Survival Mode is an X-Men Danger Room-like situation in which our heroes utilize technology to simulate Mr X. and his thirst for violence. He also really likes roguelikes apparently, because that’s what this Survival Mode actually is.

You can either choose a random seed or a set one that changes each week, and your goal is to survive through as many rooms as possible. Each room can show up in several variations, with all kinds of traps, environmental hazards, item boxes and enemy configurations. And if you manage to survive a room, you get to pick a power-up that can change the properties of your attacks, boost weapons or offer some kind of risk-reward situation such as a drain effect on your attacks in exchange for healing items only offering points.

As the rooms get tougher, the ways the game gets there become more and more complicated. Bosses will show up at regular intervals and team up with each other, split themselves into two, get new properties themselves or even just show up as normal enemies. This is in addition to the growing number of traps that can appear, many of them new to this mode. That means you have to learn them too! It also means there are hilarious opportunities to just stand still and let the stage take care of things for you. 

Each run feels exciting and fresh, and the better you perform the more stuff you unlock! There are also new items and weapons included with the DLC, making picking stuff up a nice break from the combo intensity whenever you see something new. And when you finally do lose, you earn character-specific EXP to unlock alternate moves (pick ‘em on character select), more enemy types to practice against in Training Mode, more groups of new items and the classic bonuses like concept art.

Before I booted Streets of Rage 4 back up to try out the DLC, I honestly wasn’t expecting much. That’s how it is with “Survival” modes; I just sort of tune them out due to their mundanity. I was excited to run through the story as Estel of course, but I didn’t pay close attention otherwise. But man, Streets of Rage 4 wasn’t having it. This Survival Mode, with its roguelike gimmicks and cool lore-adjacent simulation vibe is a blast. I can see myself coming back to this more than the story, especially with co-op being available on top of everything else. Training Mode was an instant boost to my skill ceiling, and Survival Mode is the perfect new way to utilize that bump.

One of the best of 2020 is a lot better.


 

A copy of this DLC pack was provided by the publisher for review