Is Streets of Rage 4 your first introduction to the series, or have you been busting heads in Wood Oak City since 1991? Whether you're a veteran or a newcomer, there are some surprising subtleties to Streets of Rage 4's combat system that take time to master.

Here are some tips to take with you out into the streets. Of Rage. 4.

Streets of Rage 4 Beginner's Tips

The first stage of Streets of Rage 4 does a good job of teaching you the absolute basics of its combat system. You'll learn what Star Moves are, get a feel for the basic flow of a fight, and fight a telekinetic cyborg. As one does.

However, there are a couple of key parts of SoR4's fighting system that you need to know before you can go much further into the game. If you try to simply muscle through with your old arcade skills, Stage 2 will be a rude awakening, as it forces you to at least get acquainted with SoR4's new mechanics. Primarily:

Invincibility Frames

The biggest change in SoR4 from past games, both in its series and in the arcade beat-'em-up genre, is the addition of defensive specials. When you press your special button (Triangle/Y/E) by itself, you perform a character-specific move that renders you invincible for a short period of time.

This isn't just good for clearing out some space around you in a hectic situation. You can also use it to punch through enemy moves that would otherwise be difficult to avoid.

A good example comes from the riot cops in Stage 2. They block everything you throw at them with their shield, and can knock you over with one shot from their nightsticks. If you walk up to them and land a few quick hits, then use your defensive special, you'll be invincible during their nightstick attack and can stay on your feet long enough to break their shield.

It may be easier to think of this as a parry. Every enemy in the game has a short wind-up before they launch their biggest attack, and once you learn to recognize the wind-up, you can muscle through it with your defensive special.

You do have to be careful to hit your special button by itself, however. If you press the special button in conjunction with left or right on your D-pad, you get an offensive special instead, which doesn't have invincibility frames. I've eaten a lot of attacks that I should've avoided because I got Blaze's palm strike (offensive special) instead of her backwards flip kick (defensive special).

Throws are also invincible during their animation and can't be interrupted by incoming damage. It's harder to do this deliberately, but if you've already grabbed somebody and one of his buddies winds up to hit you in the back, you can use a throw (back or forward plus the attack button) to avoid it.

Risk Vs. Reward

Special moves in general drain a little bit of life every time you use them, but that loss isn't permanent. Life that you pay to launch a special attack shows up as green on your health bar, as you can see from the screenshot below. You can regain it by landing normal attacks, with each hit regenerating a little life at a time. If you're struck by an enemy while you've got temporary health loss, though, you'll both take that damage and lose all that temporary life.

It's really easy with some characters, particularly Floyd, to spam your special attacks and end up half dead without realizing it. Special attacks are some of the most hype things you can do in SoR4, but you need to be careful about when and how to use them.

One helpful feature for first-time players is that on Easy difficulty, the temporary damage from your special attacks is seriously toned down. Streets of Rage 4 doesn't have a training mode (which would be some great DLC, hint hint), but Easy difficulty is so forgiving by comparison to Normal and up that it's the next best thing. Use Easy mode to practice your combos and setups, in preparation for the real challenges on higher difficulties and to farm points for the retro characters.

Character Select

The starting five characters in Streets of Rage 4 have a more extensive list of moves than you'd expect, especially from a game where there are only two attack buttons. It's not as simple as picking speed vs. power vs. balance, like it was back in the good old 16-bit era; you'll want to experiment with the roster to find the character that matches your personal fighting style.

Axel is one of the slower characters overall, and cannot run, hop, or dash. He does have well-balanced stats and moves, however, and you can compensate for his lack of mobility with some of his special moves. His charged attack is his good old Grand Upper, which advances him forward a bit when you throw it, and his aerial special is a lunging forward roll that sends enemies flying.

One of Axel's primary strengths is that you can cancel his ground combo into a flurry of charged punches by mashing the special button. This extended combo ends in a big flaming uppercut that can send entire crowds of enemies flying.

Blaze actually isn't that much faster than Axel, and like him, doesn't have a run, hop, or dash. Her defensive special is a flipkick that moves her slightly backwards, so it's a little easier to avoid damage with her. She can also use her aerial special to fly about a half-screen forward, as well as to add extra damage onto her jump kicks. In general, if you like Chun-Li, Blaze in SoR4 has a lot in common with her.

The real bonus with Blaze, however, is that the last hit of her basic ground combo is a heavy axe kick that knocks enemies in a sharp downward arc away from her. You can get a lot of free damage with Blaze by axe-kicking an enemy into nearby hazards, like live wires, explosive drums, or holes in the ground. She's particularly great in the glass-walled elevator sequence in Stage 9.

Cherry does less damage hit-for-hit than any of the other characters, but has the highest jump and is the only one on the base roster who can run. She can also set up some nasty combos, as her attacks with her guitar have a weird arc on them and can hit an enemy that's already on the ground. (In fighting-game terms, Cherry's got some restands and OTGs.) Cherry might not have raw power on her side, but she can do some truly stylish attack strings. Her Star Move is a forward knee slide that covers the full screen, which is great for subduing an entire pack of enemies at once, but you'll want to make sure you're facing towards the middle of the screen before you use it or most of the move is simply wasted.

One of Cherry's throws is a long flurry of punches to an enemy's head, and since throws are invincible, that's a surprisingly long window in which Cherry can't be touched. I've avoided a lot of attacks that should've knocked me flat because Cherry was too busy pummeling a dude in the face.

Floyd is the designated grappler of Streets of Rage 4, and as you might expect, moves like a glacier. He doesn't have as many problems with mobility as you might expect, however. His offensive special is to fire his hand like a grappling hook, grabbing a target from range and yanking them over to him for a grapple. You can even pick up a second enemy with his other hand and slam them together for instant, effective crowd control. Floyd's aerial special is also a big bouncing stomp that allows him to quickly close to melee, as well as being hilarious; as a downside, though, it seems to use up a lot of life.

No discussion of Floyd is complete without discussing his Star Move, where he levels the entire screen with a blast from a giant laser cannon. It may not be the qualitatively best Star Move in the game--that discussion is still evolving--but it has the widest area of any of them. When you absolutely must destroy every enemy in the room, accept no substitutes.

Adam, who's available after you clear Stage 4, is weirdly well-balanced; you'd think Axel would be the all-arounder in this game, but Adam has similar stats and an arguably better set of moves. If you press forward twice, Adam does a short "Dempsey roll" dash, which gives him an edge on mobility. His aerial special is also on par with Blaze's for both speed and utility.

If Adam has a single substantial drawback, it's that his Star Move sends him forward a couple of steps before he unleashes a giant explosion from the ground at his feet, Terry Bogard-style. If you aren't careful about your positioning, much as with Cherry, most of that explosion will end up offscreen, wasting some of its impact.

If you're looking for a simple all-around character to learn the game with, you can't go wrong with Axel or Blaze. (Adam's just as good, if not better, but isn't initially available.) If you like grapplers in fighting games, Floyd's your man. If you like being stylish more than pure efficiency--say, if you're a big Devil May Cry fan--try Cherry out.

We enjoy a lot of different fighting games here at the Prima offices. Check out some of our other brawling-centric articles on the site, including:

Streets of Rage 4 is still almost new, and fighting-game fans are finding new combos and strategies daily. Have you picked it up yet, and if so, have you gotten the chance to try out a full 4-player session? Tell us which of the characters is your favorite, and why it's Dr. Zan, by checking in with our official Twitter, @PrimaGames.