When iconic video game series are brought back into the limelight, it’s often done with some sort of reboot or reimagining. 2016’s Doom was an incredible experience, but it sought to forge it’s own identity while remaining true to the style of the original shooter. The release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare last year also abandoned sequel numbering and forged a familiar, but new path as a stark re-imagining of the franchise.
While it’s admirable to see developers take a familiar franchise and put a sharp new spin on it, there’s something equally satisfying about seeing developers acknowledge the lineage of a series and put their all into crafting a true sequel. This is what Dotemu aims to do with Windjammers 2 and Streets of Rage 4 – the latter co-developed with Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games – both of which are sequels to long-dormant arcade classics, looking to bring that same old-school experience into a modern spotlight.
The fact that Windjammers 2 is a real video game that is really coming out still absolutely boggles my mind. I discovered the 1994 Neo Geo cult classic on a whim back in 2014, thanks to the live-stream antics of the folks at Giant Bomb. Since then, I’ve gotten my hands on the game in as many forms as possible, from shoddy emulations to eventual ports and remasters on modern systems. Seeing the game step back out of the past and gain new fans and competitive tournaments has put a smile on my face, but seeing a brand new entry into the franchise made that smile ten times bigger. You know, a bit like Pennywise.
When I sat down to play the game, I figured that my muscle memory would kick in and I’d be able to hold my own in my half hour of matches with the lead producer of the game from Dotemu. I was immediately and thoroughly proven very, very wrong. As it turns out, a few new movement options have been added to Windjammers 2 that mix up the regular loop of the game a bit.
The original Windjammers was admittedly pretty simple, but that simplicity is what made it so iconic and addictive. Thankfully the new actions in Windjammers 2 don’t ruin that simplicity, as the producer admits they wanted to make sure to keep the casual appeal that the original game had, but add a higher skill ceiling. One new action, the slap-shot, lets you charge the B button and release to swiftly deflect the disc straight back at your opponent instead of smoothly tossing it. The new jump ability, meanwhile, allows you to grab a disc that has been lobbed into the air by you or your opponent in order to slam it back down onto the court, or fake out your enemy and transition back into a normal toss.
The jump threw me for a loop for most of my time with the game. Since it was mapped to the same button as the disc-toss, I often found myself pressing it too early and jumping right over an oncoming disc instead of catching it. On top of that, the wires in my brain would often mix up the new jump with the classic slide during heated exchanges. For those struggling to adapt, Windjammers 2 is set to have fully remappable controls, so I’ll likely end up mapping that jump to a new button.
Windjammers 2 is also set to have something that I absolutely drooled over when I first heard about it: post-launch support. The producers plan to have a steady trickle of new content to the game after it releases, from new stages and characters to seasonal events and more. Windjammers feels like the perfect game to turn into a constantly growing platform, so tacking modern DLC support onto that same, addictive disc-lobbing gameplay sounds like a recipe for success.
Streets of Rage 4, meanwhile, is an even stronger example of blending the strongest parts of the previous games with incredible new modern updates. Both of these sequels sport a gorgeous, hand-drawn style, but in Streets of Rage 4 it’s even more impressive thanks to the variety of locales and lighting you’ll travel through. The real visual magic comes from the vivid particle effects that fly from your fists and feet with every attack, lighting up the characters with eye-catching flashes of colour.
The perfect example of how Streets of Rage 4 manages to bridge the old with the new can be seen in the lineup of playable characters. Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding return, and they feel exactly how they used to. They can’t run or sprint at all, but they deliver the same meaty strings of attacks they used to, all while sporting fantastic updates to their visual design.
If you go with either of the three new characters, though, you’ll be in for a much faster and flashier experience. Cherry and Adam both sport sprinting abilities, as well as lengthy and incredibly badass combos that deliver some of the most jaw-dropping action in the game. Newly revealed grappler Floyd Iraia is big and burly, and can grab enemies in the palm of his hand to smash them into the ground or toss them around like rags.
Regardless of who you play as, don’t expect Streets of Rage 4 to be a walk in the park. Enemies dynamically scale in strength and number depending on how many players are in the game, so bringing a buddy in won’t help you much in evening the odds against tough foes and brutal bosses. You also won’t get far is you run in mashing buttons, but if you smartly work together and play to your character’s strengths, you might just stand a chance.
A few new abilities help out as well. One is an ultimate attack you can unleash after collecting special tokens. The tokens aren’t frequent, though, so you’ll have to choose when you use the ability carefully. The other new control addition seems minor, but will feel like a big deal to long-time beat ’em up fans. You now have a dedicated item pickup button, removing the frustrations of accidentally grabbing the food a friend needed or struggling to pick up your own item in the heat of battle.
Both titles serve to show off just how dedicated Dotemu is to bringing these classic arcade experiences into a modern light. They sport gorgeous new visuals, slick gameplay updates, and some ambitious post-launch support plans, yet they also maintain the core gameplay and charm that made their predecessors so unforgettable in the first place. Here’s hoping that both games can deliver that same memorable kind of experience when they launch later this year.