Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare Soundtrack, Tee Lopes, 2021
The renaissance of 2d gaming, which kicked off in the 2010s, wasn’t just a boon for indie gaming. Enterprising developers successfully revived classic franchises that had lain dormant – and among them was Streets of Rage. 2020’s Streets of Rage 4 arguably didn’t break any new ground, but it was a skilfully executed take on perenially satisfying beat’em up mechanics. Commercial success followed strong reviews – a year after launching, the game had sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide. Of course, that meant DLC would soon follow and indeed arrived in the shape of Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare. The expansion’s main addition was a new Survival Mode (seemingly inspired by roguelikes), three new playable characters and a more challenging difficulty level.
Given the franchise’s towering musical reputation, it’s no surprise that much care and attention had been lavished on the Streets of Rage 4 soundtrack. Spearheaded by Olivier Deriviere, the score also saw previous series composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima returning to the fold. A roster of guest composers including Yoko Shimomura completed the star-studded line-up. However, the competently-written and -produced score didn’t reach the same lofty heights as its predecessors – an unwieldy two-hour running time probably didn’t help. For Mr. X Nightmare, the developers approached an up-and-coming composer who had already contributed an additional remix for an exclusive Streets of Rage 4 soundtrack CD release: Tee Lopes.
Having entered the industry on the strength of his YouTube game music remixes, Lopes first turned heads with his work on 2017’s Sonic Mania. Closing one of his post-Sonic Mania interviews, Lopes listed a hypothetical Streets of Rage game as his favourite next project to work on. Small wonder, given that according to Lopes, “Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack is one of the main reasons I ever dreamed of making music for games”. Naturally, that meant writing the Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare soundtrack was nothing less than a childhood dream come true: “It’s impossible to describe how meaningful this project is to me as a professional composer, but even more so to the child that still lives inside of me.”
Lopes’ aim for Mr. X Nightmare was to continue down the path taken by Deriviere on Streets of Rage 4: redefining the franchise’s music by adding contemporary elements (or “outlandish features”, as Lopes put it). On this occasion, these included heavy metal, trap, dub and jungle. What also impacted the soundtrack was the frenetic pace of the newly-added Survival Mode. Lopes characterised his tracks as featuring few breaks – “they’re chaotic in nature and structure”. And yes, the Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare soundtrack is indeed a consistently in-your-face affair. However, Lopes manages to shape all that rampant energy into succinct, hugely entertaining cues, thanks to his lavish, carefully crafted arrangements and sharply honed pop instincts.
In fact, this might well be the most melodic soundtrack of the entire franchise. Not that previous Streets of Rage scores (maybe other than part 3) were lacking in that department. Still, Lopes’ compositions rely on relatively simple, but immediately catchy melodies more than any other SoR soundtrack. Where the music gains its complexity and intrigue is through the dense, colourful layers of beats and rhythms that carry these melodies – a finely calibrated contrast between focused immediacy and sprawling creativity. “Aerial Justice” and “Wings of Fury” (each stage theme appears in two arrangements) crystallise Lopes’ particular approach best. With their pounding beats and straightforward, effective guitar leads, these anthemic cues recall Jake Kaufman’s Double Dragon Neon more than once in their unabashedly melodic nature that turns these tracks into stadium-sized raves.
The Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare is a rock-solid crowd-pleaser from start to finish, but the stakes are higher than one might think. With its constantly busy nature and repetition of material – remember those two arrangements of each stage theme – the score could have easily turned into a monotonous slog. Thankfully, Lopes’ songwriting is strong and varied enough that repetition merely turns into a case of ‘more of a good thing’. It also helps that the score doesn’t outstay its welcome and that each stage theme takes a different musical approach. “Spotlight Summersault” and “Blood for Glory” are closest to “Aerial Justice” and “Wings of Fury”, taking that joyfully overblown sound one step further through hammering metal guitars and those humongous synth brass fanfares so prevalent in American Football games.
Other stage themes take a more daring approach. “A.I. Supply” is far more robotic and colder than previous cues, with its chopped-up melody lead and icy sci-fi beats. Like on many other tracks, the B section offers a surprising change of pace, here through a quirky breakdown that sees an echoey melody waver through neon-lit emptiness. “Stainless Kill” takes more liberties with the original material than other stage theme arrangements. Frantically driven, yet still quirky, the cue is the Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare soundtrack’s most high-strung, nervously controlled episode that at times sounds like a robot thrown into a blender. “Sulfur Empire” and “Hell on Earth” are the score’s most intense, emotionally maximalist moments. On “Sulfur Empire”, grinding industrial guitars collide with the cold, uncaring majesty of towering synth chords. Rearrangement “Hell on Earth” is more pained still, with its dissonant, howling synth leads and haunting wordless vocals.
Maybe the score’s most creative, heady moments are “Primal Pummel” and “Ritual of Battle”. They manage to seamlessly weave traditional Japanese instruments into their array of leaner beats. But that’s not everything: on “Primal Pummel”, Lopes passes the lead melody from shakuhachi to synth strings, before morphing into a hard, fast saxophone solo that finally leads into a dubstep episode. “Ritual of Battle” isn’t quite as dazzling, but those chaotic vocals backed by tribal drums just before the loop keep the music intriguingly eccentric. Add in a short breather in the shape of “Zero Pressure”’s mid-album mix of skeletal, off-kilter beats and abstract electronics, as well as a confidently swaggering opening track (“Corrupted Dreams”), and you have one of 2021’s most diverse, polished electro game scores. The Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare soundtrack confirms Lopes as one of game music’s most exciting new talents.
- 01 - Corrupted Dreams Lopes, Tee 2:24
- 02 - Aerial Justice Lopes, Tee 3:57
- 03 - A.I. Supply Lopes, Tee 4:02
- 04 - Spotlight Summersault Lopes, Tee 4:09
- 05 - Primal Pummel Lopes, Tee 3:57
- 06 - Sulfur Empire Lopes, Tee 3:50
- 07 - Zero Pressure Lopes, Tee 3:01
- 08 - Wings of Fury Lopes, Tee 4:00
- 09 - Stainless Kill Lopes, Tee 4:14
- 10 - Blood for Glory Lopes, Tee 4:02
- 11 - Ritual of Battle Lopes, Tee 3:22
- 12 - Hell on Earth Lopes, Tee 3:42
- 13 - Encore Lopes, Tee 1:58