Muscle Memory

attack, attack, pause

It opens with a scene of the city at night and the familiar beats of Yuzo Koshiro.

Two menus later, I’m in the fray. The rhythm of combat is comfortingly familiar. Old characters return, moves mostly intact. And the principles of beat ’em ups apply like always: Weave through the planes. Save food items for times of need. Pack enemies together for crowd control.

After all these years, it still fits like a glove.

But it’s different now. Sleeker menus. Quality of life features. A stylized, dynamic look instead of the sprites of old. I’m playing this on Steam and a DualShock 4. Just one controller this time.

Neither different nor the same, Streets of Rage 4 is something in between.

Flashes of days long gone, of firing up the Sega Mega Drive on sweltering afternoons when we were still children. The Streets of Rage games were a cooperative space my sister and I could inhabit. Days of plenitude and wonder. Days of moments shared. Days lost to time, lost to life.

I invite her to play Streets of Rage 4, hopeful of finding that joy again. She declines, perhaps too aware that we’ve outgrown that phase of our lives.

I spend hours unlocking characters from the older games, driven by a nostalgic impulse. I spend days learning combos. I spend weeks in search of that feeling again.

Then one day, the old magic hits. It’s the feel of it that matters. Attack, attack, pause, attack, attack. The button presses, the rush of adrenaline, the smile playing on my lips, all confirming to me that those old days were worth something. The body affirms this quest for camaraderie and home spaces.

This muscle memory is a promise that we may recover our lost moments of joy.

By Daryl Li

Daryl Li is a writer of fiction and nonfiction based in Singapore, with interests in games, music, and film. His work has appeared in NANG, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, so-far, Gastronomica, and OF ZOOS. His website is He can also be found on Instagram and Twitter (@nonstickpanda)

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