Let’s not beat around the bush (pardon the pun), I’m angry, borderline pissed off. Why? Streets of Rage 3 is why! Two years after the legendary Streets of Rage 2 graced our television sets, Sega finally released the sequel and it ain’t pretty. My anger stems from the disbelief that they haven’t managed to improve on SOR2 in any way. Well, that’s a bit harsh but the good points are certainly outweighed by the bad.
Where shall we start? Well, on first loading SOR3 everything looks as it should. The title screen is a little bare but the options screen has been ported from SOR2, as too the character select. But what’s this? Where’s crowd favourite Max gone and where on earth is Adam? Well, as it turns out, Adam was just too goddamn busy so he leant SOR2 Axel his SOR1 outfit and thus we have SOR3 Axel. In Max’s place is Zan but more on him (or…it) later. Good to see Blaze back, not so good to see Skate. All good so far? Press Start.
The first thing I noticed about SOR3 is how much blockier the sprites look and that includes our protagonists as well as their foe. By trying to add more detail, Sega have made everything look worse! The backdrops have suffered just as much and are unnecessarily cluttered. Blocky sprites on blocky stages does not a work of art make. Well fine, at least it’ll sound good right? Wrong! The score from SOR2 was from a different planet. In fact, I think it’s probably up there with Street Fighter 2 as the best gaming soundtrack ever. It’s a sorry state of affairs when the best music in the game was remixed from SOR2. The new tracks actually hurt the ear drums, especially the tune from the god awful (but thankfully short) disco stage and one of the later stages where I swear Yuzo Koshiro has just mashed the keyboard or lined up completely random notes, results in a horrible blurry mess. The mighty sometime fall.
Okay, so it looks worse and sounds worse. Surely the excellent SOR2 gameplay remains? Barely…
Everything is noticeably quicker, the inevitable consequence being that everything feels a lot less satisfying. Throwing blows is rapid and unrealistic. Combined with the god awful sound effects, punching Garcia can feel like fighting a plastic bag, whimsically floating in the wind. Even the speech sounds grainier which makes the replacing of “Grand Upper” with “Bare Knuckle!” even more ludicrous. The characters can now run, much like the “charge” in Golden Axe – this has its ups and downs. You can now get to the other side of the screen quicker but, when trying to execute the special move where you double tap forward you will find yourself running into blows rather than expertly executing aforementioned Grand Upper. This works vertically too via a weird roll, which whilst allowing you to avoid blows you definitely would have taken in SOR3’s predecessors, can easily be done by accident which can be annoying on certain levels. Which nicely brings me to the game’s unnecessary “innovation”.
If Sega had brought out a carbon copy of SOR2 they would have been lambasted. I suppose SOR3 had to try to be different due to how one dimensional beat em ups are. There are too many annoying levels in SOR3 born from this want. One of the early level involves oil drums falling out from nowhere that you can punch at the enemy (now that takes some strength). This doesn’t seem a bad idea but when you couple it with a shallow foreground and massive holes you find yourself either constantly being hit by the drums or falling down the holes! Grrrrr. There’s a bulldozer stage later in the game that works really well in two player mode (I’ll leave you to discover that one yourself) but Sega haven’t tinkered it in one player mode meaning you constantly get hit. The awful Disco stage wants you to “fight in the dark” or “dance in the dark”. Either way, Springsteen would not have been impressed. The fit inducing light effects make you want to play the game blindfolded and don’t get me started on the kangaroo. Damn it, I just can’t resist, what the hell is a kangaroo doing in a SOR game??? To appease our antipodean cousins? It really wasn’t worth it! The awful mine level is something else to “look forward to”. Weapons also have a life expectancy so don’t expect to enjoy that steel pipe long – yet another enjoyable aspect of SOR2 unexplainably removed. And characters use weapons in different ways which is also pointless and annoying when your character throws a weapon away immediately that you were really looking forward to using.
The plot and the cut scenes are both bad, almost cringingly bad, but here is where I drop my agenda against SOR3 for a minute and now talk about SOR3’s good points. Zan is fun, well more fun to play as than the other characters. His blows feel far more satisfying, did Sega spend too much time on him? It seems it was to the detriment of our faves, Axel and Blaze in particular. The special move power up bar where you’re not docked health is another mild plus, and it recharges pretty quickly. Some of the boss stages are interesting including (spoiler alert!) evil Axel – but they really could have dressed him differently, maybe like SOR2 Axel. And the game is still quite fun with a mate.
SOR2’s main flaw that it was too easy and there weren’t enough stages. Sega have clearly taken this to heart because SOR3 is rock solid, even on Easy! Whilst this is partly due to the improved AI, it’s mostly due to all the aforementioned gameplay flaws which leads to a lot of frustration. The learning curve is completely off. SOR2 just needed a few more stages, SOR3 needs a complete rehash.
And this is where we’re at, two years later and still rummaging around for that SOR2 cart. Good sequels are hard to come by and it is with a heavy heart that I must conclude that SOR3 is no different.