Let’s not beat around the bush (pardon the pun), I’m angry, borderline pissed off even. 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. Where does my anger stem from? The disbelief that they haven’t managed to improve on SOR2 in any way. Okay, that’s a bit harsh but the good points are certainly outweighed by the bad.
Where shall we start? On first loading Streets of Rage 3, 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? And where on earth is Adam?? As it turns out, Adam was just too goddamn busy so he leant Streets of Rage 2 Axel his Streets of Rage outfit and thus we have Streets of Rage 3 Axel. In Max’s place is Zan but more on him later. Good to see Blaze back, not so good to see Skate. 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. n 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 my 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. I’ve since found out that many deemed Yuzo Koshiro of having found a new music genre through his ‘Automated Composing System‘. Who needs melodies anyway?
Okay, so it looks worse and sounds worse than Streets of Rage 2. Surely the excellent 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, it lacks the pure satisfaction of its predecessor. Even the speech sounds grainier which makes the replacing of “Ground Upper” with “Bare Knuckle!” even more ludicrous.
The characters can now run, much like the “charge” in Golden Axe, which 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 Ground Upper. This works vertically too via a weird roll, which while 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 Streets of Rage 3 had to try to be different due to how one dimensional beat ’em ups are. There are too many annoying levels in SOR3 borne 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!
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 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 for long – yet another enjoyable aspect of SOR2 inexplicably removed. And characters use weapons in different ways (a bit like SOR2) 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 favourites 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.
Streets of Rage 2’s main flaw was 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’! While 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.
Time to throw in a slight edit and improve Streets of Rage 3’s ratings a little. The recent Sega Mega Drive Classics Collection (or any decent ROM site) will allow you to play Bare Knuckle 3. Bare Knuckle 3 is of course the Japanese version of the game and due to market research was made to be much easier, you’ve actually got a chance of seeing some of the other endings.
And this is where we’re at, two years later and still rummaging around for that SOR2 cart. Streets of Rage 3 had the potential to be the best in the series. Different mechanics, a mildly more interesting plot, multiple endings should have equalled success. Just a shame it forgot how to do the basics.