Check out our video review:
The first Streets of Rage introduced us to a city taken over by a criminal syndicate that was eventually brought down by three ex-cops who decided to fight back. Thirsty for revenge, the syndicate returned in Streets of Rage II and kidnapped one of the heroes but his friends and younger brother came to his rescue and stopped the Syndicate once again. Often considered one of the best games in the genre, Streets of Rage II is a sequel that improved upon everything established in the first game. In 1994, a third entry titled Streets of Rage 3 was released for the Genesis. Developed by Sega and Ancient and published by Sega, Streets of Rage 3 includes a more complex plot, expanded fighting mechanics, and noticeable differences between the English and Japanese versions. For this review, we played both from the SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics collection on Steam.
The Japanese version of game, otherwise known as Bare Knuckle 3, includes Japanese text and since we can’t speak or read the language, we had to look up a plot summary. In the English version, the story goes that Mr. X and The Syndicate are replacing city officials with robot duplicates. After Dr. Gilbert Zan discovers his employer’s connection to the Syndicate, he goes to Blaze Fielding for assistance. In the Japanese version, part of the city was destroyed by an experimental weapon created by Zan. He claims his research is being used for destructive purposes and in both games he teams up with heroes Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, and Eddie “Skate” Hunter to bring the criminals to justice. In between stages are cut scenes accompanied by text showing character interactions to advance the plot and there are multiple endings. The one you see will depend on certain factors.
Streets of Rage 3 supports up to two players and there are multiple characters to choose from, including some that need to be unlocked. Each one has different stats in power, technique, speed, jump, and reach. You can walk, dash, jump, punch, kick, and pick up items. You can also roll up and down which is a very welcome addition. You still can’t block but rolling makes it easier to evade attacks and projectiles. Streets of Rage 3 supports the six-button Genesis controller which is cool but, unfortunately, the pick up item action is still tied to the attack button. However, the “back attack” action is tied to its own button which is nice.
You can perform punches, kicks, jump kicks, combos, grab and throw enemies, and each character has a unique move set and can unleash blitz and special attacks. You have a power meter that fills over time and if you activate a special before it’s full, it will cost you health. The goal of every stage is to get to the end and defeat the boss. Defeating enemies rewards you with points and reaching certain scores rewards you with extra lives and stars which result in an upgraded blitz attack. If playing with another person, you can attack each other which can be annoying if you’re trying to work together. Streets of Rage 3 does come with a Battle mode which is good for players that enjoy beating each other up.
Breaking objects in the environments can reveal pickups like weapons, extra lives, food which replenishes health, and money and gold which grant you extra points. Weapons can also be dropped by enemies. You can stab foes with knives and kunais, beat them with lead pipes, bats, and planks, slash away at them with katanas, and lob grenades. Weapons will break after a while and some characters can’t use weapons. Zan will turn them into balls of energy and can roll them at foes. You’ll face many of the same enemy types you fought in the previous games along with some new ones like Assassin Agents that wield guns. Enemies will punch and kick you, you’ll need to watch out for the chicks with electric whips, some foes can slide into you, others can block attacks, some enemies jump around a lot making them hard to hit, and many of them can move faster than you. Enemies will appear from the left, right, and drop down from above. You have to be alert at all times and always be aware of your surroundings.
One of the biggest differences between the versions is the difficulty. The Japanese version is much easier and in the English version you won’t be able to get passed Stage 5 on the easiest difficulty. You do have lives and if you lose them all, you can spend a credit to continue. The English version can be brutally difficult and getting through it is tedious. Many encounters go on for too long because the enemies have way too much health. Plus, foes will often navigate off-screen where you can’t hit them and it makes the encounters drag on even longer. Most stages took us around fifteen minutes to complete but some took us over twenty. And that’s with two of us playing on Normal. In the Japanese version on Normal, I was able to beat a majority of the stages in under ten minutes by myself. Enemies have less health which results in better pacing but that doesn’t mean this version is a cakewalk. It can still be challenging. Bosses in both versions can feel cheap and will require memorization to defeat without losing all your lives. They can interrupt your attacks and combos and immediately attack and grab you after recovering. And because the bosses in the English version have more health than their Japanese counterparts, these fights also go on way too long.
The game plays out in levels or stages, each of which contains multiple areas. You can even find secret areas. You’ll beat up enemies on the streets before punching and kicking your way through a dance club. You’ll be chased by a bulldozer before engaging foes on a lift. And one stage has you racing against the clock to destroy what we think are switchboards on multiple levels so you can rescue an NPC. You’ll have to watch out for falling barrels, holes, electricity, and lasers but you can also use some of these hazards to your advantage. Each stage is unique and remains interesting thanks to the visual diversity of the areas. What ending you see will depend on your actions so to see everything the game has to offer, you’ll have to play through it multiple times.
Streets of Rage 3 showcases a beautiful 16-bit presentation. The environments are detailed, diverse, and colorful. You’ll see cats emerge from garbage pails, cans rolling on the ground, and the dance club area showcases some neat lighting effects and NPCs dancing in the background. When you get to the bar, you’ll see fish and sharks swimming around in the tank in the back. The character sprites look good and some of them look slightly different in each version and one of the minibosses in the Japanese version was removed from the English version. The playable characters will shout lines when they perform certain attacks, enemies will scream when they die, and we didn’t think the music was anywhere near as good as the tunes heard in the previous games. On the technical side, we saw the frame rate dip here and there but encountered no major issues.
The English version of Streets of Rage 3 is a game that overstays its welcome. The reason it’s so challenging is because most of the enemies are damage sponges and because the they have so much health, the gameplay gets repetitive quickly. The whole experience drags on. The Japanese version is easier which results in a more enjoyable experience. It can still be challenging but fair, requiring practice to master. We feel like the English version is what you would play after you’ve mastered the Japanese game but still crave more. Other than the difficulty, there are other noticeable differences between the versions but one thing that’s consistent in both is the shift in tone from its predecessors. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does feel different. We did enjoy the expanded fighting mechanics and being able to roll around is one of my favorite things about the game. The multiple endings add some replay value and like the previous entries, the experience can be more enjoyable when playing with a friend.
We don’t understand why the English version was heavily altered. The changes to the difficulty are questionable because the balance and pacing in the Japanese version is fine. When it comes to the first three games we think Streets of Rage 3 has the best mechanics but we prefer the tone, atmosphere, and music in the previous games. We also preferred the simpler storylines. We feel like Streets of Rage 3 leans more towards the serious side. Ultimately, it’s a good game but depending on which version you play, it can be a fun or tedious affair.