OK, so I couldn’t hold it my hatred for this game any longer but fear not, for I am going to be as objective and open and honest as I possibly can without revealing weird dark secrets about how as a child, you always wondered if you COULD see up Blaze’s skirt but as it turns out, no you couldn’t and I’m not that childish anymore but just so you know that was a thing and oh shit… I just said I wouldn’t say that. Fuck. Look. It happened. I was, what, 10 at the time? At least when SOR2 came out, I was 9/10 so do at least forgive me for that. However, the year is now 1994 and Yuzo Koshiro still gets premium billing for this game and he really… really… really wouldn’t want or actually should get it. If you thought going from SOR to SOR2 was like a big step forward, you’d expect SOR3 to actually be the greatest game of all time.
It is not.
It is not even a decent game.
It is not even a decent Streets of Rage game.
Issue number 1: cover art. Apparently this wasn’t intended to be the cover art for the game in the UK and Europe. THIS WAS FANART. It was so good that SEGA said “yoink” and used it (with permission), shoved a little 24 MEG sticker on the front and then didn’t even release the game to more than about twenty people. I never saw it in shops (and now I know why) and even when I did a copy of it, I actually didn’t think much to the box art. It gave me no indication of what I should expect, other than an old man and Blaze looking like a cross between UK Gladiators Jet and Scorpio.
The Genesis version got this:
No Skate… but they did get a KANGAROO (who you COULD actually play as in the game through some ridiculous method that basically involved you dying – because in gaming, all we want to do is die). HE’S A SECRET CHARACTER. SKATE WAS ACTUALLY PLAYABLE FROM THE OFF. Fucking hell, guys, did you really drop the ball on that one? Plus: ugly artwork, anyone? Axel looks like he’s about 40, going on 50 and Blaze, who in-game is ridiculously feminine and womanly, looks like a man. There WERE artists who could draw in those days. Why didn’t they get them to do the artwork? Yeesh!
Issue number 2: After getting a massive graphical upgrade, equivalent to going from a Gameboy to the PS3, this game sees us dropping back down to something akin to the Saturn or the Atari Jaguar. This game is ugly. It’s beaten-by-every-stick-from-the-ugly-tree-and-hit-every-branch-on-the-way-down levels of ugly. 1 had charm and grittiness. It was bold, it was clean and the sprites were, for the early era, pleasant and functional. 2 was GLORIOUS in how radically different it looked – bigger sprites, bolder colours and for the time, they were special. You just felt like the game was special from looking at it.
And then you get 3.
You could be forgiven for thinking THIS was the second game in the series, graphically. It is, sadly, not. The sprites lacked the same charm. They were completely overhauled but in doing so, they seemed to make everything look smaller, darker, drearier, murkier and smeared like bad make-up that you can’t get off from the night before because someone stole your last face wipe and you’re going to have to kill them. That’s probably why these guys are going back on the STREETS OF RAGE. Or not. Probably not. Seriously, probably not.
Axel was suddenly turned into a hunched-up, eyeless mess in gold and black. Blaze was given a weird silver dress and the girliest run ever. Look, guys, we’re AWARE that she’s the female character but this girl is a JUDO MASTER and you’re expecting us to belief that she moves around with her elbow seemingly sewn into her dress? Apparently they did because SEXISM and eventually we’ll get out of that frame of thinking. Skate returns, albeit with some tweaks that make him much more awkward to play as. If anything, the fact that he was able to run in his first outing was what made him special. Suddenly, everyone wants in on it like running is the new breakdancing or something. Skateboard could run before it was cool. Like OMG LOL.
And then we got Zan. He’s the old man on the front of the UK cover. He’s bionic. He’s also a doctor. He… doesn’t fit into the plot at all. I mean, by all means, a new character. Super. The least they could have done was give us someone who was actually decent to play as.
And there lies issue number 3: the plot. Actually, I have fewer issues with the plot than I originally thought I did because for one, at least they tried to have one included. I do not mind the fact that they wrote some dialogue and actually created a meatier plot for the sequel. There is something about Axel being falsely accused of kidnapping the chief of police and a few bombs ready to go off here and there. There is also Mr X (AGAIN? Wait, I can explain!) and a ROBOT Mr X… It’s a little bit more complicated than it needs to be. My biggest concern is that the setting seems to have changed DRAMATICALLY from the previous game but I can’t see how much time has passed for there to have not been any previous mention of robotics and bionics in humans or any real change in the ages of Axel and Blaze, although it’s difficult to show age in 2D sprites, unless the fact that both of the characters look so AWFUL might be a very loose indication of how much shit they’ve had to go through in between this game and the last – maybe that’s why everything looks grey OR IS THAT TO MAKE IT LOOK URBAN AND GRITTY? Bloody hell, this is starting to get silly. Zan doesn’t fit into the story that well. It’s as if they’ve merely plonked Axel, Blaze and Skatepark into a completely random new place with no explanation and just hoped that people wouldn’t complain or make a thing out of it – FAIL. LOOK AT WHAT I’M DOING. 20 YEARS… TOO LATE. ISH. Whatever. It’s bollocks. It doesn’t continue the story from the previous games in the same way. It lacks… continuity. It lacks cohesion. I don’t buy it. It rambles as well… a bit like me sometimes. Look, let’s just go through it bit by bit and you’ll keep up, I’m sure.
So after being accused of kidnapping, Axel and his merry men… hang on, merry woman, boy and robot doctor… this is going to be complicated…
TRY AGAIN: Axel and friends head off to the source of the problems and find out that Mr X may have something to do with it. After following a few clues here and there, they end up going through 8 more levels of beating the living shit out of people they meet along the way, all of whom are vastly different to the ones from the first two games – most of which did have some sort of connection with each other – including random ninjas who fight you THREE TIMES and the return… OH GOD… THE RETURN OF THESE…
Mona and Lisa in this version, Onihime and Yasha in Japan. THEY BROUGHT THEM BACK. OH. GOOD. FREAKING’ GOD. WHY?
Suffice to say, issue number 4 are these painfully hard bosses again. I mean, realistically the whole game’s set of bosses are AWFUL. They are HARD AS FUCKING NAILS even on Normal mode (apparently harder than Japan’s Hard mode, what the actual fuck, do you think this is what we want? A game so hard we can’t fucking complete it without cheat codes? Yikes, Sega, learn yo self). They are the SECOND bosses. There are harder ones but WHY DID YOU DRAG UP OLD WOUNDS, SEGA? You bastards.
Issue number 5: The music. Upon getting to this character select screen:
I was devastated already. The music… I… don’t know what they were trying to do. It was… a dirge. A messy, shambling, woeful dirge. Just imagine what it might sound like if you put your head inside a metal bin and let someone bang on the sides for a bit… then you listened to some early 90s techno. It would sound worse. It didn’t sound like TECHNO. It sounded like planting your hand onto a keyboard and hoping for the best. The melodies from the previous game were absent, replaced by these ‘dark’, ‘gritty’, ‘urban’ noises that wore you down as you played. While the 2nd game was fantastic, sonically, this one lacked the same punch, the same pleasure, the same feeling. It was weak and disappointing in that you expected the same level, if not better, than the previous game and you got… that noise. I call it noise. It wasn’t music, it wasn’t sound effects, it was just PAH PAH PAH KRRRGGGGHHHHH noises. The voices didn’t even sound good. I got no indication that the characters were even putting anything into it. Blaze’s screeching pitches from the previous game were made ‘sexier’ and ‘huskier’ for no reason. Axel’s dragon-spirited cries were replaced with lackadaisical, old-man-style rumbles. Skateramp wasn’t much better. He sounds slightly LESS than a child but he still sounded stilted and emotionless. Come on, guys, the world’s about to blow up, at sound like you care. You’re not just popping down to the shops for a loaf of bread. Those shops will be gone in a few minutes anyway, so start sounding like you mean it! Seriously, I bet you guys started off the whole plot to Fist of the North Star, you bastards. YOU DID ALL THAT, YOU SHITS. I knew I hated you guys for a reason.
The main crux of my thinking actually lies with expecting so much from this game given what happened in between 1 and 2. I expected and wanted it to be so much better than it was that I was disappointed to my very core. If anything, we were spoilt by SOR2. What we got there was the game we wanted. The first game was OK, the second one was like a fan-made remake that got rid of all the dirt and grime and spit-polished it. It was exactly what it needed to be. This game couldn’t be that again. It knew that. SEGA knew that. They couldn’t release the same game again, just tweaked slightly. It had to be all-new, all-different and have some new tricks up its sleeve. Granted, they brought in some ideas with the traps in each stage – holes in the floor returning from 1, the barrels rolling down the screen, the bulldozer level which was a FUCKING travesty, the IRRITATING AS FUCK level with the large machines rolling on rail lines on the ground that weren’t much use when the enemies on each level COULD JUMP OUT OF THE FUCKING WAY OF THEM – but… the graphics… the sound… it all took such a massive nose dive that you start to wonder how they filled up those supposed 24 MEGS. SOR2 was 16MEGS and was a masterpiece. That this was supposedly 50% bigger in capacity was criminal given what they did to it.
I give it its dues, it tried to do something different and it absolutely needed to be. The problem is, it took away aspects of what made it good in the first place and replaced them with UNNECESSARILY HARD AS NAILS bosses, in a sense that there was no workable strategy to defeat them rather than hit and hope and get out of the way otherwise; AWFUL MUSIC, I can’t think of a decent track from the entire score; WONKY PLOT-DEVELOPMENT, realistically feeling shoehorned in to try and include Zan for some godforsaken reason; and worst of all, UGLY GRAPHICS.
My worry is that if you played any of the three games without playing the other two, you would still struggle to get as much enjoyment from this game. Yeah, you could say that 1 is underdeveloped and lacks a bit of pace and feels a bit clunky and misshapen; yeah, you could say that 2, for all its fanfare and grandeur and whatnot, isn’t a MASSIVE step-up gameplay-wise from the previous game and can get a bit repetitive… and it’s a bit easy… but you cannot for a moment tell me that Streets of Rage 3 is a decent game on its own merits. It’s almost deviously hard and unforgiving and in context, this isn’t a game that righted any wrongs, improved things that needed improving or gave you cause to have fun. Even in two-player mode, my brother and I struggled to enjoy it as much as we wanted to and after the Ferry Fiasco debacle from Micro Machines 2, enjoying games together was a necessity, not a privilege…
What you can say is that they tried. I don’t know what they tried… I mean, there are plenty of things they COULD have tried DRUG REFERENCE JOKE AHAHAHA but seriously… what the hell?