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The third installment of the Streets of Rage series (called "Bare Knuckle" in Japan). This picks up about one year after Mr. X has once again been defeated. Robot clones of officials have been forcefully replacing their counterparts in some scheme involving Mr. X. At the same time, random bombs have been planted throughout the city, ready to detonate within a moment's notice. Blaze Fielding and Axel Stone, along with Skate Hunter and Dr. Zan are the hero team this time. The SOR3 engine is based off or SOR2, with similar framerate and graphics (if not slightly improved), and a storyline between stages. There are a possibility of 4 different endings, depending on difficulty and time restraints. IMHO, this game is better then SOR2, but not as easy. You'll notice that Axel, Blaze, and Skate are pallette swapped from their original color scheme (it's like Adam and Axel have been spliced together). There are also secret characters, including a kangaroo, Shiva (the last mini-boss before Mr. X in SOR2), and a transvestite. Of course, the transvestite has been removed from the US version of the game for obvious reasons (thus removing the most powerful character in the game), so if you wanna know what the transvestite is all about, get a Japanese import or download a Japanese version for the emulator.

Title: Streets of Rage 3 (Japan: Bare Knuckle III)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Date Published: 1994 (First released March 18, 1994 in Japan)
Platforms: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis
Players: 1-2

By 1994 the Sega Mega Drive was reaching its creative peak, although the rival SNES system had by this time taken the lead in terms of sales. Developers writing games for the two systems had identified the genres to which each machine was best suited (both technically and in terms of target audience). Several important game series on the Mega Drive (Road Rash, Sonic The Hedgehog, John Madden Football) reached their third installments, and in nearly all cases were affected by the law of diminishing returns. Streets of Rage 3 is a prime example of a game where more resources have been poured in, but there is technically and creatively nowhere left for the series to go (with the technology available at the time, at least).

Streets of Rage 3 is a less focussed game than its predecessors. By increasing the cartridge size (to 24 megabits) and trowelling on additional complexity and inconsistent new elements, Sega have ended up with a game that is marred by clutter and excess. Whereas Streets of Rage 2 was a vitally important project for Sega (mainly as it had to compete with Final Fight on the SNES) Streets of Rage 3 did not really have any expectations to live up to. Scrolling beat-'em-ups had pretty much run their course in the arcade at this point (one-on-one fighting games having taken the limelight), and as far as Japan was concerned the Mega Drive was a niche platform. It is not hard to imagine the developers having a good laugh making this game, which was probably commissioned and financed by Sega of America.

The game's storyline is frequently absurd. Although the previous Streets of Rage games were hardly grounded in realism, they made some kind of sense within their own context, informed by the melodramatic pseudo-mysticism of martial arts comics and cartoons. Streets of Rage 3's story on the other hand takes in robot clones, nuclear weapons, ninja magic, fighting kangaroos, and a brain in a jar. Once more the player(s) can choose from four characters: Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding and Eddie/Sammy 'Skate' Hunter return from the previous game, with Max Thunder being replaced by newcomer Dr. Zan, an Inspector Gadget-style cyborg. (There are also three hidden characters: Shiva, Roo and Ash.) Dr. Zan has discovered that his former employer was a front for the (seemingly indestructible) crime lord Mr. X. This time around, Mr. X's plans include replacing city officials with robots, as well as waging a bombing campaign and trying to frame Axel for kidnapping the chief of police.

Seeing as the first two games in the trilogy both followed the same basic structure and story, one can appreciate that the developers wanted to try something new in the third game. As a result, Streets of Rage 3 now places a greater emphasis on plot, with simplistic cutscenes between stages, and different routes through the game depending on the success of failure at reaching certain objectives. These additions for the most part only serve to detract from the arcade-like immediacy that is one of the scrolling beat-'em-up genre's main strengths.

This time around, it is fairly obvious that Sega have added new content to the existing Streets of Rage 2 codebase instead of starting from scratch. The screen layout and controls are virtually identical. The character sprites are now slightly larger than in Streets of Rage 2 (and have a more 'hand drawn' look to them) although the increase is only noticable if you compare the two side by side. Some of the backgrounds in the game are quite well drawn (and there are plenty of small animated details), although many are quite featureless and use too much flat colour. Disappointingly, the soundtrack for this game was apparently not composed by Yuzo Koshiro, only produced under his guidance, and for the most part it is greatly inferior to the music in the first two games. The levels now have more interactive elements (such as the holes you can throw people down on the construction site), something that was used a lot in the first game in the series but absent from the second. As with the previous game, there are few flashy setpieces, although the nightclub area and the fight against a trio of samurai stand out.

Most of the gameplay changes are fairly minor. All of the characters are now able to dash (double tap left or right, a la Golden Axe) and roll (double tap up or down) to evade attacks. Special moves now have a charge bar: if a special move is attempted when the bar is fully charged, there is no cost to the player's health. There are some 'super' special moves that are unlocked when certain scores are reached, although they can be accessed at any time with a six-button joypad. Weapons now have damage bars that limit the number of times they can be used (instead of just the number of times they can be dropped). As the greater memory size would suggest, there are more types of enemies than in the previous game. Many of the standard enemies return again with only minor graphical upgrades. One welcome improvement is that there are now five types of 'basic' punks instead of just two, and some of them can now pick up weapons.

When most 16-bit Japanese console games were translated for Western audiences, the publishers tended to take a very 'hands-off' approach (sometimes a bit too hands-off, as the internet phenomenon around Zero Wing's intro text demonstrated). Indeed, with the previous two Streets of Rage games, the only alterations that were made were to the title screen (the games are known as the 'Bare Knuckle' series in Japan) and translating the (scant) in-game text. Streets of Rage 3 proved to be slightly more problematic however, and prompted a whole raft of alterations to be ordered by Sega of America before it could be released.

The most serious problem (and the one that probably prompted the rest of the alterations) was the boss at the end of the first area of the first level (the harbour), Ash. Ash is a rather offensive gay stereotype, complete with Village People biker get-up, camp mannerisms and effeminate voice samples. In the Western version Ash is removed from the game altogether (unless you enter the right Game Genie codes).

In the Japanese version, the story involves Mr. X getting hold of nuclear weapons. The game's intro shows a city being nuked, and instead of the 'chief of police', the official that was kidnapped and replaced with a robot clone was a general who was scheduled to speak at The White House. This was all considered to be a bit too controversial for American audiences.

On the off-chance that anyone else could conceivably be offended by the game, Sega also modified the colour palettes of the female enemies to make them appear to be wearing more clothes. They also modified the colours of the costumes of each of the playable characters, although the reasons for this are unclear (it may just have been to make the game look less similar to Streets of Rage 2). Almost all of the enemies' names have been changed as well. They also took the opportunity to fix some bugs and touch up the artwork in the cutscenes. The default difficulty level was increased as well in the Western version, presumably in response to the widely held view that the previous game was too easy.

As corporate interference in creative work goes, this was not quite of the same magnitude as Sidney Sheinburg's re-editing of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, but it does give an interesting insight into the differences between the two Eastern and Western markets (and how the publishers treated them), and means that there are two substantially different versions of the game to choose from.

A final interesting thing about the game was uncovered after the advent of emulation when hobbyists dissected the contents of the ROM. As with some of the Sonic series, the production cart contains lots of unfinished and unused code and graphics. It turns out that the developers intended to have motorcycle-riding levels in the game (similar to the vehicle sections in Alien Storm and Shinobi III), and even more surprisingly that near-complete versions of these levels can be accessed by hacking the ROM.* This would also go some way to explaining why Max (who would be a little too large to ride the game's motorbikes) was replaced by Dr. Zan.

To summarise, Streets of Rage 3 is slightly inferior to its immediate predecessor, making at least as many detrimental changes to the 'formula' as it does beneficial ones. It's still a very playable, solid game, but unless you're an absolute scrolling beat-'em-up completist, it could be considered redundant.

*More information about these levels here:

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