Genre: Beat ’em Up
Developed by: Sega
Published by: Sega
Feeling Like: Rage Quit
I KNEW it.
Upon doing some light research on Streets of Rage 3, I discovered that the game went through the wringer upon being localized for North American audiences. Because Sega were concerned about players renting the game and beating it quickly, they made the default difficulty setting higher than the Japanese version. Enemies hit harder and took more hits to kill.
What the hell?
One of the only franchises I was envious of as a SNES owner, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Streets of Rage 3. The previous iteration was a massive improvement upon Streets of Rage in every capacity and remains one of the best Genesis titles ever made. The graphics looked like they belonged on a brand new console and the soundtrack, legendary as it is, cannot be emphasized enough.
So when Streets of Rage 3 was available, we rented it (naturally). While it was a blast, especially playing co-op, we could never make it to the ending. Improved enemy AI was certainly evident, but you were also given a new arsenal of moves, including the horizontal roll and dash. The improvement in mobility was vastly appreciated. Even though it used the same engine (I think…) the additions made it my favorite Streets of Rage game to play.
We would routinely get our asses handed to us. It never stopped us from trying over and over again, but retrospectively I feel justified in claiming that the difficulty was bullshit. I don’t blame us for desperately trying to figure out if there was a Game Genie for the Genesis. There was, but not at any of the stores we called. Foiled again!
The level of challenge wasn’t the only thing Sega changed. Of course women’s outfits were made less promiscuous, but the entire story apparently was different? Looking at a side by side comparison, they’re not similar at all. The North American version was all about robots and how robots are going to replace key government figures or something? Honestly I didn’t care at all at the time, I thought it was cool, but it’s strange looking back on it.
The dope wackiness continued – early in the game you fight a demented clown who has a kangaroo sidekick. If you beat the clown without killing the kangaroo, it joins you. That’s right, a playable character is a kangaroo with boxing gloves. Named Roo. Also your new buddy was an old-ass looking cyborg doctor, Dr. Zan.
Now that’s the kind of nonsense I want in my mid 90s beat ’em up.
By holding a series of buttons after you beat the first stage’s boss, Shiva, you can play him as well. I couldn’t get enough of him, although his defense seemed even worse than the main characters, his lightning fast kicks and general badassery was too tempting to pass on.
Sadly, I also learned an effeminate playable character, Ash, was cut from the North American version. Looking at the footage, I can see why, but it’s still a shame.
There are two pillars of why I like a Streets of Rage. The first is the gameplay – it’s not enough to punch, kick and jump. In this franchise, you can grab onto enemies and from there perform a series of extra moves. You can just bash them in the head, throw them behind you, kick them a few times, flip over them and THEN throw them behind you into other oncoming enemies. It adds an element of strategy that other games in this genre just don’t have. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4: Turtles in Time may be king of classic beat em ups, but honestly I think Streets of Rage 3 has my favorite formula for taking it to street punks in creative and varied ways.
The other pillar is the soundtrack and wow did Yuzo Koshiro experiment here. The first two Streets of Rage are filled with classic tracks, made to feel like you’re sweating it out in some abandoned Miami factory or dodging punches in a crowded rave. Here…man, I don’t know. It’s SO weird. The tracks are unsettling, even creepy at times.
Or the character select theme (this is still in my head decades later)
I can see why the songs were puzzling to some at the time, but I think gamers have come to appreciate the gamble Koshiro took. It sounds so different from any other game I’ve played, let alone a Streets of Rage. Random sounds seem to pop in, it feels dirty and grimy and intense and aggressive.
I think it fits perfectly and time has treated the soundtrack very well.
It’s not for everybody, but if you want an audio backdrop that’s going to get your attention, keep you focused and kickstart your senses, look no further. It’s astonishing what Koshiro (and Kawashima) was able to do here. It certainly gave this genre of music the attention it deserves. Would I go to a dance or concert featuring these types of sounds? Probably not, but I’m a lame old idiot when it comes to live music so don’t listen to me in that regard. Do listen to me in this regard – Streets of Rage 3‘s songs are unforgettable once they burrow into your head, whether you like them or not.