Ah, the lovely Blaze, one of the main stars of Sega's insanely fun Streets of Rage series. A woman just like her is the unattainable dream of many a lonely man. A woman whose short skirt, sports bra and high kicks leave little to the imagination. Yeah, let the novelty gamers beat themselves over internet-supplied pics of Lara Croft in the nude, but she's way too polygonal for the classic gamer of the Golden Era. There's just something about square breasts that doesn't work. Me, I'll take a kung-fu ex-cop over a low-rent archeologist any day.
In Streets of Rage 3, she returns with her good friends Axel and Skate and her new friend Dr. Zan to deal with her archenemy Mr. X once again, who just doesn't seem to know how to play dead. Seems that Mr. X has been planting bombs around the city from beyond the grave for some reason. And he just wouldn't be an evil villain if he wasn't plotting to set them off.
And so, as any hardcore gamer knows, that means it's once again up to Blaze, Axel and company to take the fight back to the raging streets to open a whole new case of whoopass on the most horribly named and attired set of enemies this side of Squaresoft, their palette swaps and their significantly pumped-up AI.
Streets of Rage 3 is old-school, bare-knuckle pound-anything-that-moves-into-oatmeal action at its very best. You pick one of four characters, take him to the streets with nothing but his fisticuffs, and give X's latest gang of evil cronies the beatings of their lifetimes. It plays just like its predessesor, but the AI has been beefed up considerably from Streets of Rage 2, so don't expect to merely stick out your fist and have everyone walk into it this time. It seems that the local street gang learned a thing or two from their last encounter, and their a bit more difficult to deal with this time around. When they move off the screen, their out of your reach until they decide they want you to reopen your used can of whoopass on them. The guys who carry knives, pipes and swords are also a bit more stubborn in clinging to their weapons, so don't expect to hit them once, grab their weapons and run around the screen laying the smack down on everyone who lifts a finger. And some of these guys even have the nerve to grab you, block your attacks and hit you from behind. Nope, the AI is rather determined to not make you train it to play dead this time, and will use every dirty trick it can get away with to get its revenge for the time when you finally made its prequel your b!tch.
Although you're not without a few new tricks up your sleeve to help even out the score. The AI is may be more intelligent, but it was still dumb enough to make the mistake of giving Blaze and the rest of the crew a dash move to get across the screen in a hurry, and a roll move that serves the same purpose, only vertically. On top of that, those of you who are blessed with a mighty six-button controller have the abilities to knock a guy flat on his back in a single shot and smack the idiots who try to grab you from behind. And they all get their old assortment of punches, kicks and throws from SOR2, which means you can still unleash a wicked three-hit combo or super move and toss X's muscleheads into nearby pits. As for the new guy, Zan, he's pretty cool. Since Zan's a robot, he's got the super-stretchy arms and electricity, but it somehow seems odd that he could take a beating with a wooden plank just like everyone else. Shouldn't the plank just break over his head like a cheap toy? Oh well, can't have everything, but a robot is still a robot for crying out loud.
If you can't bring down Mr. X yourself, one of the finer features of the Streets of Rage series has always been the two-player cooperative mode. Hey, two is always better than just one, right? Well... Yes and no. Extra help is always an advantage in video games, even if the two of you will be sharing the continue supply. But if you do drag someone else into the fight, the AI will also give an extra advantage to itself in the form of more enemies and extra-long life bars. But the moments when the two of you are standing back to back, fighting off enemies coming at you from both sides will be the most fun when you realise that the enemies don't pose as much of a threat as the other player. 'Watch where you swing that freakin' bat, you idiot!' 'Why don't you concentrate on your own side of the screen, moron!' 'I shouldn't have to watch it, you have more lives than me!' 'Oh yea? Take THIS!' (proceeds to beat his friend) Yep, the action is fast, furious, and in a two-player cooperative game, you will occaisionally forget who's on your side.
On the other hand, you have the two-player competitive mode, which is really just an oversimplified fighting game. You can choose the levels that you fight in, and the obstacles from the levels are interactive, but all in all the competitive mode is pretty weak. If you want to fight each other, you'll have more fun starting a normal cooperative game and trying to fight each other in that.
The thing that really sets SOR3 apart from the rest of the brawler crowd is that, between stages, you get to watch cutscenes that have a story, or an imitation of one. In normal brawlers, you merely get the stages. One stage, you're in a bar, the next, you're in a junkyard. So how does your character know that that's where the bad guys are hiding? I know, it's really not very important in this genre, but in SOR3, you really begin to think about that, because the cutscenes explain why our heroes go from a bar to a junkyard. And in the sixth level, the story begins to branch out, so what you do will determine where you go next. There are two different variations of the seventh level. And there are also four endings! Sweet!
The graphics in SOR3 are very nice, and there's really nothing to complain about. But if you've played SOR2, you won't be able to help but to notice that the sprites look smaller and less detailed. It's nice that there aren't any animation lines, and that the animation runs very smoothly with very little slowdown, but the point remains. Maybe they had to make a sacrifice or two to be able to stuff the extra endings in there.
But, it's as I just said, you really can't complain. The characters look great and have decent fluidity in their movements, and the foreground and background also look nice. And, perhaps most importantly, Blaze still looks good in her sports bra and short skirt.
The music's also taken a turn for the worse. SOR2 had a better soundtrack, with a quick-paced techno sound, but SOR3 sounds more like a techno experimentation that would be done by some low-rent death metal artist. It doesn't really begin to sound very good until the fifth level, which has a very low, calm ninja tune that accents the setting. Problem is, after that splendid track, it's right back to stuff tht's recycled from the first couple of levels. It's really not bad, but you should keep your favorite cd on the side because it can cause the occaisional headache.
Streets of Rage 3 is a perfect way to end an outstanding game series. At least on the Genesis. But hey, with Sega seemingly caught up in some kind of retro craze, and two new Shinobi games ready and set for release in the fall, perhaps they will set the stage for a PS2 or GBA Streets of Rage. Heck, it's almost inevitable. It's only a matter of time...