Was Streets of Rage 3 really that bad?

Was Streets of Rage 3 Really That Bad?

Last Updated on December 4, 2023

While growing up, one of my most cherished games on the Sega Mega Drive was Streets of Rage 3. I have many fond memories of beating bad guys to a pulp as Axel, and I love that there are alternative endings. So imagine my surprise when I learned that many consider 3 the trilogy’s weakest. 

The most common problem I read was that the game was incredibly difficult, but it felt like many described a completely different game from the one I enjoyed. As it turns out, they were. 

Streets of Rage 3 vs. Bareknuckle 3

I had the Japanese version of Street of Rage 3. In Japan, the game is known as Bare Knuckle 3, and the two versions have several notable differences. 

Was Streets of Rage 3 really that bad?
Image by GamingRetro

There are minor changes like Axel tightening his headband in the intro video, which is Bareknuckle exclusive. It’s theorized that this is absent in Streets of Rage as it’s similar to a scene in Rambo 3. There are plenty of minor tweaks like this between versions, including palette swaps, but nothing to make either title vastly inferior.

The Ash fight

Was Streets of Rage 3 really that bad?
Image by GamingRetro

One of the most notable differences between the two versions is the Ash mini-boss fight, which is exclusive to Japan. Ash is a crude stereotype of a gay man who prances around the arena and has a high-pitched laugh. Ash is an encounter during stage 1, and before he battles you, he brings groups of enemies over on a boat to soften you up. In the Western release, Shiva captains the ship instead and drives off after dropping off the last group of enemies.

Exclusions like this mean Bareknuckle 3 is technically the more content-rich game, but even if the fight wasn’t offensive, it’s not a deal breaker.

The difficulty

The difference that draws the most ire is the difficulty. Streets of Rage 3 is obnoxiously tough compared to the Japanese version, and enemies often have several more health bars. To make matters worse, opponents hit harder based on the chosen difficulty. This increase is so severe you can lose a life after a handful of hits. 

Was Streets of Rage 3 really that bad?
Image by GamingRetro

The tipping point for many seems to be Mona and Lisa, the 2nd level boss. This dastardly duo is one of the most brutal fights in the game, regardless of version, and is borderline unfair in Streets of Rage. These bosses can deplete the player’s health in seconds, and it’s not surprising it’s rubbed frustrated gamers the wrong way.

To make matters worse, you can’t beat Streets of Rage 3 on Easy, as when you beat Stage 5, Mr. X proclaims that you “play like an amateur,” and the game abruptly ends. You must complete the game on Normal or higher if you want the true ending.

Why is Streets of Rage 3 so much harder than Bareknuckle 3?

Was Streets of Rage 3 really that bad?
Image by GamingRetro

After learning about the differences between versions, the question remains, “Why?”. Unfortunately, there’s no official answer; without that, we only have theories and speculation. Ash’s removal from the Western version makes sense. The battle isn’t memorable, and the title loses little without it.

The difficulty increase is a baffling choice, although I’ve unearthed a few theories. My favorite is from the Sega Genesis subreddit, where a user explains that the difficulty was increased, so players wouldn’t finish the game within a rental period and would buy it instead. They clarify that rentals weren’t a thing in Japan at the time, which could explain the difference.

Another popular theory is simply that the harder difficulty would make the game last longer, thus making the title a more attractive value proposition. Although Streets of Rage 2 is revered as a classic, it could be finished within an hour, and Mega Drive games weren’t cheap. 

Is Streets of Rage 3 a bad game?

Image by GamingRetro

Streets of Rage 3 isn’t bad, but it’s more frustrating than Bareknuckle 3 and doesn’t hold a candle to Streets of Rage 2. This is a shame, as Streets of Rage 3 brought several new ideas with it and added mobility options. 

In Streets of Rage 2, players could unleash a powerful special attack at the cost of some health, making it unattractive to use. Streets of Rage 3 introduced a timer to the move, so you could use it without a penalty if you waited. This ability even upgraded through time if you stayed alive.

Both of these changes make combat in Streets of Rage 3 feel more fluid, but it wasn’t enough to undo the damage caused by the difficulty spike. Hidden extras like this aren’t hallmarks of a bad game on the Mega Drive.

Streets of Rage 3 even has a secret character. If you beat the clown in Stage 2 and let Roo, his kangaroo buddy, live, you can play as him. There are other obscure secrets, like ‘super’ versions of Zan and Skate.

2020’s Streets of Rage 4 even ignored the mobility options from 3 to make it feel more like Streets of Rage 2. It makes sense, but it also feels like sweeping the final game in the trilogy under the rug. 

About the author

Anthony is a freelance writer and has worked in the industry for four years. He's furiously competitive and is always looking for the next big multiplayer hit. Anthony is a passionate PS1 collector and firmly believes in playing his retro games rather than letting them collect dust on a shelf. He also loves speedrunning and always looks forward to the next GDQ and ESA events.

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