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SummaryExcellent game but beginning to show signs of fatigue
The GoodEverything about the core action, this game gets generally right. Punching a goon feels good, knocking down enemies feels good, the movement feels good, and just about every aspect of the game feels solid. You can tell the pedigree that this game came from has paid off in terms of control schemes, pacing, and handling of the game itself.
The designs are also visually more interesting, at least to me. The previous game felt like it was a tribute to the greatest 80s action movie ever. This one, however, dials it back and takes on a more somber tone in terms of its palette, which is actually quite fitting given the darker theme and narrative.
The BadOn the flip side, while the action feels better, the game design feels less thought through compared to it's predecessors.
While the first game was a pioneer in it's overall design, it really was the second game that brought it all together and managed to make sure there was literally no extraneous parts to the game design. The second game felt like the designers really took the time to think through every mechanic, every piece of content, and every extra piece of option they delivered to the players.
Streets of Rage 3, on the other hand, felt like someone built the entire game, and then after the game was completed, decided to add more stuff onto it just because. No where is this more apparent than with the star system. If you ask me, the star system felt completely extraneous to the experience, as anyone who could really benefit from the star moves the most would have the hardest time holding onto it anyways, and anyone who could hold onto their stars probably didn't need the star moves anyway. There are a couple of instances where the lower level star moves are strictly speaking, more useful than the upgraded versions. All of it just made it feel like the star moves were actually not part of the original game design. (In fact, I challenge anyone to play the game as is without using their star moves. You will probably find it to be a far tighter experience)
This goes double for the a lot of the secret stuff. i.e. were Shiva, Ash and Roo REALLY necessary for the game? Shiva was particularly egregious as he has a single move in his arsenal that can basically allow you to lockstun any enemy to death. A lot of these little things crop up with these extra characters and extra content that it honestly felt like someone at Sega saw the finished product and said, "we need Shiva to be playable, and kids like Street Fighter 2, right? So let's put some of THAT stuff in there" and there it was.
Keep in mind, this is not to say the game is BAD by any stretch. It just feels SLIGHTLY on the bloated side of things.
The Bottom LineIn the 90s, a lot of games went through a strange of cycle of innovation > refinement > bloat between sequels. Golden Axe went through it, street fighter went through it, JRPGs went through, and Streets of Rage was not immune.
To be fair though, it made it out far better than other franchises as it still produced a HIGHLY competent side scrolling beat 'em up. Might not the genre re-defining classic that was Streets of Rage 2, but still an immensely well executed brawler set in that magical time that is the 90s where it feels like gang violence had to be colorful, ridiculous, and full of metal punks.