Tuesday 17 March 2015

Bare Knuckle III (Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1994

Released in Japan, Bare Knuckle III is a beat-em-up with major differences to the US / European version known as Streets of Rage III.

For some reason SoR3 had many revisions including plot and character art changes, as well as the complete removal of the first stage sub-boss due to issues with him being a gay stereotype! The main reason I prefer the Japanese version is that the difficulty level is just right and hasn't been dramatically increased like SoR3. Axel, Blaze and Skate return as playable characters but Max has been replaced by a cyborg called Dr. Zan who can throw a ball of energy whenever he picks up a weapon. The graphics are some of the best I've seen on the Mega Drive and everything looks seriously beefed up thanks to the 24 MEG cartridge. There's even some between level cut-scenes that help to tie the story together nicely. Unfortunately, the gameplay is a real letdown and many parts feel like rehashes of the first two entries such as the street levels, confined elevator areas and even a rematch with a mechanical Mr. X that takes place in the same setting as SoR2 (1992, Mega Drive). Other stages are just annoying and really outstay their welcome such as Stage 4 with its underground bunker and moving cargo. Weirdly, there's only seven stages instead of the usual eight and I was a bit surprised when the credits started to roll. The controls are tight and familiar yet there's just something 'off' about the game; even the bosses are boring to fight. I do like that there are different endings based on your actions though as this adds replayability. The music in the previous games was a real high-point but here Sega tried to be too edgy and everything just sounds distorted.

Bare Knuckle III is a decent game but it's almost as if Sega focused too much on the graphics and forgot to pay attention to the overall fun factor. In my opinion, much of the series' charm was lost here and you're better off sticking with the first two titles for your beat-em-up fix.

Random trivia: Before Bare Knuckle III was released various screenshots showed that each playable character could ride motorcycles. This was eventually removed but the functionally is still available (albeit in buggy form) using Game Genie codes.

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