The final installment of the Streets of Rage trilogy, Streets of Rage 3 puts players back into the shoes of former cops Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding as they find out from mysterious cyborg Dr. Zan that evil crime syndicate leader Mr. X has used a legitimate research company, RoboCy Corporation, to begin creating realistic robots designed to replace important officials of the city. With Adam Hunter, who rejoined the police as a senior operative, unable to join the task force due to mysterious bombs placed around the city (as well as a kidnapped chief of police), it's up to Axel and Blaze, along with Dr. Zan and Adam's kid brother Eddie "Skate" Hunter, to hunt down and stop Mr. X once more.
Streets of Rage 3 improves the gameplay engine used in its predecessor Streets of Rage 2, adding new mechanics to the franchise (such as the "power meter", which allows players to use special moves sparingly without consuming the player's life bar, and limited weapon vitality). Unlike the previous entries in the franchise, the Japanese version of the game had significant localization differences from the international versions (including a variety of costume changes and the removal of a stereotypical homosexual biker as a sub-boss). Even the overall plot was changed (which originally involved Mr. X planning to start a global war using a new explosive substance called "Raxine"), with many of the cut-scenes removed entirely. The difficulty of the international versions has also increased significantly compared to the Japanese version, making it known as the hardest installment in the series.
The game was digitally re-released for a variety of systems, including the Wii (via Virtual Console on February 19, 2007), iOS devices (on April 28, 2011), and the PC (via Steam on May 2, 2012). It was also included in a variety of compilations, including Sonic Gems Collection (in Japanese releases only, for the GameCube and PlayStation 2), Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3), and Sega Vintage Collection: Streets of Rage (for the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade).
Streets of Rage 3 was the final game in the brawler series, and it made some changes to the formula set down by Streets of Rage 2. The new features included:
- Power Meter: In Streets of Rage 2, using special moves drains the player's life. While that is still true in Streets of Rage 3, the player can use special moves without the health penalty by waiting until the power meter flashes "OK." Once a special move is performed, the meter resets and fills back up over time. This allows for more frequent use of special abilities. However, the player doles out less damage, and takes more in return, when the meter is below full.
- Dash Moves: The dash move added some defensive possibilities, as characters cannot block attacks in Streets of Rage. The new dash moves gave the player the opportunity to strike and get out of the way before being counter-attacked.
- Weapon Health: For the first time, weapons could only be used for a limited time before they would break. In Dr. Zan's case, weapons instantly turned into plasma balls when picked up. Zan would then throw the plasma ball at enemies. The type of weapon picked up determined how many plasma balls Zan could throw before running out.
- Weapon Special Moves: Some weapons had special moves. For instance, by dashing and attacking with a sword, Axl would perform a rising uppercut with the weapon.
- Special Dash Moves: After getting 50,000 points without dying, the character receives a star, which improves the effectiveness and changes the animation of the dash move. The maximum amount of stars that a character can receive is 3. The first star extends the reach and speed of the dash move (Axel's bare knuckle move travels farther and faster, for example) and each subsequent star improves the move and changes the animation.
- Axel Stone: The headband sporting Axel returns, almost unchanged from Streets of Rage 2. He is one of the stronger characters, though he moves slower in comparison to the other selectable characters. His special moves include a spining fire punch, and a punch flurry that ends with a jumping uppercut.
- Blaze Fielding: Keeping her miniskirt and hooker boots, Blaze is also identical to Streets of Rage 2. She's a solid all-around fighter with good speed and decent damage. Her special moves are a backflip kick and fireball.
- Eddie Hunter, aka "Skate": Skate also makes a comeback from Streets of Rage 2. His moves are similar, and still very fast, but his drill kick has been replaced with a rolling flurry of punches, which are very hard to land. His spin kick super hasn't changed, however.
- Dr. Zan: Zan replaces Max this time around, and is heavily involved in the overall plot. As a large cyborg, Zan has terrific range, but is slow. For his special moves, Zan can generate an electric field all over his body, or throw a long-range electric punch.
- (Hidden) Shiva: Shiva was Mr. X's personal bodyguard in Streets of Rage 2, and one of the bosses in Streets of Rage 3. After he's beaten, holding the B button until the next stage unlocks him. Once the player loses all lives and continues, Shiva will show up as a playable character. His moveset is a bit limited compared to the other characters, but he's very fast and has good reach. While his special move is extremely powerful, it is very difficult to land. He is unable to use weapons.
- (Hidden) Roo: Roo was also another Streets of Rage 2 character. If the player kills Roo's handler, without killing Roo, the kangaroo will escape off of the screen and players can select Roo when they next continue. Alternatively, Roo can be unlocked immediately by holding Up B and pressing Start at the title screen. Roo has a full set of moves, including spinning punches and team-up attacks. He appears on the box art to the game, as well. Like Shiva, he is not able to use any weapons.
- (Hidden - Japan Only) Ash: The gay biker was not included as a playable character outside of Japan. After defeating him, he can be unlocked by holding A until the next stage begins. He'll show up as a selectable character when the player uses a continue. Like Shiva, his moveset is limited, and he has very little range, though his attacks are powerful. His best offense is to use grabbing/throwing moves.