Following the enjoyable-but-flawed SNES conversion of the original Final Fight and its disappointing sequel, Final Fight 3 can be viewed as Capcom's attempt to atone for its previous sins and give fans a domestic exclusive worthy of the name. Released relatively late in the lifespan of Nintendo 16-bit's console, this third entry is a genuinely innovative title with fresh ideas and some engaging gameplay — but it's far from perfect and has seen its reputation grow over time thanks to the fact that it's incredibly rare in its original cartridge form.
Final Fight 3 sees the return of Metro City mayor — and part-time street fighter — Mike Haggar, who, after defeating the evil Mad Gear gang, has decided to grow a ponytail. The introductory sequence sees him hook up with Guy from the first game, but their tender reunion is shattered by a sudden outbreak of rioting in the city, orchestrated by a new gang which has taken control of the streets thanks to the power vacuum created by Mad Gear's demise. Quick as a shot, Guy and Haggar are joined by police officer Lucia and street punk Dean, and the quartet decide to deal with this threat in the only way they know how: with their fists. If this is how Mike Haggar deals with civil unrest then it's little wonder he gets voted in year after year, despite his questionable hair.
While Final Fight 3 retains the side-scrolling pugilistic action that was present in its prequels, it fleshes out the number of moves each character has in order to make things a little more interesting. All four fighters are now capable of running attacks, and can also grapple from the rear as well. However, the most exciting addition is special moves, activated by Street Fighter II-style pad-and-button commands. During combat, a "Super" gauge fills up, and once this reaches its maximum level you can execute an incredibly potent attack which leaves your enemies bloodied and beaten. However, should you leave it too long before pulling off this move, your Super gauge empties and you have to wait for it to refill.
The four available fighters are all different enough to encourage you to play several times over in order to familiarise yourself with them all, and there's a two-player mode to further extend the longevity of the game. Furthermore, Capcom has included the option to allow the computer AI to control the second character, which means you can enjoy the multiplayer experience even when there's no one else to play with. Finally, branching pathways through each level add another layer of complexity, making this a game you can come back to many times over.
Visually, Final Fight 3 doesn't look quite as amazing as you might assume. The character design has a cartoon-like feel to it — hardly surprising when you consider that Capcom was working on the similar-looking Street Fighter Alpha series at the time — and while this may appeal to some, it doesn't have quite the same coherence and charm as the original title. Like Final Fight 2, this sequel suffers from some dismal character design, not just in terms of enemy sprites but also in look of the main characters. Mike Haggar's aforementioned hairstyle is made all the more ridiculous by his skin-tight shorts and biker boot combo — a sure sign of a man going through a particularly bad mid-life crisis. It's a far cry from the sensible shoes and trousers he wore in the very first Final Fight, to say the least.
Another issue is the horrendous slowdown which impacts the game whenever there are more than three enemies on-screen — this is especially bad when you're playing with a friend or AI partner. We'd like to say that it only stutters when there's a lot of action, but in reality the issue manifests itself with practically every move you make and is amplified whenever you interact with destructible elements of the scenery, such as glass windows or crates. Capcom can't be blamed for the slow CPU of the SNES, but one would have hoped that by 1995 its developers could have found a way of minimising the problem. The slowdown doesn't make it unplayable, but it does crop up enough to slightly sully your enjoyment.
Final Fight 3 gets an awful lot right; the fleshed-out move-sets make the game feel like a true rival to Sega's almost peerless Streets of Rage 2, and the ability to play co-op with the AI livens things up no end. It's certainly one of the most robust and enjoyable side-scrolling brawlers on the SNES and has plenty of replay value thanks to the four main characters and branching paths. It's just a shame that Capcom has been held back by the limitations of the host hardware; slowdown is ever-present and unremitting, and you get the impression that it is only prevented from being even worse by the low number of on-screen enemies.
Despite its niggles, Final Fight 3 manages to land more punches than it misses. It's certainly the best entry on the SNES, and should be your first choice if you're looking to sample Capcom's trio of side-scrolling scrappers — however, it's a long way off being Capcom's best side-scrolling fighter, no matter what the revisionists would have you believe.