As far as the main Street Fighter series is concerned, Street Fighter III is the measuring stick when it comes to one's devotion of the franchise. The first game in the franchise was stiff, and most of it isn't a foundation for the modern fighting game. Street Fighter II saw the genre's popularity skyrocket while Street Fighter IV brought every beloved character and element from the second game into the HD console era.
Street Fighter III, on the other hand, split the community; it was readily accepted by the hardcore fighting fan while the casual ones felt alienated by the technical proficiency required. The series' pinnacle entry, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, was only released twice: once on the Sega Dreamcast and on the PS2 and Xbox as part of Street Fighter Anniversary Edition. Capcom decided that the time was right to release the game once more, this time as a stand-alone digital download for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Without a doubt, Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition is the premiere edition of the game.
For those who have never played the game before, this isn't much different from any other game in the core franchise. It's still a one-on-one fighting game where players of different fighting styles battle each other using a variety of regular and special moves. Hitting and getting hit builds up a meter which, when filled, allows the fighter to unleash a devastating super attack. By default, a winner is determined in a best-of-three contest with 99-second rounds.
There are plenty of key differences, though, and fans of the series were certainly taken aback when the title debuted over a decade ago. The most glaring omission was most of the Street Fighter II roster. You still have Ryu and Ken, the only fighters who have graced every entry in the series. Akuma joined the scene, and you have fan favorite Chun Li. Beyond that, the roster was comprised of new characters and a cameo in the form of Hugo from the Final Fight series. The new characters aren't simply cosmetic, so don't expect guys like Alex to be your Zangief variant or Twelve to be your Dhalsim alternative simply because he can stretch his limbs.
Super Arts are similar to the super special moves from Super Street Fighter II Turbo, but the user can utilize one of three different moves. Fighters can also dash toward and away from their opponent, a feature that Capcom had introduced in its other fighting series, Darkstalkers. Finally, the most notable addition was the parry system. Instead of simply blocking an attack and taking some damage for blocking special ones, you could push forward at just the right time to nullify the attack to take no damage. The move isn't restricted to one area, so air and ground parries are possible, and just about everything can be parried, including Super Arts. It was difficult to master, resulting in the exodus of casual fighting fans. If you did master it, though, fights took on a more interesting dynamic — as evidenced by the experts who play this game in tournaments every year.
Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition features a few single-player modes. Arcade mode is the same as it ever was. You can choose between one of two opponents for nine out of the 10 matches you take on before fighting the boss, Gill. Between a few bouts, you'll get the classic car-smashing game as well as the basketball parry game from Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact. Beyond this, there's a basic training mode, where you can practice. More intriguing is a trials mode, where you have to complete five different challenges per character and 10 related to the art of parrying. Also different from other trials is the fact that you're never really told how to perform each move. Unless you have a guide next to you or someone explaining how each move is performed, only experts will be able to get anywhere with this mode.
All of these single-player modes are governed by a game-specific achievement system similar to the one from Final Fight: Double Impact. Performing just about anything helps open up achievements that are different from the console's Trophy system (some achievements and Trophies happen to be the same). Those achievements give you points, which are used as currency to unlock the game's extras, which include artwork, music tracks and ending movies. While there isn't anything unexpected to unlock (such as the Street Fighter animated episode seen in the Final Fight package), it is a nice diversion from the constant battles.
Multiplayer is the real heart of any fighting game, and it is here that the game shines performance-wise. Touting some GGPO code, the bouts feel rather smooth as controller inputs never feel delayed. Medium to excellent connections yield no lag, making it feel like a local multiplayer game rather than one you normally experience online. It's refreshing to see the game perform near flawlessly for most connection types. Curiously, the game's leveling system is based more on the completion of personal achievements as opposed to win-loss records. It's not a bad grading method since personal achievements aren't tied to the single-player game, but most players will take some time to come to terms with it.
There are a few other multiplayer elements to partake in, aside from straight one-on-one bouts. Tournament mode lets you set up small online tournaments for up to eight people. All of the rules and private slots are customizable, including the ability to ban up to three different characters from play, ensuring that you won't get endless matches of Ryu, Ken, etc. There's also the ability to watch online match replays with friends or by yourself, along with the option to vote on those matches via a thumbs up/thumbs down system. You can also save replays of your own online matches and post them to the game servers or YouTube. Except for the fact that you have to watch the whole match again as it encodes, the process is pretty seamless and gives you a wider audience to watch your triumphs and failures.
Like most of the recent Capcom fighting games since the original Street Fighter IV, online still has a few issues. Ranked matches don't seem to do a good job of matching you with similarly ranked people. During the review period, while we were marked as a level 1 fighter, the game mostly matched us with a rank 1 or 2 fighter. When it didn't, it matched us with a level 6 or 13 fighter. There were also a few times when opponents couldn't be found. While the much-lauded GGPO technology ensured that lag didn't affect controller input, it didn't mean that lag wasn't an issue. The game was still playable with bad connections, but you would often get missing frames during the fight; this is slightly disorienting, especially for fights that are mostly airborne.
Depending on your setup, the graphics have both worsened and improved. The character illustrations and portraits for character selection have improved from the original. Each is so well defined that it looks like some premiere work from UDON, the company behind the Street Fighter comics. The game always looked beautiful in motion, and that still holds true today. Seeing the fighters flow effortlessly from move to move is a sight to behold, and even the little details got some attention. Look at Ibuki's standing animation, for example, and you'll see individual fingers move independently of one another. Give Hugo a devastating hit to the stomach, and you'll see his eyes bulge out as he is surprised with pain. It is good-looking stuff, and while the animation isn't as good for the backdrops, they still contain little touches like flowing fabrics, steam coming from manholes, and snakes falling from trees. Again, it looks great in motion, but once you stop moving, you see that this was all accomplished using pretty low-resolution backgrounds and sprites. It was a source of criticism when Guilty Gear pulled off good animation with higher-resolution sprites, and it remains a sore spot today.
To handle this, the developers have provided a few visual options. By default, the game is presented in 4:3 with the crisp filter activated. The ratio is fine, though players can change it to stretched or widescreen to fill in the TV area, though this causes you to lose the personal achievement progress notifications. Players can also change the ratio to a special 4:3 mode that is curved at the ends, much like a classic CRT monitor or TV. Scan lines can also be turned on to achieve the old look, and unlike most scan line options, this actually adds darker lines to the scene instead of just replacing every other line with solid black lines. As for filters, crisp isn't so bad until you realize that some details get lost. Hands look more like blobs, and some minute touches become color blobs. Going for the normal look introduces the rough sprite look of the original but also shows the low color count for the backgrounds. On the other hand, it feels like the smooth filter is correct, as it still shows some sprite details without losing too much for the sake of HD displays.
The sound is almost amazing. By default, the music featured is the remixed tunes and not the original ones, though you can later unlock the original music and use that instead. The score, comprised of Capcom's typical fighting game music mixed with drum and bass and hip-hop, is high-energy stuff, and the fact that it incorporates a few tonal changes per round is a nice but subtle touch. The voices are much easier to hear since the balance between all three elements is better. Unfortunately, the muffled sound effects bring this title short of excellent. It sounds a little less full, as if something was lost due to too much compression. While the hits still sound solid, there isn't as much impact as you would expect, especially when fighters fall to the ground. Most people might not notice, but longtime fans will eventually notice and frown upon it.
As stated before, Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition is the definitive version of the classic arcade game. The gameplay is still focused more on dedicated fighting fans than the casual ones, but thanks to the progress of fighting games, casual players nowadays may be more tolerant of the difficulty level. The personal achievement system and subsequent extras are good. The graphics and sound have only seen minimal degradation over the years, and while the online code is excellent, there's still the issue of actually finding players, especially ones that won't quit after losing one round. Most importantly, it's a fighting game that still feels fresh after all these years, making it a classic title. Fighting game fans of all types will have no problem enjoying Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition.
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