When it comes to re-releasing old titles, few in the industry do it better than Capcom. The company may know how to milk its more popular franchises, but it also knows how to listen to its fans. The core of Street Fighter III: Third Strike - Online Edition may be an old game, but with all the content that Capcom has packed into it, it might as well be a brand-new release.
More than a decade old, Street Fighter III: Third Strike is often held up alongside Street Fighter Alpha 2 as one of the best games to ever come out of the franchise. The biggest difference between the two is in the level of skill needed to play well. While both games cater to high-level players, Alpha 2 is still somewhat accommodating no matter your skill level. Third Strike, on the other hand, is purely a technical fighter. If you're not willing to put in a bit of time and practice, expect to get your ass handed to you in short order.
Street Fighter III made its mark on the franchise when it debuted with an integrated parry system. Instead of simply blocking, fighters could parry an incoming attack and immediately counter. Third Strike extended the parry system to include Guard Parrying, which combines a block with an immediate parry, essentially allowing a player to cancel into a parry.
On the surface, the parry system may not sound like much, but in practice, it adds a great deal of complexity to a match. Unlike blocking, parrying can be done in mid-air, which is an extremely useful skill to master. The timing has to be precise, just like a throw evade, but once you've learned how to use the parry system, it can mean the difference between winning and losing.
Given the technical nature of the game, Capcom wisely chose to include a Trials mode within Third Strike - Online Edition. Trials mode requires players to master five different character-specific challenges, along with 10 parrying challenges and five handicap challenges. The character challenges are an excellent way to master useful combos, but the parrying challenges in particular are vital. It's not quite a full tutorial, but it is a great way to brush up on old skills. About the only thing missing are a set of demonstration videos highlighting how to perform the required moves.
If you just want to practice, Third Strike also includes both the normal and parry training modes that first appeared in the Dreamcast version of the game. They sport the new UI, but functionality-wise are unchanged. Recording a set of moves for your training opponent and then having the computer play them back is a great way to practice parrying specific attacks.
Visually, Third Strike looks surprisingly good thanks to the use of a few optional filters. The default mode, crisp, offers up the highest fidelity, though it is by no means the only way to play. Purists can turn off the filters entirely, while those going old-school will likely prefer the simulated curved surface of an arcade monitor and the virtual scan lines. The scan line filter here is notable because it isn't just a black line filter. It offers up a faithful recreation of a CRT screen.
Because Third Strike was developed for a 4:3 arcade monitor, Capcom kept the original display mode intact. Menu screens and the associated character art are displayed in a stretched fashion before a match, but in-game, everything is in the proper aspect ratio unless you choose to stretch it out to 16:9 in the options. Whereas most companies would simply slap a border onto the screen, Capcom decided to use the dead space on the side of the screen for something useful: a real-time objective display.
Integrated into Third Strike is a goal system comprised of named challenges. Beating certain challenges unlocks Achievements; however, the more practical goal is the collection of vault points. Because the challenges cover just about every aspect of a fight, you're bound to start completing them just by playing the game. Play enough, and you'll have a nice little bank of points that can be used to unlock bonus items, such as concept art and music tracks. It's a nice touch for hardcore fans.
Third Strike comes standard with remixed theme music for the main menu and character select screens. The original tunes, as well as remixed themes for each of the stages, can be unlocked in the vault. All of the remixes are nicely done, fitting in with the theme of the game, yet still feeling contemporary. It's very easy to forget that these remixes didn't originally ship with the game more than a decade ago.
Given that "online" appears right in the name of Third Strike - Online Edition, it's worth noting that the game performs admirably online. Third Strike uses a version of the open-source GGPO netcode to provide a seemingly lag-free online experience. It can't compensate for every online hiccup (so if you have a poor-quality connection in the first place, don't expect it to work miracles), but for most players, the online matches will feel just like local competition.
In addition to playing ranked and casual matches online, Third Strike also allows you to create tournaments or play locally. Replays of online matches can be saved, just like in Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition; however, sharing them with others online, searching for specific replays and viewing streaming replays — all features of the game — were non-functional during our time with Third Strike. Even YouTube sharing failed to work. Nearly all of the replay features returned a server error when used.
Replay functionality may not be a core part of the game, but it is a feature used by core fans. Add a point to the score if Capcom gets it working in the future.
When all is said and done, Street Fighter III: Third Strike - Online Edition is much more than a straightforward port. Capcom and Iron Galaxy have put together what is essentially the definitive version of Street Fighter III: Third Strike. With arcade-perfect gameplay, solid online match-ups and plenty of unlockable extras, it's finally time to retire your old Dreamcast copy of the game. At a 1,200 MSP ($15 USD) price point, it's also quite a bit cheaper than tracking down a used copy on eBay.
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