Will the British never learn?
  • Capcom
  • Will the British never learn?

There are two common reactions to hearing that Capcom has issued a new version of Street Fighter III to both the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.

The first is jubilation. "Even with an incredibly unwieldy title, I am very excited for this game and will express that opinion politely in the comments section of this article!" the first group thinks to themselves, thumbs twitching in anticipatory Shoryuken motions.

The second reaction, however, is one of rage. "How dare Capcom again ask me to purchase Street Fighter III?" this group shouts at its ambivalent, sleepy cat. Not that they ever purchased any of the game's earlier releases, but this group will be damned if they're going to give Capcom money for a game from 1997!

It's a real shame about those second folks. They'll be raging to no one in particular while the rest of us are playing what is, in sum, the best fighting game release to date.

Hyperbole, right? "Nex, there is no way that this is the greatest fighting game ever. It's a downloadable game! $15 won't buy you the pinnacle of virtual fisticuffs!"

That's what I thought too. As it turns out, we've underestimated Capcom.

When weighing a console fighting game against its peers, there are two key criteria that must be addressed: the game's utility and entertainment potential as a single-player game, and its multiplayer component. We'll discuss both in turn.

First however, a quick primer for those of you unfamiliar with Street Fighter III. Originally released in 1997, SF3 was the long-awaited sequel to Street Fighter II. Capcom had been offering players side stories and updates for almost a decade, but fans wanted a true followup and Capcom eventually delivered.

Only, they completely swerved the fanbase by essentially dumping 90% of Street Fighter II's beloved cast. Hardcore fighting game fans loved the new, inventive characters and the tight game design, but mainstream gamers were baffled by the change. Most would try the game once, decry the lack of Balrog, and go back to Street Fighter II.

Over the next few years SF3 saw two updates, dubbed 2nd Impact and 3rd Strike, respectively. Each added new characters (including some SF2 favorites) and new gameplay ideas. The subject of this review, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition (henceforth, SF3Online), is based on the arcade release of the final iteration of Street Fighter III.

More specifically, SF3Online is an arcade-perfect port of that game, with a ton of extras courtesy modern videogame technology.

Though the characters in SF3Online may be unfamiliar to those of you who grew up on Zangief and Blanka, the game plays like any other Capcom fighter. Quarter circle fireballs and Z-motion uppercuts are still the norm, and even the charge-based characters play very similarly to the classics (Remy is more or less a Gallic Guile clone, for instance).

And you thought Master Of The Fist was just a sex euphemism.
  • Capcom
  • And you thought "Master Of The Fist" was just a sex euphemism.

The biggest change to this game is the addition of a parry system. By pressing forward when your opponent throws an attack at you, you are able to both deflect it and leave them open for a counter. Unlike blocking, your character takes no damage, and while parries require some very precise timing, they're an invaluable skill to master. You will frustrate yourself initially while trying to guess at your foe's attacks, but there are few things that can make a gamer feel as awesome as parrying a shot that would otherwise kill them.

After all, there's a reason why Daigo Umehara's EVO 2004 victory is so legendary.

The result of this addition is that Street Fighter III is a more technical fighter than either Street Fighter II or Street Fighter IV. This was also a contributing factor to most Capcom fans giving this game a pass in its earlier iterations, but one of the greatest accomplishments of SF3Online is that it can actually teach you everything you need to know to play the game very, very well.

This sort of thing has been attempted before. Street Fighter IV, for instance, offers a mode in which players are tasked with stringing together attacks, and in theory, learn how to create combos of their own.

SF3Online however, tests players on absolutely everything. From incredibly basic parries up to a recreation of the aforelinked Daigo video, the game will show you how to do everything you can imagine, if you only have the patience to learn the game's timing and commands.

Unfortunately, the game falls into one of the traps also seen in other Capcom fighters (namely Marvel Vs Capcom 3): the training missions only include attack names on the screen. Sure, you can hit "Select" to bring up a list of how to actually do these moves, but that takes you right out of the game. It's a minor complaint, but it could have been done better.

In a neat twist, designed to prey on the Achievement-whores among us, while you're training, the game is offering you rewards for basically everything you do. Dubbed "Challenges," these mini-Achievements help you to track your progress by quantifying and offering points for throwing fireballs, using Super Arts and stringing together combos. The points and the Challenges system in general, extends across the entirety of SF3Online, both single- and multiplayer, and once you have enough points, you can use them to unlock things in The Vault.

As its name would suggest, The Vault is a treasure trove of art and media assets from throughout the Street Fighter III series. Ending movies, menu music and concept art are just a few of the items to be had. Each item costs a small amount of points, but given the number of items to unlock (off the top of my head, I would estimate 200+ separate unlockables), you'll be hard pressed to grab them all in any short amount of time.

This screenshot is: a) sexy b) awesome c) vaguely racist d) all of the above
  • Capcom
  • This screenshot is: a) sexy b) awesome c) vaguely racist d) all of the above

Speaking of art, let's talk about the game's graphics.

(Yes, that was a terrible segue. I'm not happy about it either.)

Given that SF3Online appears on hardware far more advanced than the CPS3 arcade board it was designed for — for reference, the CPS3 was a Capcom arcade machine whose power was roughly somewhere between the Sega Saturn and the Dreamcast — Capcom has taken the liberty of giving the game some solid aesthetic upgrades, while also offering devotees of the original game the chance to play it exactly as it appeared more than a decade ago.

Three graphical filters are on offer here: "crisp," "smooth" and "none." You can probably guess what "none" is, but the first two are essentially an attempt to blur colors across adjacent pixels. In theory this should reduce pixelization and jagged edges. It mostly works too, though the "crisp" option can occasionally look a bit muddy (Remy looks like a cartoon character at times), and the "smooth" option mostly just creates entirely new jagged bits.

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Personally, I prefer the "crisp" filter as it also tends to give the backgrounds a really gorgeous Georges Seurat-esque flavor, but you old school fans will be happy to hear that the "none" option is exactly as pretty as you remember it being. Capcom even included optional scanline emulation that does a fantastic job of mimicking an archaic CRT monitor.

While the game does offer a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, I just can't recommend it for anyone who has played Street Fighter III in its native form. Not only does "widescreen" stretch the proportions of the entire game to fit your HDTV, it also removes the sidebars that keep a running tally of the points you've earned from various challenges. This is a game that just looks better in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and trying to monkey with that will bring naught but obese Chun-Lis and Qs who appear to be smuggling children under that creepy trench coat.

See? Everythings all chubby and distended.
  • Capcom
  • See? Everything's all chubby and distended.

Aesthetics: down, gameplay: covered ... alright, I think it's time we discussed the multiplayer.

If there is one key reason to purchase SF3Online, it would have to be the game's multiplayer component. Built on top of GGPO netcode, the game simply performs better online than any other console fighter to date. I've put in something like 150 fights so far, and only once have I experienced any sort of network lag — and that was when fighting a friend who lives literally on the opposite side of the planet. Even then, the lag only cropped up for about 3 seconds, before things went back to being smooth as silk.

As if that wasn't enough, Capcom also included a wealth of really useful multiplayer modes as well. Of course you have the standard "ranked" and "player" matches — the latter of which puts you in a lobby with other, similar players and while you wait your turn, you can watch their fights, in real-time, lag-free — but it also includes options to save and catalogue replays of your fights, search the 'net for replays of recent matches and even invite friends to watch saved or streaming replays with you.

Likewise, Capcom has also promised that within a few days after the game's August 23 release, a title update will give players the ability to upload replays directly to YouTube. Neat, right?

Admittedly, the average, casual fighting fan will rarely get much use out of these options, but it's brilliant of Capcom to include them.

That last comment is actually a pretty good summation of SF3Online as a whole. The game is bristling with thoughtful, well-designed gameplay options that the majority of people will never use, but it's simply fantastic that Capcom went to the trouble to program them in to a title that can be downloaded for only $15.

Hell, for that price, a barebones re-issue of 3rd Strike would have been a bargain, so it should be lauded that Capcom put so much effort into this game. If you have any interest in fighting games, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition is a must-own.

... and yet somehow Ibuki still looks svelte as a puma. (What a bitch.)
  • Capcom
  • ... and yet somehow Ibuki still looks svelte as a puma. (What a bitch.)

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