Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360
In various walks of life things go in cycles. Horror films, fashions and the venerable one on one beat 'em up. Street Fighter IV's release in 2008 instigated the current and continues to fuel the fervour of fans even now given the Super and Arcade edition variants. A remarkable game, it took many back to their formative years in the early 90's when they would invariably be found pumping pocket money into the Street Fighter II arcade cabinet or continuously bothering parents in the run up to Christmas to ensure they did get a copy of the game for the Super Nintendo on 1992's special day.
Street Fighter II lent critical mass to the beat 'em up. Many would think Capcom could only manage it with even numbered versions of their games as Street Fighter III didn't exactly set the sales world alight when released 1997 through 1999 (including 2nd and 3rd strike variants). However, Street Fighter III: Third Strike is regarded as the best execution of beat 'em ups ever, and most fans can attest to this given they have played one or more variants for each of the past 14 years. It seems right that this beloved pinnacle should be released on PSN (version tested) and XBLA given the state of the genre. The question is, does it hit the right spots for all users old and new today, 12 years after its release?
The first thing to note is that any person who has played any Street Fighter will be able to pick up and play this immediately, and with some degree of control. Whichever character you choose will have the usual punches and kicks, and most will have a half circle punch / kick special move to get you going (or a left - right charge and so on). Pick Ryu, Ken or Chun-Li and you'll find yourself right at home. A Street Fighter IV user will have to make do with Super art (Specials) moves as no Ultras exist here, and a Street Fighter II user will be able to spam fireballs and turtle all day long.
After an initial welcoming to the fold, this iteration of the Street Fighter series quickly takes on a life of its own. Street Fighter III: Third Strike is very different from II or IV, which reinforces the quality and depth of mechanics on show. It's inputs are very tight leading to a large number of instances where you will find yourself flailing wildly and wondering why you've just had a 13 hit combo executed against you as you 'pulled off' your special move. It is ruthless. Is this a bad thing? It depends. Whilst it encourages the player to tighten their skills, really focus on the right moves at the right time (or defence if necessary) and ensure a focus on efficient execution rather than button bashing panic, it does make for a very steep learning curve even to familiar users. Unless you are an expert of the genre then things could very quickly get frustrating. Equally, how much time are people willing to put in? Fighting games lend themselves to many hours practice either versus a dummy perfecting moves, timing windows and combos or learning a given character and determining the best match-ups. This game allows that but why would you choose this over Street Fighter IV, for instance?
The character roster is fairly depressing. This is said as a fan. If completely new to Street Fighter there are unlikely to be any problems. There are lots of characters and a wide variety as you'd expect - martial artists, wrestlers, brawlers, boxers and more. It's all there and the pure fighting variation is apparent. But only a few characters are known from other games. Given Street Fighter IV built its roster according to criteria such as a best of / fan's favourites / balance by cherry picking from all other SFs, well, it doesn't build confidence. When playing as the various SFIII characters its clear why. For sure they can all fight and do so very well if mastered. But the fun is lacking somewhat. There is no reason not to go online as Ken and Ryu. What it does provide is an opportunity for an experienced Street Fighter II or more likely Street Fighter IV player to learn more characters if they have taken all they can from the aforementioned games.
The big point of difference Street Fighter III: Third Strike has versus the other Street Fighters is the parry system. Typically, when attacked, a world warrior has the opportunity to block, win the stalemate thanks to their move having priority, or just get hit. Not so in this instance. A parry, when executed with correct timing, ensures no health is taken and the game carries on with the parry performer with the upper hand. All moves in the game can be parried. To parry is to be a top-tier player. Anyone can parry, but to use it to your advantage and build it into your everyday gameplay requires immense skill, perseverance and / or experience. It is just not easy. One parry here or there is. But when attacked with a super art move of x or more hits you've got to be special to get anywhere. If you haven't played a version of Street Fighter III, the concept of parrying may be alien (and will likely stay that way if you can't FADC - or have no idea what that means!) but look at the video below. Imagine Chun-Li attacking you with a 10+ hit combo and consider how you would (or wouldn't cope). In any game. See how Daigo copes.
He's a master. That is what parrying can get you. It's a shame it's so inaccessible unless you practice incessantly, or are already there. The thing is, the hours of practice required are hard to find. A crying shame, for sure.
The multiplayer options are comprehensive. Local fighting is obviously allowed and makes for a great session with your mates (especially if you're of similar capabilities) - just think of any other SF game with a different set of characters. Online there are options to play unranked or ranked matches, tournaments, save and upload replays to YouTube and you can watch replays with friends. Exhaustive. The game utilises GGPO (Good Game Peace Out) netcode to ensure a smooth and nearly lag-free experience. In the games played online slow-down was noticed in one unranked match but otherwise all was fluid and fast, especially when playing ranked matches. As with the single player part of the game there are various challenges which add to the package. As is often the case however, nine times out of ten your match-up will be versus Ken. Fighting never changes...
The port itself, by Iron Galaxy studios, is rather impressive. There's a new HD home screen and a variety of options on how to play - arcade mode, online multiplayer, trials (learn parrying, combos etc.) - as well as challenges, which are effectively trophies / achievements plus loads of similarly tasked things. For example, fire 500 projectiles, parry 5 low attacks or set your opponent on fire 75 times. These challenges have various tiers and add to the game as they're little goals to set yourself even if getting destroyed by the ever so slightly cheap final boss (not Seth level cheap, unless you defeat him with his super art bar full...)and they fill out the in-game screen given the actual fight arena is 4:3 ratio and appears to all intents and purposes the same graphics as the day it was first coded (there are subtleties which to the untrained eye appear due to the fact things are being viewed on a HD screen through a HD filter). You can apply one of many visual filters (smooth graphics, original pixellated graphics - you can even add scan lines or view in the arcade cabinet mode) if so inclined. The title song is not as catchy and more irritating than in Street Fighter IV but otherwise the port is fantastic. With the additions mentioned above, plus vaults which when unlocked (using VP currency gained by completing challenges) provide various character arts, videos and the like, the value of the overall package shines through. Doubly so when reflected versus the asking price.
Street Fighter III: Third Strike is a fabulous fighting game. It may be the best ever made when measuring according to the technical superiority, frame by frame attention to detail and so on. Unfortunately it's just too inaccessible to anyone who isn't (nor will be) an expert fighter. To get the most out of it parrying must be learnt. If this is not possible, given the preferable character options of Street Fighter II & IV, as well as the more expansive and fun fights to be found in any of the fourth iteration's variants (especially if you subscribe to the quality of Ultras) there is little to recommend this as an alternative. If you have time, skills and / or have played the others to death this game is for you. If you are still enjoying your other fighters, or want to pick your first one up - this is not the place to start.