When Street Fighter IV was released, many series fans were puzzled and displeased. That’s because it deviated from the fast, technical and no-hand-holding style of gameplay that Street Fighter III pioneered. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition is a love letter to those fans that weren’t satiated by SFIV and its cheesy comeback mechanic. Does it warrant the purchase price? You be the judge of that.
One has to wonder if this game can possibly hold its own in terms of sales or popularity when a newer, flashier Street Fighter title is readily available. Such a thought overlooks the fact that SFIII and SFIV are very different though, and I’d be willing to bet a good amount of the SFIV player base wouldn’t enjoy this as much, just as many SFIII fans are indifferent to SFIV.
First, let’s talk about the visuals. I don’t consider the visuals here to be great, or even noticeably good. Everything looks a bit sharper than it did on the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection (which is the only time I ever owned and played the game), but not by much. Generally speaking, this could still very easily be a PlayStation 2 game. Obviously graphics aren’t vital or anything, especially here, but after seeing the approach taken with Street Fighter II HD Remix, you kind of expect everything to be redrawn and razor sharp, but that’s not the case. There are a few filters you can play with in options and you can switch the view from widescreen, to stretched or to arcade view to further edit the graphics. Please don’t think I’m saying the game is ugly or anything because it never has been. The animations are fluid and well done. The visuals simply haven’t been polished up too much from the first time around. This is referring exclusively to the actual game-play. The UI looks great compared to the first time around, and the character art is awesome.
Concerning story, well, it’s almost non-existent. Not completely non-existent, because if you beat the arcade mode with each character, you’ll get a short ending video that should say something about their motives. This isn’t always the case though. For example, in Akuma’s story he destroys a pair of submarines for no apparent reason and that’s that. I don’t like saying things like this but I have to be honest; the game has no story but it doesn’t need to have one. No one ever came for the story, so I have no issue with its absence, though I’m certain this makes me a hypocrite when I demand narrative in other titles or decry them for their lack thereof.
The music in the game is awesome as it has always been. Jazzy and modern, the game’s soundtrack is not only unlike what’s usually heard in fighting games, but it’s also unlike what’s heard in games period. There is even a hip hop overtone, which is stronger here than before because of the blood boiling main menu music. There are remixes of all of the tracks from the original, though I tend to prefer the originals. Overall, the up tempo and diverse array of songs make the soundtrack in the game a winner. No voices or other sound effects seem to have been redone.
The game-play has remained completely intact. As it always was, the game is technical, fast and exciting. There are six attack buttons, each with various applications. In addition to basic guarding, you can also parry attacks by pushing forward or down at the moment of impact. This easy to pick up but tricky to implement maneuver is preferable to blocking because it eliminates block/hit stun (and I think it negates chip damage as well but I’m not sure). This single mechanic, which is absent in SFIV BTW, forces you to think about your moves because you could get severely punished for making sloppy, easy to predict attacks. It also shuts down the projectile spam/zoning game that is so very popular in SFIV. The EX attacks are powered up versions of regular specials and give the attacks new properties at the cost of some meter.
The meter is built by attacking and landing attacks on opponents – not really by being attacked. The amount of meter gained by receiving damage is tiny and insignificant. Furthermore, there is no comeback mechanic. If the opponent has a seventy percent stamina lead on you, you aren’t going to be able to whip out an OMGWTF super combo that levels the playing field. You’ll have to think of something to turn the tables, like Daigo Umehara did in the most famous Street Fighter III match of all time.
Beneath the stamina bars at the top of the screen you can see the stun gauge, which increases as you take damage without dealing damage. When it’s full you’re stunned for enough time for your opponent to do something demoralizing and possibly match ending, which is both your punishment for lack of skill and their reward for being good. There is also grabbing, grab escape, hi jumps, etc. You’ll get to learn all of the mechanics in a comprehensive ‘How to Play’ tutorial. The game is on the whole pretty fast, while it doesn’t reach Guilty Gear crack speeds. The sizable cast offers a variety of different play-styles and while it lacks a number of series staples such as Guile, Blanka and Zangief, the characters are unique and totally hold it down in their own rights.
The online multiplayer is tight. The GPPO netcoding does a pretty good job of hiding lag, and I had very few issues concerning lag while I played online. This obviously also depends on your connection and I often experience lag in other games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and SSFIV. All of the online essentials are here, including: ranked and player matches, lobbies, spectator mode, and leaderboards. The online is handled wonderfully in many areas. For example, you can see the disconnect rate of players from lobby screens, which allows you to determine which players are likely to rage quit. You can also select up to three characters to ban from any player room, which is a feature that a game like MVC3 could really use.
The replay sharing is my favorite feature of the entire game. You can search for replays on a variety of factors such as player rank, region, characters used and more. You can download the ones you like and watch replays with friends that own the game. As I understand, you can even link the game to your YouTube account and effortlessly upload your matches. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a lot more time watching replays than actually playing the game, which is fine. This is also an invaluable tool in learning how to play the game well.
SFIII:3SO is thick with content and offers satisfying value for the money. The single player modes include training, arcade, trial, challenge and vault. The arcade and training modes are standard (though training is notably full featured) and trial mode is a vast collection of challenging tasks. The trial mode will take an immense amount of time to complete, and the trials range from simple to so complicated you might break your controller in frustration. There is even one that has you recreate the amazing Evo moment with Daigo that I mentioned earlier. Apart from this, there are many character specific trials that teach you some vital techniques and combos with your character of choice. Such a feature was a must in a game like this.
The challenges are basically in game trophies and completing them grants you vault points which you can use to unlock content in the vault. The vault is a huge basket of art and promo goodies. It has art and renders of each character, endings, music and the like. The fan service is really appreciated because it all looks great and you’ll also spend quite a while trying to unlock it all. Between the trials, challenges and vault, you could easily pump more than one hundred hours into this game. For fifteen dollars, it’s packed with the kind of content you’d expect to see in a full priced fighter.
In conclusion, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online is an enjoyable and very deep technical fighter with a wealth of content. The addictive game-play is as fun to watch as it is to play and mastering it may take a lifetime (or at least a big part of one). The online suite is comprehensive and it may just feature the best replay sharing system in any fighter to date. The challenges, trials and vault dangle the carrot of progression in front of you almost indefinitely. The mood created by the awesome soundtrack is unique. This game was created with a ton of love and care and you can see this in just about every aspect of it. At little more than the cost of a movie ticket, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online is pretty much pure win.