SFIII Online Edition Review
Few decade-old games get quite the treatment and fanfare that Capcom's classic, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, is getting in its newest home console port. SFIII Online Edition is a downloadable title priced at a reasonable $15, and it includes a huge pile of features that make this a love letter to the fans of what they say is the most polished fighting game of the 1990s. Now, seeing SF3 Online Edition in its full glory and also having played the "future" of fighting games in in Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I finally get it. There's a simplicity that Capcom accomplished back in the late 90s, combined with a technical and fast action that's never frantic, that makes so many matchups incredibly balanced and fun. Many say that Street Fighter III is very possibly the best fighting game ever made, and Online Edition is hands-down the best direct port of an arcade fighting game that we've ever seen.
Everything is hand-drawn in SFIII, and while that does mean the graphics are aliased and grainy by today's HD standards - hell, they were pretty bad compared to the visuals even the Dreamcast (and games like Soul Calibur) were pumping out in 1999 - there's a charm here, and it's one that is backed up with a fantastic art style and smooth animations. Capcom's latest effort brings us an arcade-perfect port with several graphical options to filter the pixellated visuals, although I think most will just stick with the basics and play it unfiltered. The widescreen margins are useless in a game like this which runs in the old fullscreen aspect ratio, so Capcom has used this space to track your achievements and challenges. You'll gain points by unleashing combos, taunts, projectiles, and more, and then can use them to unlock a vault chock full of art, music, and more surrounding the game. It should be pointed out that these are all just fun extras, and all of the characters and stages are unlocked and playable right from the start. I'm a little annoyed about Capcom charging for a few small pieces of DLC (extra character colors for $3, additional pages of arcade dipswitches for tweaking local play for $1, and a playable Gill unlock for another buck), as I think the base game's $15 price tag should have been enough to cover all of it.
Still, that's a pretty minor complaint, and it kind of melts away once you play for the first time in a long time - or just for the first time period. At the core of what made SFIII so great was in its meter and parry systems. Expert players would deftly manage their meters to unleash powered-up EX special attacks along with super moves (both of which SFIV players should be used to), but then there are the parries, and these things change the game entirely. During the exact frame when an enemy's attack hits you, tap towards the enemy (or down if it's a low attack) and you will negate all damage and set up your own attack. It's a highly technical move that requires a ton of practice to get right, but parries are absolutely useful both in offline play with your buddies and in high-stakes online matches. The pros use them many times in nearly every match, too. Yes, SFIV's focus attacks were designed to be a more accessible substitute for parries, but the systems are so vastly different in practice that it's hard to draw any parallels between the two, really.
Included in Online Edition's multiplayer action is a network middleware called GGPO, which was homespun and used in PC-based emulators for years before finally making it to the bigtime - first in Capcom's recent downloadable port of Final Fight, and now here in Online Edition. While GGPO isn't going to make the most laggy connections perfect, it is by far the best way to do 2D fighting games online, and what's best is that combos and setups you perform offline are very doable online. Compare that to any iteration of SFIV, where everything has to be played differently due to the lag, and you'll see why many of the hardcore fighting game community are calling for all developers and publishers to implement GGPO's code in any fighting game where it'd fit. So far, the response from the high-ups at Capcom Japan has been lukewarm, but hopefully the overwhelmingly positive reports from SFIII Online Edition's players spurs the Capcom brass to continue licensing GGPO for future games.
It's important to point out that if you're a casual fighting game player that goofs around in offline modes, does a bit of training, and has an evening or two of fights with your friends before shelving a fighting game, then you're probably not going to be happy with SFIII Online Edition. This is a pretty technical game that requires immaculate timing and creative combo abilities, and while the challenge modes might be amusing for a little while, the arcade mode is just about as shallow as you'd expect. Then there's the final boss, Gill, who is about as cheap and annoying to fight as some of the worst fighting game bosses out there. Really, no Japanese fighting game courts casual fighter fans like Mortal Kombat 9 (or maybe the UFC games' career modes) can, so if those games are your gold standard, then SFIII is probably not for you.
Moving forwards, I kind of wonder whether Capcom is taking any note of the love that this game is still getting. Street Fighter IV was a slower, more deliberate project with a silly streak in its art and design, and I wonder whether we will ever see something closer to SFIII's style come in a future game - but this time rendered in 3D, of course. I hope so, because while I wasn't really looking forwards to a new port of a decade-plus-old game, even just a couple of hours with Online Edition has reminded me just how polished and brilliant Capcom's final 2D opus really was. Now, I think I can get behind the rather common sentiment that this is the best fighting game ever made.