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Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition review: Aged to perfection

Jordan Mallory

Going into Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition, the question wasn't "Will it be any good?" so much as "Will it still be any good?" See, a lot has happened in the twelve years that've passed since Third Strike hit Japanese arcades in 1999: The fighting game scene has died and been reborn anew, and our conventional understanding of the genre has seen its own phoenix-like regeneration.

Can a game that was considered nearly perfect at the peak of its relevancy still be considered as such years later? Does our crazy, modern world of Reptiles, C. Vipers and Cyclopses still need Third Strike? Yes, as it turns out, it can and it does. Like a fine wine, Third Strike has only improved with age.

Gallery: Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition (E3 2011) | 17 Photos

Third Strike's eternal relevance to the genre is firmly rooted in the fact that it was (and still is) a technical masterpiece which has influenced dozens of fighters since its launch. Its pioneering ideas and mechanics, namely the Parry system and EX Moves, form the foundation for many titles in the genre, even today. The latest Mortal Kombat, for instance, uses a super meter system almost identical to the one found in Street Fighter 4, which is an evolution of Third Strike's "Super Art" mechanics.

Times have changed though, and even though Third Strike's mechanics are just as flawlessly implemented and impossibly well designed as they ever were, the arcade world the game was designed for has all but dried up. Small pockets remain, sure, but the vast majority of fighting these days is done online, via Xbox Live or PSN. With the internet being as internet-y as it is, taking the game's frame-specific, timing-oriented mechanics and placing them in an environment where latency is a legitimate issue seemed like an impossible task.

Somehow, though, they managed to do it. Third Strike's online implementation, while not entirely perfect, is lightyears ahead of other fighters, both in concept and in practice. In every mode, parrying worked flawlessly with no noticeable input lag. Matches would sometimes freeze themselves until a connection issue was resolved, but these instances were both brief and rare. Frame rate drops and "stuttering" effects which plague other online fighters were nonexistent here, and the game's mechanical integrity felt entirely intact throughout each match.

Unsurprisingly, the Ranked, Player, and Tournament modes available for online multiplayer are also incredibly well done and designed with serious, competitive play in mind, with Player and Tournament both offering a deeper level of match customization than you'd expect.

Player matches, for example, can be set to best two out of three rounds, best two out of three matches, or if you're some kind of super-endurance-double-wizard, best four out of seven matches, with each match being four out of seven rounds. You can even ban specific characters from your lobby, and while that isn't something we really encourage, we also understand how someone would rather not bear witness to Hugo Andore's grotesque undulations.

The only fault with Player match implementation was an inability to save replays if more than two players are in a room; if the match ends with your own personal EVO Moment 37, and someone else is waiting in the lobby, it will be lost forever to the annals of history. While it's important to minimize the time spent between rounds in order to maximize the playtime of everyone in the lobby, excluding the option to save your replay feels like a concession that didn't need to be made.

Tournament mode offers the same match customization options available in Player matches, sans character bans. Four to eight players are randomly arranged into groups of two and separated into brackets, with the winners advancing and the losers free to leave, or hang around and observe the fights. Pretty standard stuff for anyone who's ever been to or participated in a fighting game competition, and in a game that's all about the serious player, traditional tournament setups were a solid design decision.

Much like Player matches, however, Tournament mode's nigh-perfect implementation is marred by one oversight: matches happen sequentially, rather than concurrently. This means that if you're placed into the fourth bracket at the start of the tourney, you have to wait for the other three matches to be fought and finished before your fight can take place. This greatly increases the time investment required to participate in an otherwise extremely fun mode, and while it's neat to get to watch other fights, actually fighting is a lot more enjoyable.

These small oversights, however, are by no means annoying enough to completely dismiss how fantastically well implemented the online component is as a whole, and seeing as that's the whole point, Capcom should be commended for designing an incredible, full-featured matchmaking system for what is admittedly a niche title.

The single player experience, while obviously less vital in an online-oriented game, packs enough bells and whistles to keep series veterans entertained, while still taking the time to show new challengers the oh-so-technical ropes.

The industry-standard Training mode which you have come to know and love has been augmented by a Trials mode, which provides combo tutorials and skill challenges for each character. Historically, Third Strike has had a fairly steep learning curve compared to other fighters, and while Trials mode assumes a bit of pre-existing knowledge about the game's mechanics, getting familiar with a new character has never been easier.

For the Daigos and Wongs among us, dozens and dozens of arcade-style "dip switches" are buried in the Settings menu, which let you tailor nearly every aspect of the game. You can disable ground parrying, anti-air parrying, blocking, dashing, whether or not someone can taunt after a KO, the list goes on and on. You can even adjust how many frames of animation you have to input a parry, or how much energy is required to perform an EX move. The number of options are truly staggering, and while the switches are of course disabled while playing online, they serve as an entertaining toy between bouts of serious fighting.

When you get right down to it, Third Strike is still Third Strike, and if it wasn't your preferred flavor of fighter twelve years ago, nothing about Online Edition has changed the core gameplay mechanics significantly enough to make it so. It's because Capcom had the good sense to leave well enough alone, however, that Online Edition is the best Third Strike there's ever been. And, as we all know, the third strike is what counts.

This review is based on the XBLA version of Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition provided by Capcom.

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