Released in 1999, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is unquestionably one of the most finely-crafted games of all time, with a number of players considering it among the greatest overall. With such a strong following, it's no question why fans were disheartened when the legacy Xbox Live shutdown left gamers without a completely legitimate way to play 3rd Strike online. That all changed at the 2010 San Diego ComicCon, when current Street Fighter series producer Yoshinori Ono announced 3rd Strike Online Edition as thanks to the players for making his iterations of the series as successful as they have been, and effectively saving his job at Capcom. In his own words, "The least I can do is return Street Fighter III to you." It should be noted that Ono himself only worked to get the 3rd Strike Online Edition project green-lit (his energies are focused exclusively on next year's Street Fighter X Tekken), while the actual development was handled by Street Fighter community member turned Capcom employee Derek Neal and the team at Iron Galaxy.
What Is It?
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is the ultimate refinement of the Street Fighter III series, which proved that a 2D fighting game can be technically brilliant without piling up so many different gameplay elements that players get drowned in a sea of jargon before they can actually start learning anything. Elements from other fighting games, like super jumps, made their Street Fighter debut in III, but what really distinguishes it from the rest of the franchise is the parrying system, which allows players with good timing to swat down any number of strikes in a row without facing so much the threat of chip damage from special and super attacks. Moreover, parrying will provide considerable timing advantage, allowing you to react immediately as opposed to waiting for the usual recoil to pass that comes from the more traditional blocking.
When you put everything together, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is an extremely deep and well-tuned fighting game that breaks from the usual Street Fighter fare in only the right ways. Although it's not perfectly balanced by any stretch of the imagination (Chunli-II, Yun-III, and Ken-III are all clearly a cut above the rest of the cast), almost any character can reasonably compete with the right amount of knowledge and work ethic. It's even more rewarding to do well while playing as characters like Necro and Oro who, although entirely competitive in their own right, clearly did not distinguish themselves as top tier.
Why Should I Care?
Online Edition established a focus on community feedback from the very beginning, with an official suggestion thread appearing on Capcom's message boards almost immediately after the game was announced. The results of the feedback are evident throughout the final product, from the trial modes that were built specifically to bring new players up to speed on this extremely technical fighting game, to acknowledgement of Daigo Umehara's legendary Evolution 2004 full parry against Justin Wong (widely attributed as the moment that made America aware of 3rd Strike) as the game's final parrying trial, to YouTube match uploads, to the inclusion of unlockable artwork and soundtrack remixes straight from the Street Fighter community. Also of note are active challenges, which provide you with constant updates on your progress toward certain objectives while playing in the game's native 4:3 screen ratio, putting the space at the sides of the screen to use. Online Edition was clearly a labor of love on the part of both developer and playerbase alike.
No evidence of this fact, however, is nearly as obvious as the inclusion of Tony Cannon's brainchild, GGPO, as the game's network middleware. For those who don't know, GGPO came about when Cannon set out to cure the typical lag issues that have plagued online fighting games from the beginning. The result is a piece of middleware that many regard as the height of fighting genre netcode. It isn't perfect, but it does solve many common problems the genre faces when taken online.
That's what makes the omissions so glaring. It's hard to imagine that a game so thoroughly built around community feedback could just passively "oops" something as important as double-blind character selection, or leave out Street Fighter IV's brilliant "play arcade mode while waiting for an online match" mechanic. The latter wouldn't be so bad if ranked matchmaking wasn't such a slow process at this point. It truly feels like a regression to the early days of Xbox Live with games like Capcom vs SNK 2 EO and Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. Thankfully, player matches and tournaments go much more smoothly, giving you plenty of alternatives if ranked isn't cooperating with you.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
In the end, this is still Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, which is rightfully a legend in gaming history, and Capcom is explicitly putting emphasis on getting the online issues fixed ASAP. Even with the hopefully short-term flaws, there's still plenty to love about this latest version of the game, and plenty of good times to be had throughout its wealth of modes. Although hopes for the perfect version of 3rd Strike may well have been dashed, as it's hard to imagine everything that would be necessary for that to happen getting patched in, the core game is still a cut above the rest of the fighting genre and stands firm among the very best that gaming has to offer.