What have I gotten myself into?
That was the question that ran through my brain on an unending loop during my time with Street Fighter III Third Strike: Online edition. If there is a more hardcore fighting game than Street Fighter, I don’t know about it.
What have I gotten myself into?
As I suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of opponents that seemed to be made out of a liquid from which kicks and punches flowed, the question running through my head only got louder.
What have I gotten myself into?!
Clearly overmatched, I went to training mode. Street Fighter III Third Strike: Online Edition is no button masher, I realized. Simply hammering punches and kicks wouldn’t do anything other than hasten my death.
WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?!!!!!!
Even the damned training mode seemed too much for me. The simplest combo was out of my reach, and the only thing that saved me from a messy death was that the enemies didn’t fight back. I could kick them and punch them, jump around like a lunatic, and stand there, but none of that
prepared me for the digital beatings I was suffering.
So let’s find out what I’ve gotten myself into.
There is no more beloved fighter than Street Fighter. Some might be more technically proficient, offer up real fighting styles, or pour on more gore, but none seems to be looked upon with such joy, especially when a new offering is in the works. Tracing its roots back to the stuffy arcades of old, it holds a special place in many an older gamer’s heart. Names like Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, M. Bison, and Hadouken (not even a character, but a move) are fixtures in the collective unconscious of everyone who has ever sat down with a controller in their hand and called themselves a gamer. Even those who aren’t fans of the series could tell you what game those names are from with nary a second to think.
Street Fighter III Third Strike: Online Edition is a modern update of 1999’s Street Fighter III: Third Strike. It is modern in timeline only, however, because every inch of it screams THE 90’S, from the ugly 2D digital sprites, and meaningless pumping soundtrack, to the straight-from-a-20-year-old-arcade-cabinet voices echoing at me. However, it also revives all the old move sets, and characters that fans know and love. Whether or not those are good or bad traits is entirely up to the player. And therein lies my biggest problem with the game: It was never intended to be played by someone like me, and as such, was about as welcoming as a burning building filled with undead wolverines.
I cannot imagine this game appealing to anyone but the most hardcore of old school Street Fighter 3 fans, and that’s a shame because I wanted it to bring me in to its little clique. I would have loved nothing more than to suddenly be awakened to the fact that there was a wonderful, and heretofore un-experienced, game franchise out there that I’ve overlooked for my entire career as a gamer. However, in all fairness, I would say that of all the entertainment mediums, gaming is by far the least n00b friendly save for comic books and their oftentimes labyrinthine continuity. With books, movies, and television shows, you simply have make the effort to consume them and let the potential appreciation spring forth organically - you either like it or you don‘t. In gaming, however, there is another barrier: The controls.
Of the three main gameplay modes, the so-called Trials Mode is what I spent most of my time in. Trials Mode is essentially advanced training. It attempts to teach you basic moves like blocks and parries, but also, interestingly enough, the main combos for all the character. What a good idea that is. Too bad I never got that far. The hardest part of combo-based melee games of all types, be they fighting games, or brawlers, is learning the combos quickly and being able to pull them off smoothly from memory. Street Fighter III Third Strike: Online Edition failed me in that most basic of qualities, because the combos are ******* hard, poorly explained, and awkward to access. During training mode, accessing your characters move list requires pausing the game, selecting “move list”, then selecting the character whose move list you want to see. Then, once you do that, you’re presented with esoteric symbols rather than anything that might make sense to someone else besides a die-hard Street Fighter fan. Once you pick a move to try, you have to back out of all those menus to get back to training and by then you’ve forgotten the control inputs because they’re not presented sensibly. It’s like trying to memorize Egyptian hieroglyphics while doing calculus, while not knowing much about either. I know part of that has to do with the fully-configurable controls, but still, terms like “short,” “long”, and “fierce” in the place of more conventional directions just adds another layer of unfamiliarity to already fairly alien set of instruction, and the pictures of fists and feet in the place of “kick“ and “punch“ don‘t really help either. I was all just too much for me to remember. Trials Mode is a little better than training mode because you don’t have to select a character before you can see their move list, but two menus instead of three is still two too many if you ask me.
It wasn’t all bad however. Playing against another human as poorly versed in the arcane witchcraft of Street Fighter improves the experience considerably. The controls are tight and fluid once you begin to decipher them, so I’m sure the well-versed player will find everything up to snuff on the control front. And really, what aspect of a fighting game is more important than the controls? Graphics, sound, and character design don’t mean squat if you can’t pull off the simplest combo because the controls don’t work.
The other major mode is the Arcade mode. Here, you pick a fighter and participate in a fighting game standard ladder tournament that sees you climbing your way to the top, facing increasingly tougher opponents the higher you get. It’s nothing anyone who’s ever played a fighting game hasn’t seen before, but in a game like Street Fighter III Third Strike: Online Edition, innovation isn’t exactly the order of the day. There are also challenges to complete that award you with “VP” which are used to unlock items in the Vault - artwork, music tracks, and the like. These challenges are a bit like a second set of achievements except there are many more than the 20 standard achievements you get in a downloadable game. And of course, it comes with a full suite of online modes like Ranked Match, Player Match, and Tournament. Again, everything one would expect from this kind of game.
Finally, the game makes extensive use of virtual dipswitches that allow you to tailor your gameplay experience in myriad ways. However, only about 2/3rds of them are unlocked from the start. The rest you can either unlock via game progression or, and this will anger certain gamers greatly, purchase a DLC pack that unlocks the rest of them in one fell swoop. Cue indignant rant here.