Videogame Classics - Street Fighter 3: Third Strike


Is Street Fighter 3: Third Strike the greatest fighting game for the Sega Dreamcast? Normally, it's Soul Calibur that's hailed as the masterpiece, and given the thunderous reception to its unveiling in 1999, to say nothing of its influence on videogames, it's hard to argue. But I can't think of a better 2D fighting game than Third Strike. And I remember the days when Street Fighter was the hot trailblazer.

Funny how times change. Street Fighter 2 became a sensation on the Super Nintendo, very nearly saving the console after being beaten senseless by the Sega Genesis in 1991. Two console generations later, and the release of Third Strike on Dreamcast was barely noticed. The dedicated fans knew the score, of course, but the general gaming public? The gaming press, the prozines? Shrug. 3D polygons were hot, and 2D was passe and old. We'll never mind the fact that nearly all polygon games from the '90s have aged terribly, while Capcom's fighters look as sharp and exciting as ever.

John Lennon warned you kids about instant karma. He wasn't kidding.

No doubt Capcom had burned many bridges by the end of the decade, watering down their brand with too many sequels and spinoffs. Sega made the very same mistakes themselves. Of course, Third Strike would appear on Dreamcast - the two were meant for each other. Interesting, also, that this was the final Street Fighter game for the better part of the decade. This really was the peak, wasn't it? Yes, there is now Street Fighter 4. But it's squarely a retro remake, and with polygons, at that. That will likely be final resting place for the series. It's far cheaper to peddle in nostalgia once you reach a certain age.

Street Fighter 3 went through two installments before Third Strike arrived, and there was a backlash because the game was too new. Too many different and strange characters, and only Ken and Ryu to represent the old school. Third Strike found the right balance, not only adding Akuma and Chun-Li, but finally refining the newer characters so they felt like the older ones, while retaining a unique flavor. This guy is sort of like Dhalsim. That guy reminds you of Zangief. That one guy is just like Guile, only more of a 1970 Deep Purple vibe. And so on and so on.

Third Strike found the perfect balance, that elusive center. It was familiar, it continued the tradition. Yet it was new, fresh, vibrant. The hip-hop soundtrack is another masterstroke. This is the best music in any fighting game, ever.

I remember at the time that Third Strike was hailed as a "back to basics" game that stripped down the excesses of all the sequels and focused on the core fighting of the original Street Fighter 2. This was interpreted as being slow or lacking flash, as somehow there was less game there. How wrong we all were. That the game was sleeker, slimmer, more efficient....yes, very true. But it was also the fastest, fiercest, most intense fighter in the series. You can see that today on all the tournament videos roaming the internet. Once the competitive gamers figured this out, a new game was revealed.

I think games like Street Fighter Alpha 3 and the Vs. series - Marvel Vs. Capcom, yadda yadda - present a more manic form, more chaotic. Street Fighter 3: Third Strike feels more tactical, more intelligent. It's slower, but never slow. The intense combat is some of the fastest action around. And it's far more fluid and kinetic than the Street Fighter 2 series. Just watch some Youtube videos and see for yourself.

Street Fighter 3: Third Strike looks absolutely spectacular, and it's arguably the high point for sprite-based graphics. I'm running through my mind, and I cannot come up with a single title this decade that has surpassed it. This is the sort of thing that can only come out of anime culture. You must have a true love for the hand-drawn craft, and you must have the skills to understand. I'm thinking of the wonderfully fluid motions of the fighters, of the stylish poses in portraits, of the way they walk onto the screen before a match.

Backgrounds, too, are drawn in spectacular washes of color. wonderfully saturated in warm and cold tones. Street Fighter has never looked better, and it stays unique. I never cared for the look of SNK's fighters. They were always a little too bright, the fighters shaded like CG renders. Third Strike feels grittier, sharper, less overly cartoony. The hip-hop vibe permeates. I also especially appreciate that all the graphics are rendered in sprites and not polygons. No doubt Capcom took some hits for this artistic decision. Marval Vs. Capcom 2 has those wonderful polygon backgrounds, and it became a great hit on Dreamcast. Flash sells first impressions in a way that quiet confidence cannot.

But flash will quickly fade. Confidence lasts. It's 2009 and we're still talking about Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, and we're still talking about Sega Dreamcast. All of which brings us back to my original thought: is this the greatest fighting game on the DC? The easy money's on Soul Calibur, or perhaps the Japanese version of Dead or Alive 2. Can't argue with those games; they're classics and earned their respect. But here lies another fighting classic, one that might possibly stand as the last great 2D fighting game. The fans need to stand up and argue the case.

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