When SF III: 3rd Strike Online was first announced, I was excited not just because one of the greatest 2D fighters ever was coming to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but also that I’d be able to play it online again. SF III: 3rd Strike was the final game I played when Microsoft shut down the original Xbox Live service, and it feels great to not only do that after a year+ absence, but also play the best overall version of the game ever released on a console.
Long-time Capcom players know that SF III: 3rd Strike is the least-forgiving and hardest to learn 2D fighter the company has put out. Thankfully, the company recognized that and in this version, actually put in some great training tools to help you get used to things. The trials mode gives you very specific criteria to meet - you’ll have to successfully parry a certain number of attacks in a row, or try out character-specific moves until you execute them perfectly Success not only improves your play, but also gives you VP (vault points) to spend on character and stage art and music. You can even replace the new menu music with the unlocked stuff if you’d like. In-game challenges, such as doing a certain number of throws or using X amount of projectiles also grant you points, as does simply playing online and going through the arcade mode.
3rd Strike’s gameplay has held up remarkably well despite over a decade passing since its initial arcade release. Much of that is due to how well-executed the gameplay mechanics are. Parrying was a new thing 15 years ago, and still requires precise timing to pull off regularly. The SF III series as a whole also requires more skill because you have to be exact with your button presses - no loose quarter-circle motions here. You either nail the d-pad/stick movement perfectly, or you’re out of luck. It definitely asks more of the player than any other incarnation of the series, and while that is more frustrating at times, it also feels more rewarding when you learn a new skill or even if you’ve played it for years, it still offers up a challenge, and features the hardest end boss in Capcom history. Gill isn’t quite up to an SNK end boss level as far as inducing controller-throwing rage, but he’s far above M. Bison in that category.
As the title implies, online play is a huge part of the overall experience. Unlike the first SF III offering online, you can now take place in tournaments, and GGPO technology is used to compensate for laggy play. I’ve seen some high-level players complain about this because it does cause a minor input delay, but I didn’t find it to be a problem. The biggest problem I found with the online play remained network-related lag, which is an absolute killer here because of how important timing is, and the frequently long lobby wait times trying to find a match. It’s also hard to make a system-specific recommendation because while the 360 version is the better one if you’re using a stock pad, it doesn’t seem to have as many people playing online, lobby wait times are longer, and has already had to be patched to include the Youtube replay uploading feature and tweak the netcode a bit, and there’s another patch coming at some point in the future to provide some more fixes. If you’re looking to primarily play this online, right now, I’d say the best option is the PS3 version.
Both the PS3 and 360 versions play the same offline, with the only major differences being caused by the controllers. PS3 owners have more choices available to them, not only having the Dual Shock 3 and Saturn-inspired SF IV controller, but also an actual Saturn pad to use, while 360 gamers lack the actual Saturn pad, but also have an SF IV controller to use. As far as default controllers go, I found the 360 controller to work far better than the DS3 due to both its D-Pad and left thumbstick being easier to move around quickly than either the DS3’s D-Pad or left stick. Given how reliant the game is on accurate directional movements, it is certainly much easier to play on a stock 360 pad. The USB Saturn pad works like a dream on the PS3, but I’ve got larger hands, so while using that controller is far better for D-Pad inputs, it also leads to hand cramping. The SF IV pad is easily the best overall option - the button layout is perfect, the face buttons are big and easy to use, the D-Pad is fantastic, and the large size means that people with larger hands can play for long periods of time comfortably.
Visually, this incarnation of 3rd Strike looks the best of anyone out there. A lot of that is due to the filters you can place on the graphics - like Final Fight: Double Impact, you can choose to smooth the rough edges out, have things displayed as they were originally, stretch things out to fit a widescreen display, or have a 4:3 aspect ration with a faux-cabinet border and scanline overlay. My preference is to smooth things out and stretch them to widescreen, and I like it - the smoothed out graphics aren’t quite what you’d get with an HD Remix of it, obviously, but thanks to the super-smooth animation being done so well originally, the game’s visuals hold up remarkably well given that 15 years have passed from the original release of SF III.
Audio-wise, the SF III series was always a mixed bag, with fantastic sound effects, good stage music, but menu music that was so bad, it’s good. Now, you can choose between the original or remixed songs, or customize the soundtrack a bit with the unlockable tunes. I always thought the soundtrack was perfectly fine, but didn’t feel it was particularly memorable like the SF II soundtrack was, and even with the remixed stuff, that opinion holds true here. The sound effects are outstanding though, and have a great sense of weight and force to them that makes the attacks seem that much more devastating.
In spite of its faults, SF III :3rd Strike Online is still a must-play for those who missed it before or for long-time fans just to experience the best-looking version of the game yet. Even though it is presently hampered by online lag and matchmaking problems, it’s still worth its $15 asking price. Multi-platform owners are probably better off with the 360 version, since the stock controller is better for the game, and at least some of its online issues should be remedied soon.