If Super Turbo is the most fun fighting game ever made, then Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is the most beautiful and tightly designed.
“You Win. Perfect!”
The designers of Street Fighter III set out to do the seemingly impossible: not just create a new Street Fighter, but create the best. The game plan was the same as in 1991. Memorable characters, fluid animation, catchy music, and satisfying gameplay.
The characters were a bit hit and miss. The well of stereotypes was running out. Between 2 and Alpha, most of the obvious cultural stereotypes and generically familiar character designs had been used up. Some of 3‘s characters were still very well done, such as a Japanese karate master, and an American Hulk-Hogan-like wrestler. But others just weren’t compelling, like a tall thin Frenchman in a leather jacket (how could he fight in that?) or a mutant Russian dressed as a circus clown (SF has had its share of fantastical elements, but this was a huge departure).
Regardless of the success of the designs, the executions of the visuals were marvelous. The animators managed fluid, graceful, flowing movement normally only seen in Disney productions. 3rd Strike‘s art has been often lauded, so I’ll let actual artists speak for me.
The music was a success to many but not most. Out of necessity to separate itself from the previous titles, and probably for the musicians’ own sake, 3rd Strike‘s music is much more influenced by the jazz, funk, jungle, and drum & bass genres. It was very well made and catchy, but didn’t have the universal appeal of 2‘s music.
The gameplay was also mixed. The intention was to make the fighting much more up-closed and personal, so the damage done by “fireballs” (damaging projectiles that cross the whole screen if unblocked) was significantly curtailed, to the point where they were not longer a gameplay focus. This gave the characters more room to breathe, but it changed the flow of the game. Positioning wasn’t as important, because players were now vulnerable only when right next to their opponent. Matches would often comprise much “tip-toeing,” where each character moved back and forth, back and forth, trying to get just close enough to score a hit before retreating. This frustrated many veteran players, who swore off the 3 series entirely. I tend to agree that while perhaps more realistic, and certainly a departure from the originals, overall it’s not as fast or intense as 2.
The controls were solid. Even better than 2‘s. In fact, I’ve yet to find a fighting game that has more natural and responsive inputs. The game just seems to know what you want it to do. If you’re trying to back out of a situation quickly, or you hit one attack but then want to quickly cancel into a different one, it always seems to do what you wanted it to do. In contrast, in 2, if you hit a move your character commits to it completely, and it can cost you the match.
Most criticism of 3rd Strike comes down to taste. Many players simply prefer the older formula and gameplay. Regardless, the designers, in retrospect, thought they had perfected the Street Fighter formula after 8 years of constant iteration. Arguably, there wasn’t anywhere else to go.