street fighter iii: third strike

a review of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike : Fight for the Future
a videogame developed by Capcom
and published by Capcom
for the arcades, the microsoft xbox, the microsoft xbox 360, the sega dreamcast, the sony playstation 2 computer entertainment system and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by Heather Campbell

4 stars

Bottom line: Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is mind games.

I may have a Ryu fetish. It started when I watched the Street Fighter anime — a terrible movie, really; don’t watch it unless you’ve got a VHS copy and it’s 1996. And you’re 17, and you haven’t realized there’s more to the world than the Midwest. There’s this long sequence of Ryu standing on top of a mountain, sweating. Patient and focused on a distant bird or something, he performs a SHO-RYU-KEN for no reason other than to satisfy himself, as a kind of combat masturbation. (Before I go any further, I’d like to linger on that idea. How awesome would it be if that was a form of martial art? Masturbatetsu. Jerk-keen-do. C’mon, guys! Two dudes struggling to grab each other’s junk while defending their own. Points are awarded for forcing erections on your opponent. Hey, look at that! I’ve officially written an Action Button review.) Anyway, Ryu does this SHO-RYU-KEN because he can. Nobody’s watching. I mean, we are, but Ryu doesn’t know that. That sort of disregard for an audience? That’s some big sexy, right there. You know, maybe Ryu’s whole character is a masturbation metaphor. Ken goes off and gets married, but Ryu? He doesn’t mind doing it with himself, forever. He’s a combat otaku, satisfied only by his own search.

My Ryu fetish wasn’t confirmed, though, until I saw him put down his bag right before a fight in the alternate round-opening animation sequence of Street Fighter III. He’s just on his way through. He’s got a bag of his stuff. Again, that disregard. Women like assholes, and we’ll never know why. Maybe it’s a caveman thing; being attracted to a jerk means that he probably won’t be around to screw up (or kill) the baby. You can raise it with the other cave-girls. Maybe make out with them. And that’s how society was started.

Wait, no, I know the moment I fell in love with Ryu. It was the first time I performed an E.X. JOUDAN-SOKUTOU-GERI (that’s the kick where Ryu takes a full step into it, and extends his leg into the air, nearly behind him — the force of that kick would knock the paste out of your lungs), and then I followed up with a juggled SHO-RYU-KEN. The guy you hit with that kick? He bounces off an invisible wall, and comes tumbling back at you, and you jump into the air and punch him. That’s pretty satisfying, and extraordinarily simple. Man, that kick. Ryu’s not even looking at the guy he’s hitting. What a jerk. How can you not adore him?

I’m joking of course. You know. About all this. I fell in love with Ryu because he’s in the best video-game I’ve ever played. There are better games, but this one is the best.


Street Fighter III Third Strike: Fight for the Future is the perfect fighting game. The fact that Capcom never made any money off it may have been the first, shrill warning that ten years later the industry would be standing on bathroom scales with fat fists full of mini-games. We’d be sticking cheap toy tennis rackets on the ends of our controllers, and waving our hands through the air with exactly one white woman, one Asian, one black guy, and one ethnically mixed child cheering us on from the couch. Grandma would be watching too, and her mouth would be frozen in the shape of a perfect, euphoric “O.” The mainstream rejection of Street Fighter III should have warned us that ten years on, Miyamoto would press a thick white stick of plastic butter up to his face, twiddle his fingers in a clownish imitation of a musician, and introduce the first video game you didn’t have to pay attention to in order to play. But maybe, most of all, Street Fighter III taught us that there weren’t enough gamers in the industry to support gaming. Crafting the finest, most precise fighting game of all time would not result in the adoration of crowds, nor would it merit an unrivaled financial success. Instead, it would be met with confusion, apathy, and empty disappointment.

Turns out, Street Fighter II was not being played for the right reasons.

The kids who crowded around those cabinets at Pizza Hut or 7-11 liked Street Fighter II because of the big, bright characters, the ridiculous cultural stereotypes, the silly and indecipherable sounds of “sho-ryu-ken” and “ha-do-ken.” They liked waggling the controller, and pushing a few big plastic buttons. Maybe they didn’t realize that beneath that superficial, action-figure finish was a thoroughly compelling combo system, built on a programming oversight. No, instead, they liked making Blanka flash, or Chun-Li kick. (Dude, you could see her panties!) Whatever it was, they were not being careful with their game-playing. They were being casual. Congratulations, Street Fighter II crowd. You can play Street Fighter II on your cell phones. And Wii Music should be right up your alley.

The developers of Street Fighter III mistakenly assumed that everyone was playing its prequel consciously. They looked at what worked, and improved on it, expounding the combo system with frame-specific accuracy. The game was slowed down, so that each decision had gravity. The lightweight rave tapping of the Alpha series was replaced with lurching, substantial blows, like men playing baseball with slabs of steak. Street Fighter III took the brave path of using hand-drawn art in a time when gaudy, popular, three-dimensional brawlers were hitting home systems half-finished, their visual aesthetic aging instantaneously like the Nazi at the end of The Last Crusade. Capcom made choices based on the game’s ultimate longevity. And then, they took the one element of passivity — that is, pulling away to guard — and gave players an active defensive choice. And that was why Street Fighter III failed.

Street Fighter III failed because you have to be good at video games in order to enjoy it. You can’t get better at it with peripherals. There are no walk-throughs on Gamefaqs — only character move lists and strategies. No amount of money will allow you to beat the guy who is better than you; the quarters will split open the cabinet’s belly and pool around your feet before you’ll be able to take the guy who can follow up a poke attack with a surprise super, or patiently and consistently combo a aerial cross up with a low forward into a fireball, without ever, ever making a mistake. The only way you can get better at Street Fighter III is practice. Street Fighter III is a game of relentless attention, constant flow, and immediate response. It failed because the majority of gamers want to play games about as much as most weekend sailors want to perfect Bosuneering rope-work. We’re moving towards an automatic world, people. Everyone wants everything to happen for them. Street Fighter III demands you take responsibility for every second.

But most of all, Street Fighter III failed because of the parry. Parrying was introduced to Street Fighter III to punish defensive chip damage and, as a result, give players an additional tool in cheap matches. The tiny amount of energy that you lose when you block a fireball? Parrying gets rid of that. You press your joystick toward your opponent during that small window of time when your character makes contact with an attack, and as a reward, you deflect it. You drop your block to do so, and risk taking total damage … but only if you’re not skilled enough to time the action correctly. The Parry presents an opportunity for a counter-attack. But more than that, it represents a deep flowchart of choices, a endlessly branching tree of possibilities that rise out of each moment. You don’t have to parry every attack, but you can. So can your opponent. Parrying means that everything in Street Fighter III is active, even the act of defense. Now, you have to ask yourself: Is it safe to move in for the attack? Do you expect your opponent to know that you’re about to attack? Do you expect them to counter, parry, or block? Can you predict their response to your initiation, and counter their reaction, preemptively? Do you feign an attack, assuming the opponent will parry, and play defensively, to lure your opponent into the same set of choices?

A Street Fighter III match is constant game. It is unceasing physical input coupled with cool-headed, relentless strategy. The game has no audacious, character-killing automatic combos, nor is anything in the game impossible to counter. And the reasons it failed at the bank are the reasons it succeeds as a game. It’s timeless. The art is handsome and lush; the only thing that has aged is the resolution. Coming up on a decade later, the cabinet is still being played at arcades around the world — a sure sign that something went right, somewhere. Does anyone still play Tekken 3? Battle Arena Toshinden? No. And definitely no.


Look, what I’m saying is that Street Fighter III is fun like a Sunday afternoon of basketball. People who have only played Nerf Cubicle Hoopz aren’t going to enjoy a real jump-shot, because they’re not familiar with the weight of the ball, the size of the rim, the way sweat makes it hard to grip the leather. But Capcom looked at the basics of that Nerf game, and said, “Man, this could really be something.” I bet when they finished Street Fighter III Third Strike, they ran around the office, punching each other on the ass and screaming, “Good game!” But do you know what the audience said? I’m too lazy. Gimmie back my foam.

design by reroreroStreet Fighter III is the most fun I’ve ever had at an arcade. I’ve put in my time. But as good as I am at it — and, quite frankly, I was probably the best American female Street Fighter III player at one point, and hell, maybe I still am — still, there are so many actions on this machine that I’m not skilled enough to pull off that it will forever be more of a game than I am a gamer. I can understand my shortcomings, and know which gestures I seem unable to carve into my playing rhythm. But I keep practicing, because there’s still more game there. After ten years! Man, I have seen people play this game like they’re inside the damn thing. I’m not talking about exploiting the machine, I’m talking about balanced, nuanced, incredible play. It’s subtlety. Think about that. Street Fighter III is so deep it can be subtle.

But no. Street Fighter II players weren’t interested. The character designs were unfamiliar to everyone. How could people get behind these guys if they weren’t some vague stereotype of a foreign country? Right? There wasn’t any laughter left in a match – just the brutal demand of unwavering concentration. Like Bullet Hell, but all punches and no patterns. The two-dimensional playing field wasn’t false three-deee enough. The music was a little more complicated. You had to choose a super, which meant making choices, which meant that people had to make choices, and nobody wants to make choices. So now we’ve got Wii Music. Nobody has to do anything ever again.


Post Script: Street Fighter IV is a good game. It’s a little unbalanced, the moves are too powerful at times, and the roster is a disappointing retread … right now. There’s not a lot of subtlety in it, but I don’t blame Capcom. They’re a company, trying to make a buck. They tried following the game inside Street Fighter II, but discovered that everyone likes the cover more than the content. Fine. I’ll play Street Fighter IV, and I’ll enjoy myself. But every time I hear someone yell, “Damn, Blankaaaaaaa!!!” I’ll hate myself a little for buckling. But only for a little while. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to be playing IV for a decade. Sometime in 2018, I’ll be back at the Street Fighter III machine, tending to my Ryu fetish.

Post Post Script: Anyone who plays Street Fighter III with an Xbox Controller is an idiot.

–Heather Campbell


45 Responses to street fighter iii: third strike

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *