Capcom has made a big deal about how much time, effort, and cash they’ve been pouring into the development of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition, and after my hands-on with the game, I can tell why. Associate producer, Derek Neal, says that the game is "everything that the community wants," particularly stressing that that included implementation of the very popular GGPO netcode. However, even without being able to test the titular feature on the show floor, the changes and additions that have been made to 3rd Strike are impressive.
From the main menu screen alone, it’s apparent that Capcom went all out on this overhaul, commissioning new character art from >Stanley "Artgerm" Lau, which is randomly chosen to add a bit of flavor to the main menu whenever it is opened. Even cooler is that the game looks at your play history to give your most-used characters a higher chance of being in the background. It’s a totally unnecessary, but cool little addition indicative of the love that Capcom and Iron Galaxy have poured into this new edition.
If you’re at all worried that Artgerm’s new stuff would replace Daigo Ikeno’s artwork, don’t be. For the character select screen, Capcom has taken the original artwork and re-scanned it, so it looks incredibly crisp. Now that we’re on the subject of the character select screen, Capcom has taken one of my favorite features from BlazBlue: Continuum Shift and added it to 3rd Strike Online. You can now press Select (or Back, if the 360 is your preferred console) on the character select screen and map your buttons on the fly (which, from experience, is really helpful if you keep have two friends over and one prefers a pad and the other an arcade stick and they keep swapping with each other). They’ve also finally added a random select option to the game, mapped to the start button.
There are a ton of options that can be fiddled with mid-round, too. You can adjust display options from the in-game menu for switching from a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, to a wide one, to one that’s even further stretched to fill the whole screen, and (my personal favorite), one that bows the screen to look like an arcade cabinet monitor. You can even add scanlines to it to further the arcade feel. Honestly, I’m partial to scanlines, but if you like your sprites looking smooth, there are also a two sprite filters in the game, Crisp and Smooth. I spent most of my time on Crisp, which gave the sprites kind of a painted look. Honestly, I’ll probably keep the sprites unfiltered, but the filters both seem pretty nice, if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you happen to be in a non-widescreen aspect ratio, you will see "Dynamic Challenges" in the sides of the screen. These challenges will start out simple, such as winning a short streak or getting a single perfect, but as they are completed, they level up, becoming more and more challenging the more the player completes. Each completed challenge yields "Vault Points," which (appropriately) allow players to buy unlockable stuff from "the Vault," that features over 200 pieces of unlockable artwork (some fanart, some official), and new remixed character themes by Super Sledge with vocals by Adam Tensta.
Then (there’s still more stuff!) there’s the Trials mode. While there are trials that teach you combos for each character a la Super Street Fighter IV, there are also trials to help players get to grips with universal game mechanics like parries. While these start simple (parry a one-hit hadouken), the challenges get pretty in-depth (such as recreating Evo moment #37). While I probably couldn’t ever do some of the later challenges, the fact that they’re even included in a downloadable game is pretty cool.
Bear in mind, this is just the offline stuff. From what Derek told me, the online modes will have matchmaking, tournament support, the ability to record matches and upload them directly to YouTube, and the ability to search for other peoples’ matches. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition will be out this summer for $15 on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.