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Street Fighter Alpha 3: How it saved the 90s

A look back at one of Capcom's best...

You're eleven years old, crowding around a Street Fighter II arcade cabinet while bigger boys hog the machine. You're thirteen, saving every penny for a SNES import converter to play that chunky USA Street Fighter II Turbo cartridge early.

You're sixteen, putting aside your precious PlayStation and playing Street Fighter Alpha 2 on a friend's Saturn with the best controller ever. You're eighteen, leaving your sixth form's sociology lesson empty and calling in to work on a sickie because Street Fighter Alpha 3 is here and you have to Triumph or Die.

For some there has always been a Street Fighter. When the latest arrived you didn't even need to call it by its full name. It was Alpha Three.

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"Hoy, Dwayne; wanna play some Alpha 3?" Of course he bloody did; it was Alpha 3. It was the best. It was Street Fighter the way it had existed in your head - the fluidity and accessibility Street Fighter II never had, mixed with the spectacle and drama Street Fighter IV almost touched on with its Ultra combos and 3D giganto-men.

It was an April morning in 1999 when Street Fighter Alpha 3 dropped through your door, a full year before the game would officially see the light of day in Europe. You ordered it from... the internet. An imported copy from a late-nineties dotcom startup which would go bust within eight months, played on a PlayStation chipped to run imports and "backups" by a-friend-of-a-friend-don't-ask-what-his-name-is-but-he's-agood-bloke-don't-worry.

You brought home an army, crowding into your little bedroom beneath posters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You sat squinting together at your miniscule Curry's own-brand telly through binoculars. Winner stays, loser pays; there were no fifty pences to stack and no bigger boys to kick you off of the machine but this was Street Fighter and there are rules.

They were rules you all knew - common ground every Street Fighter shared. There were the same three punches and three kicks, the same joystick motions and the same results, the same one-on-one fights and the same world warriors.

Those barely-supplemented mechanics lifted from Street Fighter II were well into their teens but with three fighting styles, dozens of play modes, and a screen-filling character roster Alpha 3 felt brand spanking new.

BITTER STREET SYMPHONY
The PlayStation version was the best version yet, too. Its solo World Tour mode added light RPG systems to an extended campaign which sent your fighter around the world against increasingly brutal odds.

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You'd fight all four of SFII's bosses on just one energy bar or take on both Juni and Juli at the same time, and win health boosts and assists - juggles, auto-counters, damage boosts - in return. It's a mode every fighter should have stolen but it's a mode Alpha 3 birthed and immediately killed by leaving no room for improvement.

The cast was the biggest anyone had ever seen - everyone from Alpha 2 and more besides; better yet, there were hidden characters who weren't part of the arcade game you had made special trips to the arcades to play throughout the summer of '98. T. Hawk, Dee Jay, Fei Long, Guile, Evil Ryu, and Shin Akuma were all selectable from their own slots on the character select screen, ready to be mastered or re-mastered on an entirely new battlefield.

Later versions on other formats would restore the PSone's missing animation frames and add new features but your guts tell you it's the original PlayStation version that's the best fighting game ever burned. You'll find excuses to justify your own nonsense, of course.

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