I see you in the air when I make you backflip.
There are two things that can be done to a classic game with (still) a hardcore fanbase like Street Fighter III Third Strike: port it or update it. Both approaches are valid, but even if the developer hopes to achieve a happy medium between the two, there will always be naysayers who think that either "The game isn't broken so why fix it?" or "The game is old and deserves an update now!" As a critic, I lean towards seeing innovation and rewarding games take smart creative risks like Pac-Man Championship Edition and, with more relevance, Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix.
But as much as I would like to have seen a complete re-calibration and a fresh coat of paint for Third Strike, Online Edition is an acceptable port, which simply adds online features (no duh) and some extra unlockable artwork. However, its strength is mainly carried by the smooth, solid gameplay already inherent in Third Strike and not by its newfangled embellishments.
That said, Online Edition has all the features of Third Strike that remind us why it's a critic's darling. The oddity of its 20-character roster is undeniable, with only four from the original Street Fighter II series (Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, and Akuma), wrapped in a story about preventing a two-toned, thong-endowed, glowing Fabio wannabe who shares his name with the respiratory organs of a fish from conquering the world. Nonetheless, its swift and silky fighting system is equally undeniable, with specials, supers, EX moves, cancels, and a parrying system that single-handedly prevents projectile spamming and heavily tilts the match in favor of the best player.
Adding online features on top of that, with the strength of the Xbox 360 and PS3, just makes sense. Despite the occasional hiccup in connections and a few glitches like invisible sprites and having an on-display disconnection rate of 492 million percent (that player must be the loneliest person in the world…), online matches work well when they happen. By incorporating the fan-made GGPO system which practically eliminates online lag for inputs, players usually don't have to worry about losing due to sluggish servers. Of course, don't expect to hop online and win, since it will be crowded with experienced players; in fact, just expect to lose until it becomes numb.
Another "issue" that needs discussion is the sentiment that hardcore fighting games should not be dumbed down for casual players—a respectable and correct stance. At the same time, though, there's nothing wrong with easing the learning curve for beginners, especially for such a technical powerhouse like Third Strike. Online Edition adds a Trials mode essentially identical to Street Fighter IV's, except that there are only five combos for each character and you're considered a
strong okay player if you can pass the third trial for any character. Stretching out the trial progression, as well as adding a preview feature for each trial to analyze the timing and spacing, would have helped players of all levels improve their game.
Thankfully, the in-game achievement system will at least provide rewards for the effort. Reaching certain thresholds, such as parrying, throwing projectiles, or finishing matches with a Super Art a certain amount of times, earns players Vault Points. Similar to the gallery in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, these can be used toward unlocking new artwork and the original tracks for the menu system and character select screen, and by that I mean replace the new tracks as soon as possible. It's understandable that some players don't like rap or hip-hop, but it makes little sense to replace rap or hip-hop tracks with crummier ones.
But really, not much has changed. This is probably where hardcore players will complain about Chun-Li and Yun dominating EVO championships, but those same players have been playing Third Strike since its inception in 1999. This love/hate relationship has lasted for more than most marriages. Still, that doesn't sweep the desire for a patch or HD graphics under the digital rug. When the camera zooms in during a particularly powerful Super Art like Ryu's Shin-Shoryuken, the pixelations become as egregious as the camera zooms in King of Fighters XII. Even with the smooth or crisp filters on, the sprites don't look too much better than the 2004 PS2 port for Third Strike in Street Fighter Anniversary Collection.
And that's the problem: Offline, I would rather dust off my PS2 and pop in Anniversary. Not only does it have extra options beyond the locked dipswitches in Online Edition, but there are separate volume controls for music and sound effects, which for some reason Online Edition doesn't have.
Particularly as part of the PSN Play promotion, Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online is a solid deal for $15 or 1200 MSP, just for its namesake online modes, though it is more or less redundant for those who already have a version of Third Strike. Capcom has had more than a decade to update Third Strike, so the fact that Online Edition isn't, hands-down, the definitive port of the game is slightly disappointing. Still, Third Strike is among the best, if not the best, title in the Street Fighter series, so it's more than tempting to set aside Online Edition's flaws and just appreciate Capcom for porting the title on modern consoles. They didn't have to do it, but they did it for us anyway. I can raise my shoryuken to that.