So as I was browsing the bargain bin section of a local game store, where you now mostly find old PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable games, and I stumbled upon a complete copy of Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max for the PSP for just under 10 bucks, obviously I bought this rare bargain on the spot. Took it for a spin afterwards, and obvious PSP control issues aside, it is a very well produced conversion of the fighting classic with all the modes, all characters unlocked, and even some all new characters not seen in any version of the game. Most notable being the new female combatant Ingrid, who previously appeared in the failed venture that was Capcom Fighting Jam.
Even though I have owned and played the hell out of other versions of the game, I couldn't help but enjoy it just as much. I have played the PSone, Sega Saturn, Gameboy Advance, and even the original arcade version that was released in a collection for the PlayStation 2. Obviously I love this game, it easily ranks as one of the ten greatest video games in my view, and still to this day the absolute best fighting game, even in the presence of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 was the game that really made me passionately dedicated to fighting games, now I was playing plenty of enthralling fighting games prior to it, but Street Fighter Alpha 3 became the absolute gold standard to me. This was the game that really had me hooked far more than any other fighting game before or after. Mechanically it was somewhere between a classic slow paced Street Fighter game and a modern blistering fast (BlazBlue, Marvel versus Capcom, etc) 2D fighting game. Not too slow, not too fast, the pace was somewhere in the middle and it felt just right. The combo system was sublime, very methodological and defined like your classic Street Fighter, but it certainly allowed more room for some impressively crazy and improvised combinations. With a massive cast of characters and six different gameplay styles, there was a lot of variety and depth in Street Fighter Alpha 3.
Of course nothing I say about this game will sound particularly unique or innovative, in fact I may have just described most 2D fighting games, but something about Street Fighter Alpha 3's execution is simply divine. Street Fighter II may have established the framework, but to me Street Fighter Alpha 3 established the gold standard, a benchmark against which I compare all my current fighting experiences.
As old as the game is, it has aged beautifully and is still a very modern and relevant fighting experience. The 2D anime spritework still has appeal, and it animates really well. More importantly, the mechanics are spot-on and sound, with the character balance, hit detection, pacing, and the feel of the combo system being remarkably polished and refined. The cast is the biggest ever assembled in a Street Fighter, featuring characters that are still exclusive to this very game (such as the fan favorite Karin). Best Street Fighter game, best fighting game, naysayers (and those pesky Street Fighter IV fans) be damned.
My first experience with the game was the PSone version, which despite the 2D limitations of the console, was a very well put together port ruined by some pesky load times, but still extremely playable. This has to be my most played version of the game. I would then go on to play the enjoyable but hardly definitive GameBoy Advance version, which was great for a portable title at the time. Later on I'd experience the original arcade version in the collection released for the PS2. As great as it was to play the arcade perfect experience, the console versions simply had for more crucial content. This PSP version that I picked up probably has the most content out of all the home conversions, and it performs well, but problem is that the PSP itself is not the most favorable platform for fighting games.
Which brings me to the Sega Saturn version. This version surprisingly came out after the Sega Dreamcast version, and fans of the game agree that this is easily the definitive home version of the game. The quality of the sprites and animation, the color contrast and textures, the complete lack of load times, and the overall feel and responsiveness, makes the Saturn version the best looking and best playing version of the title. Not to mention, the Saturn controller was practically born for 2D fighting and 2D gaming in general, evident by the fact that modern fighting game pads continue to mimic the Saturn controller.
Now this version saw a very limited Japanese release back in 1998, and has become quite the rare and expensive import. Is it worth going through the trouble of importing it? Well if you're as crazily passionate about the game as I am then it's a no brainier, as the superiority it has over other versions is very easy to see and experience. For everyone else, the PlayStation versions (PSone and PSP) are far from bad, you just need to be a tad patient about the load times.
Now what would be the real definitive version of Street Fighter Alpha 3? a XBLA/PSN digital release with an online mode. Now that would be amazing, hurry up Capcom.