Although Capcom wouldn't like to admit it, one Street Fighter game is very much the same as another these days. However, for the most part I think it's fair to say that with each new chapter, the gaming giant has done enough to the series to justify its presence. With the release of Street Fighter Alpha 3, Dreamcast owners are about to be treated to a beat-em-up tour de force, perhaps the best arcade to console conversion Capcom have ever presented at our feet. It's taken ever so long to come into fruition, but it has been worth the wait, and Capcom have shown us once and for all what they are capable of. The reasons for Alpha 3's excellence are large and varied. The biggest has to be the fact that fighting in Alpha 3 brings the genre back to the heady days of the original Street Fighter II (and considering the amount of derivatives SFII played host to, I think it's earned that moniker). SFII's sublime emphasis on technique and execution rather than 500-hit super-combos is responsible for a lot of what we're seeing in Alpha 3. You have a cast of nearly thirty characters including classic battlers like Blanka and Guile, and through the game's ingenious use of "isms", their term not mine, you can shape just how you want to play the game, making it as complex or simplified as you like. Through the three "isms", you can shut off or turn on various features that have reinvigorated the genre in between now and initial SFII arcade release. Things like air-blocking, alpha counters and multiple combo levels are all within your grasp. By using X-ism, you discard all of the recent additions, giving the closest possible approximation to SFII yet. A-ism allows for super combos, air-blocking, alpha counters, you name it; anything that you've seen added to the series since SFII is probably in here, except for those final options to be unlocked by V-ism, which removes the super moves and instead uses Alpha 2's custom combo system. It's actually very hard to describe an average battle, because you can so easily change the way it unfolds at the touch of a button, by altering the speed of proceedings or blocking out a few of the moves.
The inspirational PlayStation version of Alpha 3 included more game modes than you could shake a big bag full of sticks at, including arcade mode, versus and training, then furthermore you had survival mode, team battle mode and dramatic battle mode which allowed for the incredibly enjoyable two on one handicap match-ups. The progressive World Tour mode was a big favourite though, allowing you to choose a character and wander the globe in his shoes, building up his repertoire of moves and increasing his fighting potential on both the defensive and attacking side of things. It was tough going with the difficulty level increasing exponentially in relation to your progress, but you could actually save your built-up character to a memory card and even import your friends' characters and whatnot. This writer ended up with his entire collection of memory cards bearing post-it notes describing which characters were contained upon them and how far they'd got. Looking at my games shelf became an archaeological expedition. Dreamcast owners get the best of both worlds. Not only are all of the options found in the PlayStation version located here, including the reams and reams of secret characters, but you don't need to trouble yourself with the initial act of unlocking them, as even the hidden modes are now available. Either Capcom released this version with everything unlocked to entice PSX owners across, or they felt the original was too difficult. Either way it doesn't really detract from the experience and the game is in fact all the better for it.
If as a PlayStation owner you're looking for further reasons to pick up this Dreamcast alternative, you will be pleased to hear that Capcom have rejuvenated the whole game with a sparkling new interface, improved character animations and revamped sound. The load times are also down to practically nothing, after some coma-enducing pauses between bouts in the PSX version. Fans of the series who take the time to read up on this stuff will already be aware that the American version included Internet support, allowing gamers to download souped-up versions of the game's characters. You could pit these so-called master characters against characters you'd built up in the game's World Tour mode, with versions of Chun-Li, Dan, and others available. Each character occupied 65 blocks of a VMU, which is quite hefty, but they made a welcome addition. Despite fears to the contrary, all this is possible in the UK version, and you can also upload your highest scores to the world rankings at the Alpha 3 website, and even take part against the CPU, and have your performance certified by the Alpha 3 systems in a Grade Match! As far as beat-em-ups go, this is the coup de grasse, it doesn't get much better than this, folks. Even Namco would have to sit up and take notice of the amount of extras and unlockable options to be found in here. I've been playing it for several weeks and I still haven't unlocked everything. For a paltry £39.99 it's lunacy not to consider it.
Of course, no game would be complete without its drawbacks. For starters, for a game released toward the end of the year 2000, it looks surprisingly passť. Visually, it's not a patch on other recent Capcom releases like Street Fighter III and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, and it really wouldn't have taken too much effort to do something about that. But then again, in all fairness, it's a fan's game, and the fans won't mind. The other concern I have with it is the controls. It isn't that they are badly implemented or unresponsive, but that to control a game of this complexity, well, you really can't afford to be using the rather outdated Sega-made Dreamcast controller. Personal preference has to point to the new ASCII 6-button controller, which can be had online for a few bob, so if you are thinking of picking it up, you might want to consider the added price of a new pad to boot. And again, although PlayStation owners will be pleased to get a souped-up version of their favourite game with new online features, for what it costs it might not be worth it. After all, if you've already played something to death, a sequel is what's needed, not a slightly improved version on another format.
With all things considered, Alpha 3 is the best beat-em-up I've played since Soul Calibur. It trounces pretenders like Dead or Alive 2 and will fulfil Street Fighter fans' wildest fantasies without breaking a sweat. It looks a little dated now, but presentation and execution is second-to-none. As for longevity, there's just so much to do and see, and with the burgeoning online community it could still be seeing some action in several months' time. Highly recommended.