You have to be a pretty serious fighting game player to fully understand why everyone speaks of Street Fighter III: Third Strike with such reverence. We can tell you why, sure, and you’ll know why because we told you, but unless you actually give it a serious go and try to grasp the finer play mechanics, you’ll never truly understand.

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Street Fighter III: Third Strike is possibly the finest example of a 2D fighting game ever created, and I’m pretty thankful that I got to write about it, seeing how it was originally released in 1998, back when I never dreamed I’d actually be a games journalist. It’s the third version of Street Fighter III – in Capcom’s usual tradition of refining/recycling their products and adding in sprinkles of new content, a practice they’ve been called out on before, and probably will be many more times. But in this particular case, the end product they delivered was so slick, balanced and appealing that it was impossible to fault.

At a glance, SFIII:TS doesn’t look all that different to the previous two, apart from the long-awaited return of Chun-Li, a handful of new characters, and some new stages, music and menus – but when you get down to playing it in any kind of halfway serious fashion, the true brilliance of it starts to shine through. The characters feel appropriately weighty, the feeling of contact when strikes connect or are blocked is incredibly convincing and the game’s trademark “Parry” system, which allows players to deflect singular strikes one at a time has been refined to a new level of accuracy and pinpoint timing.

Each character has an arsenal of moves with various tactical applications, and some are much easier to use than others. For instance, Ken, Ryu and Akuma are as easy to use as ever with their simple combos and familiar moves that give them good command of combat in a 2D plane; but characters like Necro, Oro and Makoto, with their less direct or more abstract fighting styles, take some serious skill to master.

The game features arguably the most fluid animation ever in a 2D fighter – rivaled only by Mark of the Wolves. There’s plenty of high-res art framing the game and its menus, but the actual in-game graphics are the same ones we remember, just stretched to fit the screen, with various filters you can apply if you want. Unfortunately, Capcom also stuck with the game’s original hip-hop soundtrack, which is the only tragic thing in an otherwise brilliant package.

In addition to the online play, if you can stomach the lag, Capcom has also added in a trial mode where players can attempt to pull off increasingly difficult combos to earn points to unlock some awesome art, adding a bit of play value if the core game isn’t enough for you on its own. The download is about 600MB and I’d say it’s a mandatory purchase for any fighting fan.