Is there a videogame series in history thats gone through more incarnations than Capcoms Street Fighter? I really dont think so. Like ice cream purveyor Baskin-Robbins, Capcoms motto seems to be "31 flavors" when it comes to their most famous franchise. (Although they may have already exceeded that number… I lost count a few years ago.) Responding to the trends of the industry back in 1997, Capcom brought the worlds most popular fighting game into the third dimension with Street Fighter EX. (Called Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha on the PlayStation.) Unfortunately, it ended up as one of the least successful efforts to ever bear the ubiquitous moniker.
In trying to bring its game to the next level, Capcom passed development honors to a studio made up of its former employees called Arika. Continuing the ice cream analogy, Arikas goal may have been to create something as popular as Cookies n Cream, but instead ended up with a concoction not unlike Daiquiri Ice. The result was something tangy, strange and loved by only a few. On this, Arikas second attempt, their product is now more akin to Orange Sherbet. Its still not one of the top flavors, but its a lot more appealing and easier on the palate than the last one.
Street Fighter EX 3 is a tag-team fighting game featuring a modified version of Capcoms historic combat engine. The biggest and most obvious difference between this and Capcoms other team-up games (known as the "Vs." series) is that it utilizes rendered 3D graphics instead of the smoothly animated hand-drawn art Capcom is known for. While the polygon approach provides an opportunity for some incredibly over-the-top finishing moves, the gameplay remains strictly 2D. No matter how the players maneuver, they will always be directly opposite each other with the camera showing them from the side. Each character comes equipped with a basic set of kicks and punches along with various flashy special attacks that Capcom practically defined the genre with. There are sixteen initially selectable and thirteen hidden characters, although four of these unlockables are merely upgraded versions of other warriors. The available modes of play are a bit on the sparse side, featuring Original, Arena, Edit and Training. Interestingly, up to four live players can battle at once, provided that you have enough friends and a multitap peripheral.
The main event, Original Mode, is substantially different from the normal structure found in most games of this type. Instead of going against all other fighters in a marathon slugfest, there are only six matches. Simply beating the opponents and whupping the boss is a joke, since even on the hardest difficulty it takes about fifteen minutes or less. Experienced Street Fighter vets will most likely go undefeated, to boot. However, simply finishing the game isnt really the focus, and this is where Arika noticeably differentiates itself from Capcom proper.
In a nutshell, the main game is really about challenging yourself, not the artificial intelligence. On each of the six stages are medals that can be earned by meeting certain requirements. The dexterity and timing challenges to earn these icons go from easy (defeat your opponent with a super-K.O.) to nigh impossible (16 hits followed by a Meteor Combo). Measuring up to the skill of the Arika staff is infinitely more difficult than just getting the end credits to roll, believe me. I wont kid you when I say its a real challenge to master the intricacies of the fighting engine, and its not going to be everybodys cup of tea. For those who want to put their fingers and reflexes to the test, there is challenge to be had here.
Arika also diverts from the standard Capcom recipe in other ways; namely, their irreverence and their approach to creating characters. Along with the usual long-established World Warriors (Ken, Ryu and the bunch) Arika has included a group of pleasantly complex battlers that are very distinct in both visual and play design. Adding variety and flavor to the mix, the variances in philosophy and conceptualization are extremely refreshing. For those who may doubt that Arikas characters can match up to the classics, its worth noting that the most evil and powerful character out of the entire Street Fighter universe can only be found in the EX cast. The fearsome demon Garuda can easily take Akuma, and most players, back to school with little effort.
Along with their unique additions to the cast, Arika wasnt afraid to take things a little less seriously by adding a healthy dose of humor and wackiness to the game, clearly evident in some of the special attacks and super-finishing moves. While some may not find the new faces and tone all that appealing, Id go so far as to say that Arikas interestingly offbeat touches are far superior to the dull and ugly side of the spectrum found in Street Fighter III.
However, the last feature Arika added was far and away my favorite- The Edit mode. Its basically a stripped-down "create-a-character" function. Going through this mode, you can earn points by completing tasks similar to those in the main game. With these points, you can choose to "purchase" virtually any attack in the game and customize newcomer Ace to play exactly how you want him to. Its extremely fun to pick and choose from the various moves and create someone to your exact specifications. Despite the fact that it was too hard to earn enough points, I thoroughly enjoyed this feature and hope that other games will incorporate this idea.
After reading this praise, Im sure a lot of you are wondering why the disc suffered so miserably when it launched. Sadly, besides a slight lack of general polish, its very easy to see why it never became a best seller despite the paucity of games at the PlayStation 2's rollout.
The biggest thing wrong with the game is also the thing that makes it so different—the emphasis on learning and completing the main games challenges. Since the training mode is hopelessly ineffective and theres no real tutorial, it can be quite rough trying to grasp what Arika wants you to do, let alone how to do it. To complicate things, there are a massive amount of sophisticated techniques to learn. Super Combos, Tag Combos, Meteor Combos, Change Combos, Critical Parades, Momentary Combos, Super Cancels—the list goes on and on. In truth, its a bit too much. If youre not the type of person who derives entertainment value from mastering split-second timing and complex offense strings, the main event probably wont keep you occupied for long.
In light of this fact, the game is doubly hamstrung by the lackluster selection of other modes. Its probably not fair to compare it to more recent efforts like Virtua Fighters "Kumite" mode, but the game was released well AFTER such breakthrough additions as Soul Caliburs "Mission Mode" or the "World Tour" mode in Street Fighter Alpha 3, not to mention the extras that Namco usually includes with the Tekken series. Sustaining a healthy singleplayer experience is a big challenge for the fighting game genre as a whole, and in this respect, Street Fighter EX 3 comes up substantially short.
Finally, the game is no great shakes in the graphics department. Its clearly a huge improvement over its predecessor, but that doesnt mean its especially impressive or eye-catching. Granted, some of the faces (mostly the females) are excellent and the finishing moves are explosively spectacular, but in general the characters look rough and quite basic. The backgrounds are completely non-interactive and lack most of the features people expect from a next generation fighting game. While I certainly wouldnt call it ugly, it wasnt too impressive even back when the PlayStation 2 launched. These days, it appears almost a full generation behind compared to current efforts.
Overall, Street Fighter EX 3 is a solid and worthwhile title that shines in a lot of areas. Honestly, I think that it would have been better off if it hadnt been associated with the Street Fighter legacy. Arikas additions to the pantheon are pretty high quality, and its conceivable that they could sustain a decent fighting title on their own. However, since Street Fighter is a name that has become intimately familiar to a legion of gamers, I have to believe that EX 3 received more harsh scrutiny than it probably deserved. If you pick up a copy today, itll clearly feel older and less refined than the newer titles. Nonetheless, thats not to say that there isnt a great deal of enjoyment to be had. Despite the fact that it cant be called an A-list title in any sense of the term, I had a huge amount of fun with the game and think that it definitely deserves a spot in any fighting game fans library.