I recall when the Alpha series was first developed, and the amount of hype that surrounded it when it premiered in the issues of Game Fan as Street Fighter Legends. Initially, many of course expected more than what they got, and were more thrilled with the series overall when the sequel made its debut. Of course, the Street Fighter series is one which can't be ignored or taken lightly. A series whose tapestry has come full circle with the premiere of Alpha 3, the latest in the series destined to set a number of agendas straight. Agendas such as the very non-existent, incomplete storylines which fall short somewhere in between the period of 'Turbo' and the 'Impact' series. Add to the fact that a number of characters have failed to make appearances, gameplay has been all been but widely appraised, and players still feel the need to start off their maiden conflicts by selecting Ryu. The series has squandered many to become 'Virtua Fighters', 'Mortal Kombatants' and 'King of Fighters'. All perfectly great series of their own, but leaving Street Fighter with a much needed rejuvanation. Enter the 17th adaption of Street Fighter in which Capcom makes the attempt to set a matter of aspects in the right.
From the moment you take a gander at the new, hyped intro sequence with its simulated funkadelic tunes, you know that this time you are in for a shock. The sequence is longer, and has a livelier mood in comparison to past 'Alpha' sequences. The new logo premiers with a jovial voice announcing the title of the game, (sorta eerie IMHO.) Next, we're introduced to the new Player select screen which looks a lot like a satellite network. The announcer returns again as I am sure you come to love him directs you to select a character; followed by a Super Art.
Looking into Alpha 3
There are 25 available characters to choose from and 3 super art styles known as "ISM's". X-ism represents the "Simple" mode which portrays Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo's Super Art system. This mode consists of a predetermined super which requires a measurable amount of time to power up, but is more powerful then a A-ism's Level 3 attack. You lose the ability to air block and your guard meter is generally longer here. You'll find that most characters are stronger and gain or lose a few special moves or ablities in this mode. For example Sagat only can connect a maximum of 2 hits with his Tiger Blow, and Chun Li loses her fireball attack, but instead uses a Palm Thrust and gains her Spinning Bird Kick from the original SF2 series. Unfortunately, there is no Alpha counter system here, therefore, you really must be sharp with your gameplay here. A-ism (Alpha) is the typical 'Alpha' super engine that most players will no doubt select or are more familiar with.
This mode has now simplified the activation sequence to the strength classes of your punch and kicks. Therefore Level 1=Jab/Short Level 2=Strong/Forward and Level 3 = Fierce/Roundhouse respectively. A-ism naturally includes the use of Alpha Counters but have been redesigned to operate upon blocking an attack and in a fashion similar to Street Fighter 3; you must immediately press forward on your joystick in unison with any punch and kick of the same strength. Easier in theory, but not a guarantee that the counter will connect. Add to the fact that it mimizes your Guard Meter and causes minimal damage.
The last mode and certainly one of the most unique and challenging, if not awkward to most, is the V-ism Mode (Variable). Unlike the X-ism mode, AC's are available in this mode, but your supers consist of a 'modified' Custom Combo system tweaked from SFA2. This feature is activated with any punch or kick in respects to the level of energy you wish to use for your 'special' combo. You are only able to pull of attacks when the meter flashes: "Full" or "Charge" and "50%". In the event you are hit out of this mode, any unused energy is restored. These modes truly enrich the game's overall strategy and add a much needed aspect to a series which many felt failed to provide a substantial amount of innovation. Each "ISM" carries its own pros and cons, and each has a particular effect on the player you select (more on this later). Upon making your decision of a Super Art, the action engages. Meanwhile, the announcer, again puts in his two cents with phrases that you'll either learn to love, tolerate, or ignore in every possible way.
A number of new aspects were either added or modified in the new brawler. One of the most visible aspects which should strike any players attention is your super meter. Unlike Second Impact and Super Turbo matches where I recall players standing at opposite ends of the screen powering up their supers with random moves, Alpha 3 grants you a FULL power bar in the first round of each new bout. This aspect immediately raises the level of intensity and offense. I like that this was added as it increases the degree of strategy that must be used. However, most players can abuse this new feature and cause many to complain. Another feature the juggle system. Contrary to what the typical player will say, this system is NOT cheap. In fact, this opens up a perspective of 'Street Fighting' that players like myself only dreamt of enjoying. I prefer this system instead of resorting to the V-ism mode to pull of wayward combos. The basis relies upon propelling your opponent in the air and utilizing attacks to keep them suspended (and helpless) while you subtract more damage to their life bar. Of course, some characters truly make an effective use of this system. Thankfully, Capcom developed a feature to combat this feature, which is basically a "Tech Hit" system quite similar to that of Vampire Saviour. This allows you to nullify your stunned status and either land directly on the ground and/or revert to a counter attack, provided your in proximity of your opponent. Most players will embrace this feature, but be warned when to select this countermeasure as many times, you'll find it best to slip to the ground and retreat as opposed to attempting a counter-attack attack.
Fighting games are somewhat difficult to appreciate when the characters themselves are considered dull, but what of the music? Does Alpha 3 give you the vibes and energy to be consistently entertained or is it just another lullaby set of tunes? To express it in one word, I find the music to be, outstanding. Capcom took the liberty to orchestrate 24 brand new scores. Brand new! You'll find no trace of remixed soundtracks here! During a few conversations with other players, everyone seems to appreciate this aspect very much, in addition to the newly developed stages. My personal favorite would have to be Karin's and Bison's new diabolical score. It seems apparent that the same music team which worked on Street Fighter 3 series also composed the tracks for Alpha 3. The themes have a modern atmosphere and appear to be in harmony with the current style of fighting music composed in titles of today. This certainly will be one of those favored soundtracks which fans of the series will rush to pick up.
As for the stages, well, overall, they're great. Though a few pale in comparison to the level of detail and composition which Alpha 2 spoiled us with in its significant improvement from Alpha to Alpha 2. Some stages, such as Ryu and Akuma's consist of a monotone color and lack any true innovation or excitement to them. The new backgrounds are a mix of detailed or a lack thereof regarding any degree of animation. It's like fighting behind large painted canvases. Ken's stage is a perfect example of where Capcom cut corners, possibly to make amends for the PlayStation. I'd have to say that Cammy's stage is one of the most colorful, if not the sharpest stage in Alpha 3. I only wish that the stages overall shared this same level of quality. Guess we can't have it all. Analyzing the game more closely for minor nuances, I found that Alpha 3 does in fact possess a few insignificant details which deserve a quick mention. Certain match-ups will introduce 'special' fighting introductions. Examples such as with Ken giving Ryu "noogies" and Ryu tosses him. One of the best special sequences would have to be Akuma and Gen: Akuma teleports in and attempts to unleash his Instant Hell Murder Attack, Gen blocks and proceeds to unleash his Cruel Shadow, Akuma blocks ... Round ONE, FIGHT.
Is Street Fighter Alpha 3 the best Street Fighter to date? Yes and no. If you're part of the new generation (the ones that are like only 14-16 and consider yourself SF vets), you'll probably find this game especially enjoyable, as there are a number of elements which can immediately be mastered with sufficient practice. As for the old time, purists like myself...well, it can go either way. Alpha 3 took aspects of what made Street Fighter so enjoyable, accelerated and tweaked aspects and characters of the game, and raised the stakes of intensity by providing a number of offensive and defensive measures to balance out the game. In essence, Street Fighter Alpha 3 can't be looked at as your "grandfather's Street Fighter". Players must rely on new and old tactics (unless you opt to be lame and be cheap - which is the norm these days), but in all, it's supposed to be fun and enjoyable. When approached with the right perspective, Alpha 3 can deliver that. With 25 characters, a number of "new" rules, endings and features to boot; Alpha 3 is truly the first of what hopefully will represent TRUE sequels. The game offers alot and awards those who discover and exploit these hidden treasures. It's a game we as Street Fighter fans should honor and enjoy, until the next chapter in the series is released.