Upon its release, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike perplexed many fighting game fans.

Arriving on the arcade scene in 1999 just in time to witness (some would say hasten) the death rattle of 2D fighters, it contained only four characters from the iconic Street Fighter II, yet kept the controversial parry system from 1997’s Street Fighter III: New Generation.

Dash and high jump mechanics along with crouch-negating leap attacks and Super Arts combos from the two prior incarnations of Street Fighter III also featured, but subtle shifts in combat rules and commands – particularly around air attacks and parries – made it a uniquely balanced and competitive beast. It was so fast, unforgiving and deep that after initial bewilderment, many folks considered it to be the pinnacle of all 2D fighters. So much so that 12 years and a fighting game resurrection later, it still holds up extremely well.

This agelessness is almost exclusively down to the one factor: this is a high-quality port that has preserved the precision gameplay of the arcade. Sure, the sprites have been given a bit of a high definition overhaul and the soundtrack has been remixed (with uniformly dire yet reversible results), but beneath the new coat of paint is the same quick, technical fighter whose smooth animations nonetheless allow practised players to time their attacks and parries down to the exact frame they wish to execute them in.

The aforementioned parry mechanic – in all but a handful of instances achieved by tapping the stick toward your opponent – theoretically allows you to emerge from a round unscathed, but in practice simply alters strategies, rewarding not only the dexterous but also those willing to risk exposure by firing off harder-to-parry special moves or jumping into the fray. Parrying also gives a veteran player a way of escaping the dreaded corner-trap, something that – when considered carefully – makes no sense in a 2D fighting game. If you are unable to move in the third dimension, getting backed up against an invisible barrier is just annoying.

Character-wise, most gamers will be familiar with Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and none of the remaining 16 fighters on the roster. Certainly there are no replacements as endearingly weird or instantly iconic as Blanka or Dhalsim here, but most of the cast are less broadly-drawn and more easily-distinguished than those two, and besides, the fighting styles of others are reminiscent of those in Street Fighter II anyway.

Beyond the gameplay, Capcom have packed in a variety of welcome features into 3rd Strike. Trial mode teaches parry timing as well as character-specific combos, and presents challenges for those looking to unlock all the Street Fighter III art they can. Hey, whatever you’re into. Training is a fairly standard-yet-effective free spar session wherein the player may choose the stance of their opponent and then wail upon them until their heart is content. Training sessions may be recorded for later analysis too.

For those not in the know, the Super Arts are powerful combos attacks that may be triggered after normal attacks have built up a combo gauge to maximum. Depending on the type of Super chosen at the start of the match (three are available for each character) the length of build-up and number of gauges varies.

There are numerous options available whose tweakage strongly shapes offline gameplay. Dashing, blocking and parrying can all be disabled, and you can even specify the size the window of frames is for a successful parry to be executed. There are nearly 50 in all, the last third of which are unlockable either by beating the game or via purchase for around $1.50. A twentieth character, Gill, is also up for purchase for the same price, or you could simply beat the game with the other 19 to unlock him.

The game’s comprehensive options are useful in other ways too. As the game is over a decade old, the default view is what was then-standard: a sexy 4:3 ratio. Fortunately widescreen, stretch, and arcade cabinet (with bulge effect) views are available. In addition, one of two filters may be employed to tidy up the pixel roughness inherent in a game as old as this one. Should the player stick with 4:3, the extra space is used to track various stats, like a live-updating achievement meter.

All that stuff is great, but this being the online edition, multiplayer is where it’s at. Immediately it’s obvious that Capcom have put a lot of work into this aspect of the game too. Experience points earned from prior online battles and your skill level (which is affected by grades given at the end of each match) together determine who you face, and the standard ranked and player match options are augmented by an up-to-eight-player tournament mode. The latter is marred by the matches taking place sequentially rather than simultaneously, which wouldn’t be so bad if the host wasn’t prone to quitting the moment they lost, ending the tournament for everyone else in the process.

Despite this, and due in no small part to the implementation of GGPO middleware designed to smooth out any lag, online play is serious, competitive business. When lag is an issue – which it was in approximately a quarter of our online battles – the game is rewound to the last point where both player’s machines were in synch. This can result in hits connecting but then being erased, or in some jittery frames here and there, however overall 3rd Strike plays more fluidly online than any other 2D fighting game yet encountered. Perhaps New Zealand is simply too isolated and its broadband too slow for anything better than “mostly good” to be expected.

The only other criticism one could level at 3rd Strike is that it is deceptively deep, and as such, attracts many top-shelf players whose powers may turn away the timid before they have given the game a decent chance. Even the single player modes are tough; parrying, for all it achieves, takes a lot of practice to master. However, such things are hardly the fault of this highly addictive, highly rewarding brawler.

Since its arcade version dropped, Street Fighter: 3rd Strike has been released in various forms on the Playstation 2, Dreamcast and original Xbox over the years. However, this version is the definitive one, and is nicely priced at 20 bucks too.

Grab it ASAP, then start saving for that arcade stick.