IGN Review of Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX
Most gamers have an affinity for the Street Fighter series. And for good reason - it's as historic and industry changing as the Mario franchise. Virtually every game in the fighting genre has copied the most seminal in the series, Street Fighter II, in some way or another. Whether it's the character design or finely tuned combat system, it's easy to see the influence. And it's these very elements that make the first PSP Street Fighter, Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max, such a treat.
Those that don't like much reading need to know only one thing: Alpha 3 Max looks and plays like a near-perfect port of the original. The quality of the 2D character animation and vivid backgrounds looks just as good (if not better, due to the PSP's screen) as the original. It includes a massive cast of 40 playable characters, a slew of addictive game modes and all the additions introduced through the Alpha series. These include the ability to recover from certain attacks, finite defensives (for those overzealous blockers) and "isms", which help you customize a character's special attacks. It's by all accounts, a swell package.
For the uninitiated, or those just a little rusty, here's a recap of the basics. You can choose between the analog stick and D-Pad to control your character, though some will obviously scoff at the former option. The top row of face buttons controls punches, while the lower row handles kicks. Heavy punch is mapped to the left shoulder button and heavy kick is mapped to the right. Expect the usual lot of manuevers, too, such as throws, escapes, defensive falls, blocks and counters.
Like previous games, Alpha 3 Max splits between various game modes. The first, and most basic, is Arcade Mode. It lets you choose a fighter and compete against 10 opponents to reach the character's unique ending. Then there's Training Mode, which lets you practice moves, combos and counters against a fighter of your choosing. You can set a number of parameters, such as an opponent's stance and defensive capabilities, and you can record a number of moves you want an opponent to execute, should you want to practice a specific string of moves.
Edit Mode lets you modify characters, both in terms of basics (stamina, power) and special moves, which is where the aforementioned "ism" element comes into play. You're also given points to buy upgrades like Power Guard for increased defenses and Damage Plus for increased damage. All of this lends the game a degree of depth that's rare in fighting games of any kind, let alone portable fighters. Sure, it's been done before, but not with this kind of flexibility.
In World Tour, you can choose a character, train them and then enter them in a string of battles. It's the most in-depth mode in the game, as you can wind up with a radically different character than what you started with. It also lets you sample all the arenas and stages in the game in a way that feels a little more epic than just playing round after round of isolated matches. It's a rewarding mode, and it's a good thing it's included.
On PSP, there's even more stuff. Unlike certain ports, Alpha Max 3 gives you additional modes and extras, instead of taking them away. The first, network mode, offers four different multiplayer battle options. They're all Ad-Hoc, and there's no infrastructure (online) mode, but there's still plenty here. In VS Mode, you can go head-to-head. Team Mode lets you form a party of three characters and then fight someone else's custom-made party. Both VS and Team sound pretty basic, and they are, but they're wicked fun. There's almost no discernable lag during battles.
The next two Ad-Hoc modes aren't so basic, yet they're just as rewarding as those mentioned in the above paragraph. Variable Battle lets you take three players into a fight, two controlled by human players and the third under CPU control. It really does change the dynamic of a fight, and just for the obvious reasons. You need to adjust your strategy to accommodate the extra elements, so it's very satisfying.
Finally, there's Dramatic Battle, where three players can throw down simultaneously. This, more than any other mode, calls for a total revamping of your established combat techniques, plus it's harder to keep track of what's going on when three characters start busting out screen-scorching super moves. It's certainly fun to play, and it's the closest thing you'll probably ever get to old-school Street Fighter action without being tethered to an arcade machine or home console.
Of course, the big question on most everyone's mind is, how does it control with PSP's D-PAD? And the answer is: it controls ok. You will most assuredly miss more fireballs and uppercuts than you're used to, and in that regard it's very frustrating. But it's not so bad as to entirely screw up your style. It definitely takes a while to get used to, though, especially when trying to jump backwards or forwards and trying to block, but you do eventually become accustomed to it. Your fingers may hate you for a while, but in this case, the pain is mostly worth it. Also, having to use two buttons to throw opponents makes things a little difficult, but that's a matter of personal preference. It's a safe bet some gamers prefer it.
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