Crawfish Interactive accomplished the unthinkable. They actually managed to out-perform Capcom at their own game. Not only is Street Fighter Alpha 3 for the Gameboy Advance a magnificent fighter by any standard, but it is a more faithful handheld adaptation than Capcom's own attempt, last year's Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo Revival. Street Fighter Alpha 3 takes all of the updated gameplay from the until-now arcade only SFA3 Upper iteration, adds in most of the extra modes and features of the original console ports of SFA3, and includes a few new features and characters for good measure! Arguably one of the greatest 2D fighters ever designed, Street Fighter Alpha 3 finally arrives on the Nintendo Gameboy Advance in fine form!
SFA3 for the GBA is not based off the same arcade game that was ported to the PS One and Dreamcast years ago. In fact, SFA3 for the Gameboy Advance features all of the gameplay tweaks and improvements incorporated in the little-known arcade update, Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper (which may have only been officially available in Japanese arcades). The changes include significant tweaks to the combo-timing engine, attack recover factors and even new moves for existing characters. The GBA game even features more additions, including three characters never before seen in a SFA game: Eagle, Maki, and Yun from the Capcom vs. SNK games!
The first thing you will notice is how gorgeous this game is. The characters are magnificent to behold and each of them have half a dozen different color schemes! The sixteen backgrounds are also quite stunning. Of course, they do lack some of the detail and incidental animations from SFA3's bigger brothers but they have been reproduced for the smaller screen exceedingly well. The only real flaw is that in one of the stages, the sunset color scheme implemented for the sky causes both characters' life bars to practically disappear! It is a rare problem but an annoyance nonetheless.
Such graphical marvels should be expected given that this game was announced way before the GBA ever even came out. Still, though its development was lengthy, it was not without cause. Initially, Capcom had allocated a smaller cart size that would have forced developer Crawfish to actually remove characters. Sometime during its development, however, it was decided that SFA3's cart size would be augmented, thankfully resulting in the massive game available today. replete with features, characters, and graphics that no other handheld fighting came can compete with.
Now, SFA2 was actually attempted on the Super Nintendo, and though playable, it was a sluggish, incomplete, and generally flawed representation of that game, particularly when stacked against the PS One and Saturn versions that were available. It is almost inconceivable that SFA3 on the GBA should be so complete, since countless other SNES to GBA ports fared poorly in comparison. It should be noted that this is not a SNES port and that SFA3 is based off a new game and was rebuilt from the ground up for the new hardware. Still, for comparison purposes, SFA3 on the GBA features almost triple the amount of content that the SNES game contained and is without any of the technical flaws such as slowdowns or dumbed down features.
Aside from the obvious scaling down of the character sprite size and resolution, this game features better animation than even the venerable Playstation version. It easily rivals that of the arcade and Dreamcast! The only way the Playstation game could match the GBA version's level of animation is in a mirror fight (character vs. same character). Since the GBA does not have the original Playstation's specific combination of memory / CD access time issues, this version of the game features no load time and consequently can load all of the characters' animations on the fly! The slick animations are not limited to the characters either, as all of the game's vivid special effects are included. From the slick splash graphics of connecting attacks to the extra animations of the super moves, even to the super move-specific KO special effects, SFA3 on the GBA is a masterful visual tour de force!
Unfortunately, Street Fighter Alpha 3 (any version of it) features perhaps the worst soundtrack of any Street Fighter title. For this game, Capcom oddly chose to throw out all of the established themes for their core characters, and instead developed a new soundtrack composed of generic rock and industrial tunes. Though not all of the songs made the cut, those that were chosen were the highest quality ones, and their adaptations on the GBA are not all that bad. Definitely, an improvement in output quality, if not composition, over what Capcom provided us in SSF2T Revival last year, which featured the beloved and timeless SF2 themes, in a butchered, sometimes-unrecognizable format.
At least the sound effects and voices are intact. It should be noted that most of the super moves lost their vocal aspect. You will not be hearing Ryu scream out ?Shinku Hadoken? as he unleashes his classic super fireball anymore. However, most of the regular special moves are intact, voices and all (Ryu's Hurricane Kick being a disappointing exception). However, the inclusion of most of the game's other sound effects and character taunts help to round out the aural package quite nicely. Some of the sound effects are a bit muffled and distant, but using a decent set of headphones alleviates this quite well. In what may have been an unwitting gift to gamers everywhere, one of the first elements that Crawfish decided to cut from the experience was the atrociously corny and overly enthusiastic fight announcer.
How does a six-button fighting game get adapted to a four-button handheld? With compromises. It is unfortunate that Crawfish opted to throw out Capcom's own solution from SSF2T Revival, which mapped two attack strengths to each of the two face buttons, which were accessed by either tapping or holding those buttons. At the very least, it could have been an option. However, Crawfish came up with an alternate (and forced) system that, given enough practice, works well enough in its own manner. One attack is mapped to each of the four buttons with the fifth and sixth applied to L+B and R+A. It is not too difficult to adapt to this control scheme, and it is customizable to ease the effort. With the default, this editor could only access perhaps three decent attack strengths easily, but after a bit of tweaking, he was able to gain access to five comfortably. Not a bad compromise for a four-button system. However, had Crawfish opted to make the shoulder buttons as true ?shift keys?, allowing you to hold either shoulder trigger in conjunction with one of the face buttons, it would have made any given customized control scheme much more adaptable to other characters.
As far as gameplay content goes, SFA3 on the GBA is simply packed. The standard arcade, training, and versus (link cable) modes one would expect from a Capcom fighter are all faithfully reproduced in this game. The only true compromise within is that the story dialogues between specific characters in the arcade mode were all removed. However, you will still actually face those same story-driven characters, depending on whom you choose. Further fleshing out the experience are the Survival, Dramatic, and Final Battle modes. Finally, accessing the Survival mode actually brings you to a new menu with even more options, which include a standard run of survival challenges (10, 30, 50 enemies, boss challenge) as well as the ridiculously cool Dramatic Survival challenge.
The most exciting extra mode, and the most surprising technologically, is the Dramatic Battle mode, which pits you and a computer controlled ally in a series of 2 against one fights! Three active fighters on one screen, where you and your ally share a super bar, and pull off magnificent team strategies and combos is one of the greatest ideas to hit a 2D fighting game. The GBA's ability to pull off a three-character fight without any slowdown or drop in graphical detail is a marvel that simply must be seen to be appreciated.
The only console SFA3 mode that is missing in the GBA version is the clever World Tour mode. However, in a surprising move by Crawfish, many of the ?Ism? bonuses and gameplay tweaks that could be earned and attached to a character in the World Tour mode can be unlocked by successfully completing the various Survival challenges. Once unlocked, these bonuses and rule-changing modes can be toggled in the game's option screens, along with the usual set of fighting game options, further customizing and enhancing the experience. In fact, not since Street Fighter 3 for the Dreamcast has a 2D fighter been this tweak-friendly.
Adding to the game's magnificent amount of replay is the fact that all of the extra modes, most of the more powerful customizing options and bonuses, and a good half dozen of the characters in SFA3 must be unlocked before they can be accessed. Granted, there are those that feel this is an artificial method of extending replay, particularly given the game's high degree of difficulty (which greatly exceeds that of the Playstation version) but it is set up in such a way so as to provide a satisfactory amount of challenges and rewards for those who appreciate such things. For the truly impatient, Crawfish have released a series of codes, which will unlock every mode, bonus, option, and character in the game, and since all options and bonuses (as well as high scores and initials) are saved onto the game's onboard battery backup, the game truly caters to all types of fans.
Put simply, Street Fighter Alpha 3 for the Gameboy Advance contains most of what you loved from the console games many years ago, and applies it (with unparalleled bonus content) on a reasonably comfortable yet very accessible handheld format. With almost forty characters, and more customization than you would ever have thought, SFA3 for the GBA is an exceedingly complete package made even more rewarding for its aesthetic beauty and technological marvels! With responsive controls, slick graphics, fast-paced gameplay, insane replay, and a true challenge factor, Street Fighter Alpha 3 for the Gameboy Advance is easily the greatest handheld fighting game ever, and even holds up admirably against its bigger brothers; a technical marvel!