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This is a game that just keeps on coming back. Nearly ten years old now, it's been repackaged onto another new console and set amongst the pigeons one more time. With new features! With new characters! Yeah, yeah, yeah. With this game already worn out on various other formats, including the PS1, PS2 and Gameboy Advance, it's practically a retro title. This is all fine and acceptable, retro revival is all the rage, but is it worth shelling out for a new PSP game for a repeat of Street Fighter action?
The game itself is one of the highest points of Street Fighter evolution (alongside Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Capcom Vs. SNK 2, which are the best titles in the series to date). This is the third incarnation and retuning of the Alpha engine, so the game plays smoothly and with very little flaws, provided you're accepting of the 2D beat 'em up genre's in-built limitations. The character roster is bulky and overloaded, starring the entire Street Fighter II line-up, plus a host of stars from Street Fighter, Final Fight and Alpha exclusives. They've even thrown in some new challengers just for this PSP port, but the number of characters is so high now (there's 37!) and there's so very little to tell them apart that it just doesn't matter. You'll probably be Ryu anyway!
The PSP's controls are not kind to this port, and this is the main, crippling flaw here. Like the Gameboy Advance's version before it, Street Fighter Alpha 3 is not at home on handhelds. The controls have been adapted to fit, making it an unnatural and painful experience. A lot of moves are difficult, some near impossible, to pull off. The PSP is not really a pleasure to hold anyway, and this just makes it harder.
However, the adaptation to the PSP has given us one saving grace - the awesome multiplayer mode. Up to three fighters can duke it out onscreen via three PSPs, making this the most multiplayer Street Fighter game ever made. You can also set up leagues and tournaments. This really develops the multiplayer aspects (the strength of this type of game) of the title, pushing them forward to the next level. If you can put up with the weakness displayed elsewhere, you will have a lot of fun battling it out with your mates.
This game's main strength, sadly, is that it has cornered the handheld beat 'em up market, simply due to its uniqueness. The PSP only offers Capcom's gothic Street Fighter sister title Darkstalkers as an alternative. The Gameboy Advance has a couple, but none of them are of much worth. The DS has but one, the miserable Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers, which is an example of a bad idea gone wrong. Therefore, if you want to beat several shades out of someone on the move, this really is your only option. A shame, really, as it is so old and uncomfortable. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just an old, rehashed fogey. It would have been nice, if a bit too much to ask, for Capcom to construct a PSP-exclusive Street Fighter title from scratch, just to keep it fresh and new. I have a problem with shelling out this much for an old title (that I already have elsewhere!), even if it has been improved and polished.
If you're really desperate for some Street Fighter action on the move, you can't go wrong with this game. Although an alternative may be the Capcom Classics Collection - it will feature the first three games in the original Street Fighter II series, plus a host of other old school treats.
(A version of this review has been posted on Ciao)