LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15: Capcom's "Street Fighter 5" is introduced during the Sony E3 press conference at the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena on June 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The Sony press conference is held in conjunction with the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) which focuses on gaming systems and interactive entertainment, featuring introductions to new products and technologies. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

February marks the 30th anniversary of Street Fighter II, one of the most important and influential video games of all time. So we here at CheckpointXP decided to take a look at the series in retrospect and ask “What is the best Street Fighter game of all time?”

5. Street Fighter Alpha 3

In the mid-’90s after riding high from the success of Street Fighter II, everyone expected the next iteration to be SF III. However, Capcom took a sharp, stylistic detour and made their next foray a prequel. The anime-styled, Street Fighter Alpha came out in 1995, and with it came a slew of new characters that combined the Final Fight Universe with Street Fighter.

The Alpha series placed a higher emphasis on the story and the relationships between the fighters. While the Alpha’s themselves may not have the heightened status of SF II or Third Strike, its legacy is fully cemented in fighting game lore. The sprites from the Alpha series went on to become the same ones used for the “Vs. Series” of games including “Marvel vs. Capcom”. And some of the characters from Alpha games went on to become some of the best in all of SF like Sakura, Karin, and R. Mika.

Image: Capcom

Street Fighter Alpha 3 is the pinnacle of the Alpha games. Virtually every character in the SF universe at the time returned with a new redesign, and the gameplay was sped up by quite a bit to create more high energy matches. And with the “ism” system, you could play the game as if it was SF II, SF Alpha, or with custom combos like Alpha 2. It’s a loved game, but nowhere near the level of some of its cousins.

4. Street Fighter II

The one that started it all. Street Fighter II is responsible for so many game tropes and ideas that it becomes exhausting to list them all. Head to head matches, the life bar, sped up music at low health, individual stage/character themes, the victory screens…all of it was just so revolutionary. It’s almost hard to believe that it’s 30 years old because so much of it is still used to this day. Almost every facet of Street Fighter II is groundbreaking in some way. From its multicultural cast to having the first playable female in a fighting game ever.

There’s not much more we can say about how influential Street Fighter II has been on the entirety of video games and internet culture. Without it there’s no Fighting Game Community, no EVO, no Moment 37, no Raul Julia haming it up as M. Bison, no “Guile’s theme goes with everything“. So much is owed to Street Fighter II.

3. Super Street Fighter II Turbo

If Street Fighter had a soul, Super Turbo would be it. The competitive scene truly expanded and flourished with Super Turbo. It was the last arcade cabinet of Street Fighter II and its legacy reverberates through the veins of all Street Fighters after it. It took the new characters from Super II (Cammy, Fei Long, Dee Jay, and T. Hawk) and gave them some slight retools and upped the speed of the game a bit, and voila, perfection.

Image: Capcom

Super Turbo is the first appearance of Akuma, a full acceptance of the combo system (which was something that happened in SF II by MISTAKE) and super moves. It’s a game that became a meme before memes as Capcom became known for releasing a million versions of SF II, but with Super Turbo they’d finally reached the gold standard. Even if Sagat and Vega are a bit broken.

2. Ultra Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV saved fighting games. Period. Before its release in 2008, fighting games were losing hard to the rise of the first-person shooter, RPGs, and MMOs. Almost no company was moving the units that SF II saw in the early ’90s. And we were already a decade removed from Third Strike. And while the Vs. Games were doing well with certain pros, the mainstream and the FGC were clamoring for a new Street Fighter.

Image: Capcom

And then Street Fighter IV hit…and it was great. Not only did the game look amazing, but it also sounded great, and played even better. The balance of SF III mechanics like EX moves plus new souped-up Ultra moves gave the game flash. But things like Focus attacks and two-frame links gave the game the complexity to have legs on the pro circuits. For years, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 ran the show at fighting game competitions. But with the release of SF IV that all shifted and the father of fighting games returned to claim its spot. Ultra IV brought a massive roster of characters, the ability to pick multiple versions of each fighter (Vanilla Vega ftw) which expanded the options even more. Part of what makes SFV feel so middling is because it follows the giant known as Street Fighter IV.

1. Street Fighter 3: Third Strike

Third Strike is the pinnacle of competitive Street Fighter. Its gameplay is straightforward, its visuals stunning to look at even if they are over 20 years old. And it’s responsible for the single most important video in the history of fighting games (and perhaps all of esports). Street Fighter III got off to a really rough start in 1997. Even though it was the first true sequel, the only returning characters from the II and Alpha series were Ryu and Ken, which fans did not appreciate. Eventually, by Third Strike, Akuma and Chun-Li returned to the fray. However, it was the gameplay that ruled the day. At the end of it all, it didn’t matter that there was no Guy, E.Honda or Sagat. The. Game. Was. Fun.

Image: Capcom

What makes Third Strike so brilliant is indeed its simplicity. You pick a fighter, pick a super move and that’s it. Get ready for battle. With the introduction of parries in the III series, playing defensively became a viable option for fighters without projectiles. Fights are fairly easy to understand while still having enough complexity to feel satisfying. And the range of skill it takes to master certain characters is only surpassed by Street Fighter V. Almost everyone can play Ken or Akuma…but a truly masterful Ibuki or Makoto are sights to behold. It gave even veterans of the series a challenge in learning certain fighters.

Combine this with one of the best SF Soundtracks ever and you’ve got a formula that’s stood the test of time. It’s because of all these factors, Third Strike isn’t just looked at as one of the best Street Fighters, it’s arguably the best fighting game ever made.

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Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images