“Street Fighter 3: Third Strike” is the black sheep of the family. Released to dying arcades and the Dreamcast console over ten years ago, it failed to reel in the masses, but slowly became a cult hit. Now that “Street Fighter 4” has made “shoryuken” a household word again, Capcom hopes that a re-release of their forgotten classic will find the audience it missed the first time around. While it may not be as laden with nostalgia as “Street Fighter 2” or as flashy as the newer games, it’s easy to see why people are still playing it today.

“Street Fighter 3” stunned the arcade scene when it debuted featuring only a few returning characters. Many fans never got over this shock and dismissed the game, which is a shame. “Third Strike” features a total of twenty playable characters, each bursting with as much personality and charm as the original cast. Story has never been the primary concern for this series, and “Third Strike” does little to break the mold. Brief and often silly endings and the occasional pre-match banter is the only means of conveying plot. However, in this case, no plot does not necessarily mean no story.

Each warrior has a vivid personality made clear by great voice acting and the incredible hand-drawn animation of the Capcom artists. The English boxer Dudley rolls up to the match in a classic Jaguar, tugs on his suspenders and tosses roses like a true gentleman. Makoto, the tomboyish karate girl, lets out a raspy shout every time she headbutts an opponent. She can actually get so angry that she turns bright red, sacrificing all defense for pure power. Simply put, each character tells a story through the way they fight. It’s a perfect example of conveying story through action, not exposition.

If the lack of classic characters like Guile or Blanka got the fans steaming, the dramatic new gameplay features didn’t help either. Fireballs, shoryukens, and super combos have all returned, but with a lot of changes. Before each match, you must choose which super combo to bring into battle. This choice is very important because depending on whom you’re fighting against, it could be the difference between victory and defeat. In addition to blocking attacks normally, you can also “parry” any attack by pressing forward at the exact moment of impact. This technique is risky and requires a lot of practice to perfect, but it can result in stunning comebacks from the verge of defeat. To be honest, 90% of players will never learn to use this feature to its fullest, which is too bad, because parrying a full super combo in a match always makes you feel like a rock star.

This game has a learn-to-swim-by-jumping-in-the-deep-end approach, which is sure to disturb gamers weaned on modern games designed to hold the player’s hand at all times. There are a handful of combo trials in the game for each character, but most of them are useless in a real match. It’s a missed opportunity to teach new players how to get the most out of the game. The only way to learn what the heck you’re doing is to head to one of the many websites devoted to fighting games, such as Shoryuken.com, or watch YouTube videos of top players.

The re-release jams in as many new features as can be expected for a mere $15 price tag. There are combo trials, parry trials, unlockable concept art, and unlockable remixed music. Unfortunately, most of these new tunes completely fail to live up to the highly esteemed original soundtrack. Fantastic netcode allows players to battle each other all over the world with minimal lag, especially compared to the recent “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat” games. Matches can be recorded and uploaded directly to YouTube as well for bragging or educational purposes.

“Third Strike” features the best-animated, hand-drawn sprites of all time. Elena, the African fighter who relies solely on spinning kicks during combat, has over 1,000 frames of animation--each hand drawn. The backgrounds are also colorful extensions of the characters who inhabit them. For instance, Hugo, a giant German wrestler, fights in a room decorated by wrestling trophies and wooden toys, which bounce every time he slams you to the ground. Simply put, the game is gorgeous, and the price of admission is well worth it if only to see Capcom’s 2-D artists at their prime.

“Street Fighter 3” is the perfect game for fighters who are bored with “Street Fighter 4” and find “Marvel vs. Capcom” too hectic. It’s got a learning curve steeper than Everest, but if you’re willing to put in a lot of work to learn all the ins and outs of the game, you’ll be rewarded with one of the deepest fighting games of all time.