Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Review
Street Fighter II, the grandfather of all modern fighting games, was released in 1991, and of all the 2D fighting games that followed in its footsteps in the next decade, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 may have been the most beloved of all. Its teams of three-on-three combat led to some crazy matchups, and the combo opportunities and potential for total on-screem mayhem made it one of the least-predictable fighting games ever made. It wasnít balanced at all - and the developers didnít bother to try and re-balance the game with subsequent releases - but that kind of added to the charm. Its 56-character roster was massive, and its hokey jazz music reminded you that not only was this game not taking itself seriously, but you shouldnít be getting too serious when playing it, either.
Now, over ten years later, Capcom is releasing a follow-up after the wildly successful return of the Street Fighter franchise. With a fundamental change to the controls, a move to a 3D engine (despite continuing to play on the 2D plane), and a pretty vastly different selection of characters, skeptics could easily see a hell of a lot going wrong with Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. And while there will surely be some hardcore players that wonít be able to let go of how its predecessor played, this sequel does channel most of what made it so great. On the surface, it does seem like Capcom has scaled back the seriesí almost gonzo-like style of fighting and mayhem, but after a few dozen hours of play, youíll quickly find that that same attitude has been here all along, quietly brooding just under the surface.
The roster in MvC3 consists of 36 main characters, with 32 of them available right from the start and the other four unlockable by repeated Arcade mode playthroughs. (Limited edition copies get an extra two characters on top of that, and then thereís the planet-munching boss, Galactus, who awaits you at the end of Arcade mode.) We get some pretty interesting and obscure choices on both sides of the Marvel/Capcom spectrum, with a few mainstays from the years but plenty of new and surprisingly fun and original characters, too. Overall, Iím very happy with this, as the variety is huge - even if the sheer character count is around twenty short of the previous gameís roster.
The controls have been reworked in a way that seasoned players may have trouble dealing with at the start. There are four main attack buttons as before, but now theyíre Low, Medium, High, and Special attacks. That last button doesnít mean you can unleash moves like the Hadouken or Web Swing with one button, as those still have to be done with the quarter- and half-circle motions youíre used to - instead, that button allows you to launch characters upwards to start an air combo, along with plenty of other handy little uses here and there. Then there are buttons for Partner 1 and Partner 2 - tap one of them to call that fighter in for a quick attack assist, or hold it to switch to that character.
So there are six main buttons, easily reachable without confusion on a regular console controller, and then the triggers can also be assigned to shortcuts like both Partner buttons at the same time or all three attack buttons. I tried the game on both PS3 and 360 with a range of controllers, including the SIXAXIS, regular 360 controller, PS2 fight pad and PS2 Tekken 5-branded Hori stick (both using a USB adapter), and a couple of 360 fighting controllers: a stick from Hori and a fightpad from MadCatz. Everything worked without a hitch.
Some will hate the lack of distinct punch/kick buttons, but I donít miss them because MvC3 still includes lots of newly-designed creativity in putting together massive, dozens-of-hits combos. There are a few basic combos every character has that you can then string into a mid-air launch, but things get more complicated from there as you mix in special moves, throws, and Hyper combos (sometimes between more than one of your characters at once) to do serious damage. Weíve already seen videos on Youtube of people performing combos that can take an enemy from full to empty, deliver 100 hits or more, and some nice, damaging combos that can be delivered by intermediate players. Anyone that was worried that too many characters were going to play the same can rest assured: thatís not the case at all.
There is a ďsimpleĒ control scheme you can enable that lets you tap one of the attack buttons repeatedly and dish out a canned combo. Another attack button unleashes powerful special moves, and another fires out Hyper combos if youíve got the meter available. I understand that accessibility was an important concern for the developers, but I think this simplified method does more damage than anything else. Fortunately you canít take the simple control scheme online, but you can use it in versus play on the same console. Itíd have been a much tougher task of building a tutorial mode that doesnít just show you a list of moves to string together, but actually teaches you how to play, but then again very few fighting games have ever really done much in this direction. You improve by practicing, watching the great players, and getting beaten - a lot - and if youíre not interested in doing that, then perhaps fighting games are simply not for you. Iím not sure that all of this really has to be this way, but no one yet has really bothered to show us otherwise.
Beating Arcade mode four times unlocks the last four characters on the roster, and continuing to beat the game repeatedly will unlock special endings and extras like concept art, but only the most ambitious of completionists will bother to get all of it. Whatís missing in MvC3 is something to play in between getting bored of Arcade mode and being good enough to hang with the experts that play online. The only thing thatís offered is mission mode, which supplies lists of combos for each character that youíre asked to perform. This is pretty poorly designed, especially since the text that tells you what to press next is so large, and the combos are so long, that you canít even see what to do in the second half of a combo until you finish the first half. And the timing for some of these combos is often deceptive and tough to master, especially once you get into the air, and the game offers no help. All you can do is sit there and try hundreds of times until you get it right.
That becomes an exercise in frustration at some point. Something more fun and inclusive could have been well-received here. What Iíd like to see is something like the feature set seen in Street Fighter Alpha 3 on PSP, with lots of goofy single player modes, all revolving around fighting, that keep things fresh. Leveling up your abilities and speed would be fun for some kind of long-running RPG mode, or handicapping you or your opponents in strange ways in another mode. As it is, once you finish Arcade mode, all youíve got is Mission mode or fighting other real people in local play or internet-based action. We know that Capcom is planning on DLC releases of new characters, costumes, and yes, new gameplay modes, so letís hope they can fill in the gap. (And letís hope they donít charge too much for it.)
MvC3ís online play is fairly barebones, which is a bit of a disappointment but at least it works to get worldwide competition started. You have a profile that shows your overall style and favorite characters, and other players can inspect it to try and come up with a counter to your style. You can create lobbies and add people that are on your friends list and fight them, or jump directly into ranked or unranked matches. You can also let the game find you an online opponent while you goof around in the offline-only Arcade mode; it works just as well as it did in Street Fighter IV. Unfortunately, thereís no system for spectating fights, so if you get into a lobby with several people, thereís pretty much nothing to do until itís your turn to fight. That really needs to change in a future update.
On the plus side, online matches work great, and I saw very few issues whlie fighting people - well, other than the fact that I managed to lose somewhere in excess of four out of five matches, despite having practiced combos in training mode and being able to beat the Arcade mode handily on normal difficulty. People are just too damn good at fighting games for me to keep up with them anymore, it seems. If youíre going to go online, be prepared to take (and dish out) plenty of combo cheese, trash talk, and maybe a few silly catchprases if you want to have any fun.
As a tournament game, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 should do very well. The fighter combinations are seemingly endless right now, and while ďtiersĒ of the gameís best characters will surely emerge very soon, diversity will still likely be valued just as much as in MvC2 - even though some characters are just massively overpowered compared to others. Sure, some people will wind up going for cookie-cutter teams, picking the three characters that the SRK forums think are the best, but the important thing is that each fighter has so much charm that itís easy to get behind the idea of becoming really good with a sub-par selection - just because theyíre fun to play.
Where MvC3 really excels is in delivering overdoses of fun in a completely ridiculous, over-the-top package of fighters crossing over to beat each other up. Being in my thirties now and not having the reaction times I used to when I was playing Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting in my teens, I do wish that this game played out just a tad slower, but there are no speed options or other gameplay tuning features, even in offline mode only. Itís not the gameís fault that Iím too slow to follow whatís going on sometimes, but Iíd like an ďold fartĒ mode or something.
I think with a fuller set of online and offline features, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 could become one of the best fighting games of all time. Itís still a wonderful, hugely fun game, because the fan service and foundation of its 3-on-3 fighting action is very sound. Iím not concerned about the roster reduction at all, but after a big resurgence in fighting games in the last couple years, I think the community deserves a little better treatment when it comes to keeping the fighting fresh. If Capcom can deliver on this in the coming months of post-release support, theyíll have an even bigger winner. Right now, though, fighting fans still owe it to themselves to jump in and enjoy this game for everything that it offers.