Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was a great gateway game, and a borderline gateway drug, for gamers and younglings alike who tended to treat fighting games passively. With a massive roster of beloved characters, frantic and absurd combo chains and watered down controls so that an amateur could take on anyone in the room, it has become one of the most widely beloved fighting games of them all, despite a house jazz ensemble score. It also became a necessary evil for fighting games over all; heinously imbalanced and shamelessly re-using sprites from older games. I don’t need to tell you, though, that ten years change a lot of things, and in a post-Street Fighter IV world, sprite pasting and forced crossovers simply won’t cut it. There are a lot of fighting fans and fighting games out there, and with plenty of changes, additions, subtractions and super-hyper-ultra-actions in this latest iteration, it’s important to find out if you’re one of those fans who will enjoy Marvel vs. Capcom 3. If you’re one of those lucky few who enjoy it, you will have amazing, fantastic and astonishing times.
This is usually the place where I’d tell you about the story, but in the tradition of the MvC series there only seem to be hints of one. Every character has two unique slides sort of summarizing what they do after winning, but they’re as vague and as unrelated as can be. Those just happy to pound in Galactus with Mayor Mike Haggar’s fists probably won’t shed many tears. This is still a disappointment after the truly entertaining trailers leading up to the release, but it isn’t really a surprise or a hindrance. There is a weird priority shuffle in the usual fighting game bells and whistles though, but I’ll get to the general cosmetics later. Let’s punch the beef.
People who have been waiting — and there’s a lot of you — won’t find yourself a stranger here: Returning heroes like Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man and The Hulk have their general move sets from previous entries, though not exact replicas, more in the sense that Ryu’s classics have stayed a constant. The two major ways that returners have been changed have been done in honour of balancing — something the previous games were never good at — and just looking far more dramatic and awesome. The balancing is nearly spotless, overall very impressive, though Amaterasu and Mike Haggar of all people lean a little bit towards the devastating side. Triple team combos are still there, but they feel petty compared to better singular combos and new features, like X-Factor, triggered by hitting all attack buttons will give players on the ropes a strength and healing boost, or mid-air combo swaps. Switching characters have never been easier, by simply holding down right or left triggers/bumpers (tap for assists) you’ll tag out with ease, so don’t expect to see your friends panic during bouts. Well, at least not panicking over that. While more serious players will find the particular game style a little irksome, the game feels tailored to be, above all things, inclusive. New players have never had trouble getting by before, but here controls feel so tight and easy to grasp, with combos going back and forth in a heartbeat, just about every battle will certainly be a good one, not to mention a close one at that.
I was surprised to see how some of the characters played after months of anticipation. Unsurprisingly, Super-Skrull, Amaterasu, Deadpool, She-Hulk and Taskmaster, who always seemed like good choices, are a hell of a lot of fun to play as. Zero, Phoenix and Mike Haggar were huge shocks, and you might be surprised to see them grow to become personal favourites. Some new profiles are just slight tweaks of others; Dormammu feels like a combination of Blackheart and Thanos, though I prefer Dormammu over either. There are some disappointments, sadly. Cult choice M.O.D.O.K. feels utterly awkward and clunky to play as. A dedicated few will find a way, but most will stop trying loss after loss. Trish, Chris Redfield, Crimson Viper and Rad Spencer of Bionic Commando fame feel like total lame ducks, Rad in particular shows just how much of a one-trick pony having an arm that can be decidedly longer is in this type of affair.
The graphics are delightful, taking the best of both Street Fighter IV’s dramatic flair and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom’s dedicated style guide and slathering them in more comic inspired aesthetics. Colours are bright and vibrant, and the way the screen shreds during hyper-combos is incredibly effective. Animations are smooth, and even during the most hectic times, which I’d place at about 80% of the time, the game keeps up. You’ll need a really expensive magnifying glass to find faltering moments.
Though there are no story sequences, there was a lot of care put into smack talk and even alternative colours. Some of the voices are just perfect: Deadpool seems happy just to be in a Capcom game and it can be fun just to see what in the world Taskmaster would ever have to say to Ryu. Alternative colours are just darn impressive, while in pretty much every game till now they’re a simple tint swaps to help you from getting confused, some alternates are specific and clear references to other appearances. Spider-Man has the obvious symbiote suit, but also his new green and black Tron-ish outfit. Hulk comes in red, green and grey, She-Hulk has Ultimate and even Lyra, Phoenix has her Grant Morrison sweater, Doctor Doom gets 2099 duds and M.O.D.O.K. has a painfully specific variation based on an Eric Powell cover. The stages are really nice, with the NYC parade and Hand hideout as highlights. It is odd that there’s a Ghosts n’ Goblins background sheet and no Street Fighter, Darkstalkers or Devil May Cry stages. (Side note, the Metro City stage is nice, but not as nice as the one in SSFIV.) Cosmetically that just leaves the music, which is not as infamously bad as the previous entries, but leaves a lot to be desired. Every character gets their own theme, which plays immediately as they enter and ends as soon as someone else does. If this sounds frantic and annoying, it is, only more so since every theme has a high tempo to begin with. You’ll just learn to tune them out.
The minor complaints I have about Marvel vs. Capcom 3 are about as minor as they get. The fighting experience is as both unique as it is dedicated to its cause. This definitely won’t be a tournament choice, but it will be your friendly Friday night fight night pick. With an extremely varied roster and a look that pops off the pages, there’s no doubt that this is one excelsior effort.