Marvel vs Capcom 3 is a celebration of everything that makes videogames great. It's a celebration of Capcom's heritage. Of comic books and super heroes. Of laser beams, celestial brush strokes and grenade launchers. A celebration of button mashing and obscene complexity of control. Of combos, juggling and finishing moves. But most of all, it's a celebration of everything that makes the very word 'videogame' excite our minds. And it's time you joined the party.
Like all the best games, the premise is simple. It's a tag-team fighting game where Marvel superheroes are teaming up with Capcom's finest in three vs three… gigafights. Yes, I'm coining that phrase now. At heart, it's like Street Fighter IV – same 3D characters/2D gameplay, same online/offline play and the same level of sublime presentation. But if the gameplay dial was already on 10, it's now so far past '11', it's broken off and now even a whisper is delivered like a scream.
Above: Sorry, didn't quite catch that. Can you say it again, please?
I know a few months back I wrote an article bemoaning the fact the art style is different in comparison to Marvel vs Capcom 2. I admit, I still wish there was a little less black and a bit more neon. But having now spent hours with it in action, I understand the very good reason for the change.
In 2000, Capcom had perfected the art of making 2D fighting games, and the Marvel license at the time allowed them to make the most explosive Capcom fighting game we'd ever seen (or indeed would see for the next decade). But it was just a case of drawing Hulk-shaped sprites – it was, at heart, just a reskin for any other Capcom fighter. Amplified 100-fold, sure, but still clearly a Capcom fighting game. This time, things are different. This is a Marvel game.
I don't mean Marvel made it. Underneath the comic book stylings, the Capcom gameplay remains perfectly intact. What I'm talking about is the way everything is like a Marvel Comic. Sure, there's the inevitable cel-shading and speech bubbles in the post-fight screens, but it's more than that. The Capcom characters have been given a Marvel makeover so convincing, I'm sure any of them could be given their own graphic novel using nothing but stills from the game:
Above: Should've gone Shoryuken. Bubbles aside, these are all in-game screenshots I took just now
It's honestly like comic books have come to life and their inhabitants are stamping around inside the TV. I just thank Jeebus that they haven't worked out how to get out of the screen. For now, they're still trapped in there, puppets to Capcom's MT Framework engine.
But while the biggest pull is undoubtedly the superb visual overload, it would soon wear thin if there was a bad game underneath it. So, I'll apologise for spending an entire page gushing over how incredible it looks, and get into the meat of the most OTT combat system the gaming world has ever seen.
I can see my house from here
I mentioned the base gameplay is very similar to Street Fighter IV, but there are some important changes. The focus attack is gone, as is the EX gauge, which makes it a little simpler to get into. There are fewer attack buttons, too, in a deliberate attempt to streamline the game. This also helps everything fit on a pad, as the assist commands are mapped to the triggers (tap to assist, hold to change player), leaving the four face buttons to cover light, medium and heavy attacks. The final button is marked 'Special' and this acts as a trigger to start air combos.
If it connects, your opponent will be launched way up into the air. Quickly press up to jump and you'll follow them, ready to serve up your very best cordon bleu multi-hit combo, some 20 feet above the ground.
Above: Air combos play a much greater role - so you'd better start learning some good ones
Kick, punch, it's all in the mind...
With three main attack buttons, there aren't separate rows for punches and kicks – that's decided by which command you're putting in. Think about it - Ryu's Dragon Punch and Hurricane kick use unique input commands, so why press a unique button on the end? It's unnecessary. As a result, MvC3 gives you a supremely intuitive system. It works brilliantly on a standard pad, although I would say that the character switching is a bit fiddly on a stick, at least until you get used to the new button layout.
Above: The three buttons can also specify range for attacks like Dormammu's vortex. Simple and versatile
It's worth noting that some players I've seen with the game have actually had more fun when they didn't know what the controls were. That's saying something. If anything, the game gets harder as you learn techniques, as you're thinking too much about what to do rather than just going with the flow.
If you're hardcore enough to learn the difference, each character has three assist attacks, from which you must select one before each match, so you have extra special moves at your disposal at the touch of a button. There's also a 'simple' control input mode, presumably for gamers with Hulk-sized hands who are incapable of even regular button mashing. When the regular method is so intuitive, though, it's pretty redundant.
One of the biggest reasons for buying the game has to be the superlative level of fan-pleasing content. Firstly, there's the faithfulness to Marvel vs Capcom 2, which is utterly essential if Capcom's going to win every single potential sale from the small but incredibly loyal fan base for the classic brawler. While the character roster is cut down from that game (and I strongly disapprove of having already-announced characters like Jill Valentine held back as DLC), the team has always done superbly well at translating the old hand-drawn sprites into 3D animation. Considering the less malleable proportions of 3D character models, the faithfulness of movement to Marvel vs Capcom 2 is incredible here. Check out this little comparison:
Above: Ryu vs Wolverine, then and now. We've come so far in 10 years
Above: Hulk looks a much healthier shade of green... if green can ever be described as such
Above: If anything, the animated 3D Spidey has more movement and drama than the hand-drawn sprite
Secondly, there's the abundance of awesome cameos and knowing nods in everything from the backgrounds to the characters' move lists and even the victory taunts at the end of each fight - some of which you'll have to listen for as some opponent-specific taunts are voice-only. Nowhere is the love of the company's heritage more obvious than in the Demon Village stage from Ghouls 'n' Ghosts:
Above: Look carefully in the top right by C. Viper's head and you'll see the swinging blade on the ship's mast
There's even a return for everyone's favourite vocal sample, 'I'm gonna take you for a ride' from MvC2's character select screen. It's used more sparingly this time (thankfully) but its inclusion is a knowing nod from the ever-savvy development team.
I am what I am... and I am it
In terms of game modes, MvC3 is undeniably light. There's the standard arcade mode and a two-player versus, plus training and challenge rooms. The challenge mode is supposed to teach you the more elaborate combos, but it doesn't leave the command inputs for each stage on the screen while you try it - you have to hit pause, then select the mission option to see what you're supposed to be pressing. Honestly, it's hard enough to do the moves without having to keep pausing and memorising individual strings.
That said, I'm convinced that the lack of fluff is a good thing. Capcom has focused all of its attention on one aspect alone - making the game the best it can be. Games always used to be all about the experience of playing them, rather than the completion of various modes and challenges.
The game doesn't need a free-roaming adventure mode like old stuck-for-ideas Tekken. It doesn't need the virtual arcades and fake opponents of Virtua Fighter 5. It's got a challenging single-player with hidden characters and artwork to unlock, then when you've exhausted that, you've got the whole world to try your hand at in multiplayer. There'll be no-one out there who plays it the same as you, so the potential for longevity is infinite.
Once you've got used to the reduced character roster, the DLC annoyances and the ridiculous complexity of the best combos, there's only one thing that really threatens to spoil the party. The game is wildly chaotic. Even if you were to take out the tag team mechanic and just play a simple 1v1 match, you'd still spend half the time trying to stem the flow of liquid brain as it dribbles out of your ears. It's mental.
Add in the assist moves and team specials and you're left with an explosion of colour, pyrotechnics and screen-filling projectile attacks that is nothing less than stupendous. But you could easily argue that it's out of control and it may well be too much for your eyes to follow, at which point you might start to lose interest. Might.
Attack! Attack! Attack!
How chaotic are we talking? Is there time to do a proper combo? Is there ever an instance where you can successfully block an attack and use advancing guard to turn the tables? Is there ever time to consider the state of your opponent's reserve players, weigh up how many special bars you have remaining and then use one to force out a struggling character? The answers are all 'yes', but only once you know what you're doing. And I fear that's likely to be the stumbling point for a lot of people.
Above: After a while you start to make sense of it. For instance, the thing to do here is switch in Felicia, pronto
Subsequently, longevity may well be an issue if you can't be bothered to do anything more than mash the buttons like a rat trying to trigger screen-filling food pellets. But it's certainly not an issue if you make the effort to learn even its most basic of technical nuances. Even just working out that your reserve characters will recover any 'red' health simply by being out of the battle is a game-changer. Managing your team effectively between bouts of otherwise skill-less button mashing will increase your success rate by at least 40%, especially if your opponent is a button masher too.
The reason MvC3 still works despite this is because it's one of those rare games that anyone can enjoy. The hardcore fan can spend his time in the Challenge room, perfecting insane multiple-hit combos and working out exactly when he should switch players to get the most out of any situation. Online gamers will never get bored of spamming Dormammu's vortex against unsuspecting newbies. The less fanatical fighting game enthusiast will enjoy learning their favourite characters' special moves, building their own team and discovering all of the Ultra animations. Button mashers will enjoy the spectacle that comes with every match.
In fact, the game will probably be the biggest hit with spectators because it's just a joy to watch. I've slowed down some moments here so you can actually see the phenomenal detail that's included at 60 gorgeous frames per second, because you simply won't have time to take it all in while you're playing.
So what should you think of MvC3? A colleague who also reviewed the game told me that he's not keen on MvC3's focus on offense, saying he much preferred Super Street Fighter IV's chess-like battle of minds. I see his point and I know a lot of people will share his view. But, to take that metaphor to its logical conclusion, if Super Street Fighter IV is a game of chess, Marvel vs Capcom 3 has the most effective tactic:
Above: Problem solved
Is it better than…
Super Street Fighter IV? No. MvC3 is flashier, wilder, and an even better technical showcase for your console than Capcom's premium fighter with its six-character action and screen-filling special moves. But Super Street Fighter IV has the most balanced, honed gameplay of pretty much any fighter in history. In fact, SSFIV is damn-near perfect... this isn't quite there. But some people will prefer MvC3 because it's just so fun. Heck, get both.
Marvel vs Capcom 2? Yes. Sure, MvC2 is ten years old now, but it's available on current-gen machines in shiny HD and it hasn't aged in the slightest (well, aside from its low-res character sprites). There will always be something special about massive, hand-drawn artwork flying around a TV screen, but MvC3 moves on from that in the best way possible.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger? Yes, but really the two are aimed at the same audience. Basically, you're choosing between hand-drawn sprites and superb 3D (where MvC3 wins purely by having 60 jaw-dropping animation frames every second, while BlazBlue has clear jumps) and between characters you've known your whole life and some you haven't. Gameplay-wise, both are excellent. Make your decision based on which you think you'll enjoy more. Hint - probably MvC3.
Just for you, Metacritic!
With spectacular comic book presentation, some of the most chaotic action in any game ever and sufficient technical depth to keep even ultra hardcore fight fans happy, this is the impossible - a worthy successor to Marvel vs Capcom 2.
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