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.