UMVC3 arrives less than a year after the debut of MVC3, and brings with it a roster update of 12 new characters, 8 stages and some tweaks and adjustments to the rest of the game. The update is only available on a disc, it's an essential buy for people that take it seriously, but it's a harder sell for casual players. It’s funny to think about it, but the fighting game business model is only a step removed from sports games at this point.
As with the original, Capcom has done a fantastic job translating the new characters into a fighting game. Every new character is extremely loyal to their source and at the same time remains fun to play. From our experience, each of the new characters shares a few basic gameplay ideas with existing characters, but none of them feel like total rehashes. A quick look at some of our favorites:
Nova is a straightforward character, though he does big damage with relatively simple combos. Hawkeye uses special trap arrows with properties that vary according to which button you push. He may initially seem like Taskmaster jr. because of the arrows, but he plays very differently. Rocket Raccoon continues the proud MVC3 tradition of very small characters that are either weird or hard to use. He has a number of traps that he can place on the stage to control space, though the net trap seems like the only one that's easy to capitalize upon.
Iron Fist is an interesting character who can summon one of 3 chi stances, indicated by his glowing fist color. One increases damage, one defense and the other meter gain. Iron Fist is a beast in close and can do enormous damage once he's in, but he lacks an air dash, has no teleport and generally needs help getting in.
Firebrand is an interesting addition with lots of flight command moves that give him surprising aerial mobility. His regular attacks are quite fast, and he has a super that increases his speed. Vergil has a teleport, speed and long range sword attacks, though he's nowhere near as complicated as Dante.
Dr. Strange is armed with his trademark alliterative spells and and feels like a variation on Dormammu, another of the Cosmic Marvel characters. He has all kinds of slow, weird attacks that can confuse and cross players up, appropriate given his mystic reputation. Frank West feels surprisingly powerful, especially once he's leveled up. Frank levels up by hitting opponents with his camera attack, and once he hits level three, the reach and power of his basic and special moves are drastically increased.
Phoenix Wright really is the biggest success though, and as far as fighting game design goes, he's really like nothing else out there. All of his attacks barely look like attacks as he scrabbles around looking for evidence and scratching his head which is a great fit for a character who's clearly not a warrior in any way. Once you've filled his evidence bar and switched his stance though, he becomes a huge threat as his supercharged accusation finger and special moves do huge damage. Just like in his game, Phoenix starts out weak and unsure of himself, but when it comes time for the Turnabout, he's a beast.
As far as major technical changes are concerned, the game has kept them to a minimum. X-Factor can now be activated in the air, which will surely allow combo fiends, or even Combofiend himself, to get extra creative with aerial combos. The other change affects the aerial exchange move, changing the properties depending on which direction you press when hitting the opponent with it. Pressing up does additional damage, down gives you a full bar of meter and pressing either left or right removes one bar of your opponent's meter.
This adds more technical value to the aerial exchange system, especially in the case of Dark Phoenix teams that rely on having 5 bars of meter. It also means that players can more accurately predict which direction their opponent will go for when using the attack, allowing them to counter it more effectively instead of just wildly wiggling the stick while mashing S. Of course, wild mashing will always be a part of the game, especially now that certain super moves do additional damage when you mash buttons during the animation.
If all this focus on the new characters and game mechanics seems a little specific, well that’s because the new characters are really 90% of UMVC3’s content. Galactus Mode is also included for players with original MVC3 save data, though you'll have to unlock it if you don't have the save data. It's a neat little aside that has you controlling Galactus vs teams of super heroes, but he doesn't really control well, and you'll find yourself just spamming a few of his more powerful moves to cheese the AI to death. It's a cool idea worth noodling with once or twice, but don't expect it to add a whole new level of replayability to the game. The free Heroes and Heralds DLC wasn't available for review so we can't speak on that, albeit it is additional single player content, and it appears to be more substantial than Galactus Mode.
As is our most common complaint, the additional missions and trials are aimed squarely at intermediate and better players, and make no effort to explain what's actually happening. UMVC3 is a very fast game with a lot of stuff going on, and making sense of it all can be very difficult for new players. While the fighting game community does a great job making their own tutorials and help for players, we'd love to see Capcom start doing it more themselves. Not everyone wants to play a game with their laptop open on their lap.
The biggest critique of course, comes down to the fact that this game is only available as a disc release. Capcom has said that some of what was in Ultimate was originally planned for DLC, but because of the Tōhoku earthquake development schedules were interrupted and everything was unified in this one release. While the amount of DLC here would certainly cost over $40 if Capcom had made it available individually, there's almost nothing here for players looking for single player content. If you enjoy figuring out new combos and mission modes, you'll certainly have hours of new gameplay, but the sole addition of the Galactus mode really isn't enough to justify a purchase for casual players.
Die-hard players, on the other hand, will certainly get $40 worth of fun out of this release. 12 new characters is huge, and exploring the interplay between them and the tweaked returning cast will provide hours of fun. The much improved online interface is also a huge draw for competitive players. Ultimately (pun intended), the vast majority of UMVC3's new features will only really be appreciated by dedicated players, and for them it's a must have, for everyone else though, it's a harder sell.