Fighting games have always been a bit of a poor fit for handheld consoles, but that hasn't stopped developers like Capcom from trying. Remember Street Fighter II for the Game Boy? How about Mortal Kombat?
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is obviously a much more polished port than either of those games -- it helps that the Vita has far more buttons than the Game Boy -- but it stills suffers a bit from a lack of purpose. Fighting fans, after all, will almost always prefer a large screen and the use of their own arcade sticks. And chances are good that they already own the console version.
So as polished as this port is -- and it is polished -- it's also a bit disappointing. Everything is more or less the same in this version. Even the card-based Heroes and Heralds mode -- available as Day 1 DLC -- has been available on the console version since December. With the exception of a terrific replay function that includes frame analysis and hitbox tool, its main virtue is its portability.
That can be a very good thing, of course. For example, we would love to be able to play this game on a wi-fi enabled cross-country flight. As with the console version, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom's online functionality is largely lag free, even when playing against opponents who live way over in Japan. And everyone knows that it's the human competition that makes the genre tick.
For the most part though, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 served as something for our fingers to do while we marathoned Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The frame-rate is pitch perfect and any graphical compromises are basically unnoticeable, making it a perfectly serviceable substitute to the console game. The only thing that keeps us from bringing it along on our commute is the lack of wi-fi on the bus -- and our tendency toward motion sickness.
Unfortunately, beyond the replay functionality and the obvious portability, the exclusive features leave something to be desired. The touch-based control scheme, for example, is a mess of swipes and gestures that is better left alone by most fighting game fans. The ability to use the Vita as a controller for the PS3 version, while clever, is not much more than a gimmick.
This version could use something a little more meaty; a single-player mode for early Vita adopters to latch onto. Heroes and Heralds is solid, but a more substantial World Tour mode with a wider variety of challenges and unlocks would be even better. This might not be a priority for everyone; but given that we would be tied down to a wi-fi connection anyway, we don't really see the benefit of getting Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for the Vita over the PS3 without it (and portability isn't quite enough to sell us on a second copy of a game we already own).
This is hardly a knock again the game itself. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was a big improvement over the original game, and it's just as enjoyable on the Vita. Even the lack of arcade stick support doesn't feel like a huge issue given the Vita's excellent d-pad; though, of course, we favor control pads anyway.
For some people, the bottom line will be this -- is Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for the Vita a faithful port of the console version? To that question, we would say, "Yes." It looks and plays more or less identically to the original game, and it has all of the relevant DLC as well. For those of you who need a Marvel vs. Capcom 3 fix wherever you happen to be, this game is pretty much everything you could hope for.
Looking ahead though, we hope that developers like Capcom will put more thought into the dynamics of the portable platform, and avoid relatively straight conversions like this one. Most of our friends don't own Vitas, so we’re not sure why we would ever buy Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for rounds versus our fighting game buddies, even with the excellent online functionality. Add in a few creative handheld-exclusive modes, though, and our tune might be different.
Portable fighters have certainly come a long way since the days of the Game Boy. The Vita has erased the gap between handhelds and the PS3. Now it's up to Capcom to show us that they have more offer than pure portability.