That Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is a product in the first-place is a testament to the success of Street Fighter IV and its Super re-release. The Capcom developed comic-book crossover heads up a year that will also see Mortal Kombat rebooted, as well as a sequel to Tekken's greatest iteration, Tag Tournament, in some guise or another.
While we've always struggled as a competitor in Marvel Vs. Capcom titles, they've always left a lingering impression on our gaming heritage. The original title was one of the first games we played on our spiffing new SEGA Dreamcast, and the eclectic character roster coupled with the ostentatious visual production won us over immediately, securing itself as a long term versus multiplayer attraction.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 easily recaptures the magic that the series is renowned for, but it adds a density that may disappoint those looking for little more than spectacle. Unlike the somewhat light-hearted origins of the original, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 follows in the foot-steps of its immediate predecessor — and Wii-exclusive Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom — opting for a fighting system that is both immediate and dense. While barely comparable to Street Fighter IV, it requires a similar level of tenacity if you're looking for proficiency online. Opting for a light-medium-hard attack mechanic (as opposed to SFIV's separate punch and kick attacks), Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 hinges upon the gradual scale of these moves rather than precisely placed quarter-circles and charge attacks. That's not to say the game won't leave you without an Hadouken shaped blister, but the build up here is different. Any combo can be initiated with simple a light attack; from there it's all about getting your opponent into the air and keeping them from touching the ground for as long as possible.
Similarly to other games in the series, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is a tag-team fighter, so you'll need to wisely use the full extent of your team to maximise your attack potential. Characters can be brought into the arena for supporting attacks, or bridged together for an ultimate super-combo of epileptic fit-inducing proportions. It's ultra satisfying when you're issuing the damage, but conversely frustrating when you're on the receiving end. Regardless, the pure spectacle of Capcom's MT Framework engine makes for an appealing visual package that runs alarmingly well on the PlayStation 3's hardware.
With a roster of 36 characters to master and an engaging, if somewhat under-developed, online component to compete within, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 offers plenty for aspiring tournament fighters to get out of it. Capcom's continued reluctance to show newcomers the ropes is becoming tedious and off-putting though, as the game lacks any kind of serious tutorial component beyond its basic 'Mission' mode.
Capcom's MT Framework has been modified to fit beautifully within the comic-book ethos Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 resides within. Employing a delicious art-style with thick, defined borders and hard-shading, the game looks pronounced and inviting on HD televisions. At times the game's overbearing visual style can be overwhelming, but for us it is part of the series' unique charm. Unloading an ultra-attack into an unsuspecting enemy is as satisfying as it is ridiculous, and even when you're on the receiving end it's hard not to have your frustration distilled by the on-screen reinterpretation of the Northern lights.
For a game that relies on precise execution, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is notably smooth. Despite some frame-rate jitters during the pre-fight process, the game is able to sustain a stable frame-rate during gameplay, regardless of how technically demanding the on-screen action becomes. The netcode used for the online multiplayer is also flawless, allowing us to experience multiplayer bouts with Japanese and American players with little noticeable lag.
With a line-up that spans both classic and modern Marvel/Capcom characters, there's a little something for everyone here. While it's impossible to please everyone's tastes, we found the roster varied, eclectic and enjoyable. Certainly we struggled to recognise some of the Marvel roster, but comic-book afficionados are likely to be delighted with the inclusion of M.O.D.O.K. and Super Skrull, even though we're clueless about the characters.
Building on Street Fighter IV's brilliant player-card dynamic, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 stores an enormous roster of stats and makes them immediately accessible to your friends and opponents. There are less titles and icons to collect here, but the ones that are available are pure gold (pixelated roast chicken, Final Fight fans?). It's your win and loss records that will instill the greatest degree of pride or shame, though.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is packed with some delightfully sporadic synth-pop tunes that fit both the chaotic nature of the gameplay and also the heritage of the character's involved. It's brilliant hearing the game seamlessly mix from Chun-Li's theme song to that of Arthur from Ghouls n' Ghosts. Showing Capcom's range though, the game concludes with a subtle credits song that counters the delirious nature of the rest of the game.
We've been criticising Capcom's reluctance to educate newcomers about their fighting games since the release of Street Fighter IV, and once again Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 falls foul to the publisher's arrogance (or misinformed assumption) that we should "get it" without any direction. The closest thing that comes to a tutorial in MVC3 is the game's "Mission" mode, a separate training component that tasks you to complete a series of combos and special moves for each of the game's featured characters. The problem is, it's terrible. It hides the required commands beneath layers of menus, it offers no CPU demonstration, no acknowledgements of what you're doing right (and, more likely, wrong) and gives players little indication of when they should be using particular types of attack. If Capcom wants the fighting genre to stay relevant, they have to start educating newcomers. That doesn't mean reducing the complexity of the genre's mechanics, it means finding ways of helping players to improve. The most basic tweaks to the game's "Mission" mode (breaking moves down into stages for example) would go a long way, but the publisher still needs to do more to help make their games appealing to a wider audience.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 3's online netcode is a delight. Unfortunately, the depth of what's on offer feels like a stride backwards from the brilliant Super Street Fighter IV. Lobbies are in, but the lack of spectator mode makes them an agonisingly bland place to play unless you're hooking up with friends. Staring at player cards and health bars is not particularly engaging. Elsewhere there's little more than Ranked or Player matches on offer, both of which suffer from unforgivable connection issues that were present at the launch of the original Street Fighter IV. Kicking players back two or three screens because the connection timed out is unforgivable, and an enormously deterring frustration.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 3's steep learning curve, coupled with Capcom's reluctance to school newcomers, will frustrate casual players intrigued by the game's zany visual style and dense character roster. However, those willing to persevere will be fittingly rewarded by a staggeringly technical package with lush production values.