Traditional 2D beat ‘em-ups have seen something of a renaissance in the last couple of years, with Capcom’s Street Fighter IV and its Super variant leading the charge, but there have been plenty of other fighters out there for anyone who still sheds a little tear at the sight of the Starbucks where their favourite arcade used to be. SNK have produced (less than stellar) ports of their latest King of Fighters arcade titles, Arc System Works have released some staggeringly hardcore sprite-based games with the Blazblue and Battle Fantasia series, but aside from the little-played Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom there hasn’t been a lot in the way of over-the-top team pile-on brawlers. With that in mind, it’s good to be able to say that Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is a worthwhile addition to a much-loved series.
Just as before, you put together a team of three characters, assign their assist types (the moves they perform when you summon them to the screen), and get cracking. There’s quite a variety of character types, from straightforward stalwarts like Ryu and Captain America, lightning-fast characters that harry their opponents, like Wolverine and Felicia, Brutes like Hulk, and characters that specialise in controlling their opponents movement, like Chris (from the Resident Evil games) and Dr. Doom. Whether you want to create a team of all one type or mix it up is part of the learning curve, and when you factor in the different sorts of assist moves each can offer, complementing and offsetting your main character, the choice can be quite overwhelming.
Anyone who played last year’s Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom will recognise the basics of the fighting system, but there are some fairly major changes. It uses the same 3 attack buttons as TvC as the main inputs, plus two teammate buttons for calling assists and swapping out characters, but also adds a ‘special attack’ button, which effectively allows you to add a launch attack anywhere in a combo and follow your opponent into the air. This allows even basic players perform some flash-looking ground-to-air combos, and coupled with simple-to-perform hyper combos means that within a few minutes of picking up a pad even fighting novices should be filling the screen with explosions and pretty violence.
Another big change is the ‘X-Factor’ move. Once per round you can activate this by pressing all four attack buttons at once, instantly boosting your speed, healing and damage. Its power and duration gets boosted the fewer fighters you have left standing, making it possible to quickly turn around an otherwise losing game through judicious use. However, it does take some skill to apply well – you can’t just activate it and hope to win, and its effects vary according to your character. Still, it adds another dimension to the game, and more depth is always welcome. There’s also an ‘Advance Guard’ move, triggered by hitting two attack buttons while blocking, that allows you to knock back those aggressive rundown characters and get some breathing room.
There are about twenty fewer fighters than in MvC2, some of whom will be missed, some of whom quite frankly won’t. Whilst it might be baffling to most as to why a no-mark like Taskmaster is included in the Marvel roster when Cyclops isn’t, I think we can all agree that precisely no-one misses that fucking cactus. Time will only tell how balanced the roster is, but right now there are only a few particularly spammy characters getting much play (Arthur from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and his endless screen-filling projectile attacks being the main offender). If MvC3 gets a similar amount of play to its predecessor (and the fact that it’s online now suggests that it will) we may see an overpowered team like Magneto / Storm / Sentinel emerge (all of whom play similarly to the earlier iterations), but right now online play is awash with Deadpool, Wolverine and Dante players.
The roster may seem limited in terms of cramming in all your favourite characters on both sides, but with a significant jump in complexity over its predecessors, there’s still a lot to learn regardless of the level you’re playing at. There are only 4 hidden characters as well, so you won’t get a lot of play out of unlocking those, though there is a wealth of artwork and character bios if you simply must unlock something for playing. More are due via DLC – currentIy Resi’s Jill and weird Marvel demon thing Shuma-Gorath. It’s not clear if there will be more after those two, but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge Dirk Anger as a playable character.
There are reasonable training options, with a customisable practice mode where you can try out whatever you like, and a ‘Mission Mode’ that gives you Player Points (currency for unlocking secrets) for learning combos and special moves. Mission Mode in particular is a clever and structured way to learn a new character, and is particularly useful for those like MODOK whose main skills are not immediately obvious.
Presentation in MvC3 is pretty much faultless. The characters are well-designed, beautifully animated, and voiced brilliantly (where possible, by the people who played them in recent games and cartoons). The stages are full of detail, and unlike MvC2 they’re actually based on Marvel and Capcom properties, rather than giant weird clowns. It makes a difference. The most impressive thing about the presentation though is the sheer attention to detail. It really does make you crack a smile when you hear Tony Stark hitting on the female Capcom characters, or Deadpool taunting Magneto with his mangled lines from the old Konami X-Men arcade game. Similarly, the sort of effort that’s gone into making characters like Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins Arthur feel both like a worthwhile addition to this game and a decent facsimile of their original self is nothing short of incredible.
At first glance, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 would seem to offer a reasonable amount for the casual player, but try to take on a proficient player online (or frankly try to even finish Arcade Mode on Normal difficulty), and you’ll soon realise that for all the flashing lights, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 doesn’t have a lot to offer button mashers. That’s not to put off newcomers – the button layout means you don’t even need a decent specialist stick or pad to play well – but just to say that behind the flash and polish there is a surprisingly deep fighter that should keep even the most hardcore players happy for years to come.
Xbox 360 version reviewed. Played on standard gamepad and Hori Fighting Stick. Looking to get started in MvC3? There are some great guides here.