The release of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on XBLA was a turning point for Capcom. It seems that was the moment they realized that giving fans what they want yields amazing results. Although I have no idea what the deal entailed, sharing the Marvel license with Activision was undoubtedly no small feat, and yet Capcom did the impossible and here we are today, playing the game that everyone wanted but no one ever expected to happen.
The fighting roster features 36 characters split evenly between the Marvel and Capcom camps (down from a total of 56 in MvC2). Most of the usual suspects are here, including Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Wolverine on the Marvel side, and Ryu, Morrigan, Chun-Li and Akuma from the Capcom side. But, the developers did the unthinkable and reached well beyond the more obvious choices. Instead of debating over which member(s) of the Fantastic Four to include, they instead opted for Super Skrull, a villain who touts all of their powers combined. Quite brilliant, and the inclusion of odd choices such as Viewtiful Joe, Haggar, and Okami’s Amaterasu greatly diversify the contrived gameplay that plagues so many other fighters.
And really, Marvel vs. Capcom has always been about taking characters that have no reason to exist in the same universe together, and teaming them up or pitting them against each other. The game uses Ryu and Wolverine as the marquee example, but players are free to let their imaginations run wild. Who would win in a fight: Resident Evil’s Chris and Wesker or Devil May Cry’s Dante and Trish? Perhaps you want to have a ladies night out and stick Morrigan, Phoenix, and Crimson Viper on the same team. Or, maybe you like people with lower centers of gravity and assemble an all-star team of Viewtiful Joe, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins’ Arthur, and Mega Man X’s Zero. Marvel vs. Capcom is the only game that gives you the ability to make dream match-ups a reality.
With the jump to 3D and the implementation of a Basic control scheme for shameless button mashers, my fear was that–under the hood–Marvel vs. Capcom 3 would lack the substance and solidarity required to keep it from being just a hollow gimmick. Fortunately, that is not at all the case. Yes, plenty of crazy and exciting things will happen if you just aimlessly mash the controller, but there’s also a depth that only determined and skilled players will sratch, and that makes all the difference online.
There are three main buttons: a weak hit, medium hit, and a strong attack. By stringing button presses together from weakest to strongest, you can create a combo. A fourth button allows you to immediately launch the enemy, which can be tacked on to the end of said combos and used to continue the beatdown in the air. Then you can start mixing your combos up with special attacks and hyper moves, and of course the all-important tag. Only now, tagging is possible in the middle of air combos as well, allowing you to unleash a continuous Tekken Tag Tournament-style ass-whooping without ever touching the ground.
There are also more advanced elements such as cancels and guard repels that average players won’t even know exist, but for those looking, there is definitely a much-needed depth here. Even characters that seem utterly useless in the hands of most (She-Hulk and Haggar, for example) can be powerful additions to any team when wielded by the proper player. The game’s Mission Mode will put your skills to the test, and anyone who scoffed at the idea of trying to complete Street Fighter IV’s challenges will know exactly what they’re in for here.
Released over a decade ago, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 utilized 2D sprites, many of which were from games even older than this franchise. Needless to say, the fighting genre has, for the most part, made the transition into 3D since then, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 joins its brethren by jumping into the modern age of graphics head first. It’s not quite cel-shaded, but the game has a deliberate comic book art-style to it that works well, with popping colors and explosive pyrotechnics filling the screen every five seconds. This is a beautiful game, and aside from a few bland costume choices for certain characters, the aesthetics are outstanding.
But the brawlers aren’t the only attraction, as iconic locations from both Capcom and Marvel’s universes have been included. Whether it’s The Daily Bugle overlooking a parade with giant balloons, an underground lab with lickers escaping their cages and crawling over a test tube containing Tyrant, or the Demon Village from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, the backgrounds themselves are filled with just as much life and attention to detail as the six characters wreaking havoc within them.
There was one thought that echoed through my head while playing Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: this belongs on the 360. Not only were the controls drastically simplified to work with the Wiimote, but the graphics were low-res and the multiplayer options were pitiful. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 rightfully avoids all of that, and benefits from the lessons learned and progress Capcom has made over the past few years with their other titles.
Ranked and player matches are easily set up, and lobbies allow you to play quarter matches with a room full of others from around the world. While playing the single-player arcade mode, you can enable Fight Requests; this will allow other players to challenge you to a player or ranked match (a la Street Fighter IV). It’s totally optional, but is very useful and entertaining for those attempting to unlock both single-player and multiplayer content simultaneously. After all, defeating Galactus with 36 different characters starts to get old, eventually.
So what's not to like? Unfortunately, no matter how far Capcom evolves the fighting genre, one thing remains the same: their half-assed endings. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is particular guilty of this, as the game has several rendered intro cinematics that are just stunning. Yet, each and every character gets two still frames of art and some text. Since the underlying plot of the game is nearly nonexistent, the endings are all just random mash-ups of characters and storylines from both universes: Hulk beats up Nemesis while Morrigan enters a nightclub in the underworld run by Mephisto, etc. The many inside references will please some, but it’s time that Capcom stepped up their game and produced something far more substantial. BlazBlue’s story mode, for example, makes anything Capcom’s fighting teams have ever produced look painfully obsolete by comparison.
Despite a respectable launch cast, it would be impossible for Capcom to please everyone. With over 50 years of comic history to draw upon, and decades of video game franchises, someone’s favorite character was going to get left out. Even fan favorites from the second game are MIA (such as Cable, Strider, and Venom), likely to never be heard of again. While I applaud Capcom’s decision to mix things up with less obvious character choices, there are some admittedly awesome characters that just flat out needed to be in this game. I would gladly trade half the Marvel lineup to play as Carnage, for example.
That rolls into the most worrisome issue. Capcom has been frighteningly non-committal about their DLC plans, and an inside source (who was 100% right concerning everything he/she leaked) mentioned that fans should not expect much in the way of future characters. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a great game by itself, but no other fighter in the history of video games has been more ripe for a quasi-Rock Band DLC structure. The possibilities are endless, but Capcom doesn’t seem to feel as strongly about supporting this game as they really should.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s mere existence is something of a gaming miracle, but the fact that it actually turned out surprisingly well makes this more than just simple fan service. While it’s a few dozen DLC characters away from fulfilling its true potential, the appeal of seeing Viewtiful Joe stand side-by-side with the likes of Dante, Thor, Deadpool and Amaterasu make it a must for anyone whose ever thrown a Hadouken or has made “snikt” noises with their imaginary claws.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]