Developer: Capcom / Publisher: Capcom / ESRB: Teen (Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99
When Capcom announced that it was developing a sequel to one of the most beloved fighting games of all time, I raised my fists in victory. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was an incredibly fun game with a character roster larger than any fighting game at that time. Fast forward 10 years, and I consider myself lucky enough to be alive to see a new addition to the franchise. But has it been worth the decade-long wait? For the most part, yes.
Clearly there was one design philosophy at work: balance the game by breaking every character. Sure, your opponent’s characters may have cheap, unrelenting combos, but so do you, and it’s that Daoist-like balance-through-unbalance that makes MvC 3 so much fun (and so visually chaotic). Every character on the roster can be a legitimate threat in the right hands, thanks to the open-ended nature of the game’s combo system. This isn’t Street Fighter IV, where you’re tasked with the abhorrent quest of mastering one frame links for combos. Most moves can be comboed into other moves or specials, making for an incredibly easy but incredibly deep sandbox. This means anyone can pick up the game, have fun, and show some modicum of skill. This also means that tournament players who want to dig through its rich landscape of moves and combo varieties can also find satisfaction.
Unlike MvC2, each character has a very distinct play style. Amaterasu has three different weapons that each give her new move sets, while Dante has more context-specific special maneuvers than anyone else. A lot of the characters also feel comfortably familiar: Sentinel is still an absolute beast (I mean c’mon, you press a button and he shoots a fucking laser out of his mouth) and returners like Captain America and Spidey are gloves that will fit instantly. This means, unlike Marvel vs. Capcom 2, competitive play should consist of more than four characters.
Unfortunately, the content on the disc is incredibly light. There are no bonus modes to speak of beyond the traditional single-player arcade mode, multiplayer, and training arena. The game does feature a Mission Mode, which is essentially a re-named version of Street Fighter IV’s Challenge Mode, whereby the game tasks you with completing character-specific moves and combos. Guess what? It’s about as useless here as it was in SF IV. Mission Mode is even more egregious here, actually, as the difficulty spikes almost offensively; one moment the game is asking you to throw a fireball, and the next it wants you to perform a 15-hit tag team air combo with no hints on executing the timing or inputs. In an era where BlazBlue and Tekken can have competent, educational in-game modes that help you improve, MvC 3 is simply worthless in this department. You’re better off spending a couple hours in the training mode discovering and honing your characters there.
My biggest problem at the end of the day, is the opportunity with which Capcom has set up Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to nickel and dime its buyers. There are four modes on the disc and even before release Capcom is promoting new DLC modes and characters. It reeks of consumer milking, and it’s especially noticeable given that the base game is not the most substantive value.
MvC 3 is a cascading waterfall of ocular sweetness pouring over the side of the most beautiful mountain to emerge from a comic crossover event. More than any genre this generation, fighting games have brought some of the most impressive visual freshness to gaming, and MvC 3 maintains this spectacular run. Bursting with vivid color and style, everything about the game is reminiscent of comic books and their unique aesthetic. When you choose characters, each member of your team will appear on the front of a comic book, complete with bar code and spine text, a nice tribute to the comic reader in all of us.
The game also boasts so many on-screen effects, with different characters jumping through the air, launching fireballs, throwing low kicks (and sometimes doing all of that at once), that your eyeballs will spin out of your head and down the hall during every match.
Even the stage backgrounds are so lush and full of moving parts, it’s easy to get lost in their majesty, be it the golden spires of Asgard on Thor’s level, or the creeping Lickers of Wesker’s Resident Evil lab. Truly just watching other people play the game is a treat in itself.
There is one area where the visuals fail: character endings. When you beat the game, you’re “treated” to a two-frame, still-animation conclusion to a character’s story. Really, Capcom? You spent all this time creating wonderfully animated characters and environments, and you couldn’t give us a full-motion ending? There’s simply no reason to play the arcade mode more than once beyond earning Achievements if this is the reward.
It’s clear after spending 30 minutes with this game that it’s intended for the online multiplayer audience. You can beat the single-player campaign on normal difficulty in about half an hour, but the fun that comes from challenging opponents across the world might never end. I kind of equate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to Rock Band in that once it’s busted out, it becomes the life of the party. Capcom may have outdone themselves this time; MvC 3 might supplant Street Fighter IV as the king of the tournament fighters because of how smoothly it plays and its potential for mass market enjoyment. But also like Rock Band, if you’re primarily a single-player gamer, you might find MvC 3 collecting dust.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 delivers a fast-paced, accessible game that is both rewarding and beautiful. The problem is that it doesn’t offer much variety in its gameplay modes. You’ll be trying out new teams and combinations for hours, but ostensibly you’ll be using them almost exclusively in online multiplayer. What you have a here is a fantastic game with a lot of nice touches for fans of both universes that’s stuck in the fighting game design epoch of the 1990s. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ridiculously fun and that’s the most important part; it’s just going to incite small pangs of disappointment in gamers who are used to their games containing more meat on the bone.