It's certainly been a long time coming, but Capcom is finally ready to release Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. There's no doubt fans of the series will instantly identify with the update, but is there enough new elements to keep their attention as well as newcomers to the franchise?
There's no doubt fans of the Marvel vs. Capcom series are going to be thrilled to have a gorgeous new title in the franchise to continually play until their thumbs bleed. It's a blast to casually jump right in and painstakingly difficult to master, but its over-the-top fighting action is worth the price of admission alone.
Sure, the die-hard fans here are well serviced, but we really enjoyed the addition of the "simple" mode that makes it a lot easier for novices to perform combos and special attacks. Though this certainly makes for a much more accessible game on paper, there's no denying the attractive button-mashing techniques that most players will adopt from the get-go. The training section of the game will teach players a thing or two about basic strategy, so we can't advise against checking it out.
That said, with 30 characters available right away (and more to come with DLC) all with their own fight styles and special moves, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 offers an unbelievable amount of replay value. It's the ultimate party game that can turn any living room into a smoky arcade from the early 1990s.
Finally, we'd be hard-pressed not to touch on the game's tongue-in-cheek sense of comedy. While this sort of aesthetic might fly over the heads of younger gamers, those who grew up playing Capcom games or reading Marvel comics will appreciate the loyalty each brand is able to convey in-game, from the various satisfying sound effects and canned text to the amazing level backdrops and little character quips muttered at the end of a fight.
Forgive us, but we're instantly transported to a more innocent time when we're greeted by Deadpool's calling out of Capcom to be on the cover of the next Street Fighter game, or the way Haggar's pipe spins wildly just like it did in the original Final Fight beat-em-up game.
There are three classes of people who are likely to approach Marvel vs. Capcom 3: the fans of the series who probably owned a Dreamcast, the Marvel comic/Capcom game fans who are attracted to the title and cover art, and those who have no idea what the game is but see it in a store and get curious.
I was a Dreamcast owner, but one who never bought Marvel vs. Capcom 2 back when it debuted on Sega's short-lived system. It became a cult title and a very quirky mash-up fighting game, one with a very odd sense of humor, incongruous music, and a healthy sense of pop-art graphic overkill.
I like the idea of games where worlds collide; Nintendo's Super Smash Brothers is one the best examples, but its character library is stuck in a largely cuddly universe. Mixing up Capcom's gaming legends and Marvel's comic archive was a great idea a decade ago, but it's a concept that's aged even better now that comics are resurgent--and, coincidentally, so are games like Street Fighter IV.
The end result is much like its downloadable sequel, but writ large in 3D comic-style art like its cousin, Street Fighter IV. It's bigger and louder, but the number of characters has shrunken down a bit. It's not quite an encyclopedia of either Marvel or Capcom, and that's my one regret. You're inevitably going to want to fight with characters that aren't offered here. Live with it.
The three-on-three tag-team-style fighting can get confusing, but you'll get the hang of it after a while. I appreciated the absurdity of the entire experience, which makes Street Fighter look like formal martial arts by comparison. Epilepsy warnings on the load-up screen have never been more properly placed: this is a graphic onslaught.
In an age of downloadable content, it's not hard to imagine Capcom offering a trickle-down of new players and arenas over time. I hope this is the case, but it's a shame these games don't offer more to start with. Maybe I'm spoiled. In fact, I'm sure I am: this game offers a ton to play with. Still, it's not "Marvel vs. Capcom" so much as it's "Marvel vs. Capcom All-Stars," so to speak. Am I wrong to dream bigger?
Arcade games started out as a space-age (in an Our Man Flint kind of way) alternative to traditional barroom amusements such as billiards or pinball, providing that all-important social utility of the shared experience, preferably combined with copious drinking. Over time, these machines filtered down to booze-free arcades for the youngsters, and the ultimate culmination of that design philosophy: the multiplayer fighting game.
Exactly the opposite of the kind of thoughtful, narrative-driven game we often write about, these were (and are) video games as pure sport, but over time the home console versions of these games lost something in the translation. Having a few friends over to swap turns at Soul Calibur is in the same ballpark as lining up quarters on an arcade machine, but lacks the thrill of a surprising new face walking in from the cold and taking on all challengers.
The addition of online multiplayer modes to console-based fighting games help the situation somewhat, especially now that one can play a reasonable real-time match over high-speed broadband, but this will forever be a simulation of the public experience. Case in point, Capcom hosts regular Fight-Club-style tournaments for games such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which are reportedly off the wall.
Going back to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 specifically, it reminds us that Capcom seems to realize this dichotomy, and has gone out of its way to remake the game (along with the earlier Street Fighter IV) as a kind of self-referential homage to its sprite-based 2D origins. The hand-drawn art style recalls pop-art pioneers who worked within the four-color confines of comic book art. Obviously Roy Lichtenstein is the name most people would associate with that comic-book-as-art genre (or Keith Haring, perhaps), and the parallels to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 are apt. The game's look and play style start with equal parts vintage 2D fighting game and pulpy comic book art, and amp both up to such a degree that they're clearly not intended to be taken seriously, or at least at face value.
Playing the game is actually fun, especially as even a nonexpert can win a few matches by button-mashing (although a trained player will still mop the floor with you nine times out of 10). But the real payoff is just sitting back and watching the acid-trip visuals unfold, almost like one of those iPad visualizer apps, an abstract, transitory experience that (screen-capping aside) will never be repeated in exactly the same way again.