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Great game, but not entirely what it could have been
on February 19, 2011
After more than ten years of waiting, the follow-up to one of the most successful and well-known crossover gaming franchises at last arrives. Marvel VS. Capcom 3 breaks into the scene facing a great deal of expectations and anticipation, and in most aspects it delivers, but unfortunately it falls just a bit short of being the spectacular game it could have been.
The gameplay and general mechanics are essentially a mishmash of those from both Marvel VS. Capcom 2 and Tatsunoko VS. Capcom. You're given three characters and a series of four core buttons to work with, those being Light, Medium, Heavy and Special attacks. This closely resembles the setup of TVC, simplifying things a bit from the punch and kick commands of MVC; a wise move, given that it generally trims the fat of the previous game's complexity.
The Assists, Hyper Combos, crossovers and many other advanced tactics all return, but there are a handful of new alterations and quirks. For one, unlike TVC, there is no Mega Crash (although it is possible to break away from certain long combos) or Baroque; instead, there's the X Factor, a completely new tactic that may only be used once per match. X Factoring allows each of your characters a brief speed and power boost, along with gradual health recovery. These effects are strengthened depending on how many of your 3 characters are remaining (it is at its maximum if you only have one character left). This occasionally adds an interesting element to the gameplay, but many have argued that it's an unnecessary feature which can unfairly turn the tide of a fight, and there is definitely some validity to this complaint. Adding to the imbalance of this is the fact that different characters receive different boosts, leading to some characters gaining ridiculous power boosts while others don't really become much more of a threat.
Switching out, or swapping characters, is unfortunately now a sorely obnoxious task, requiring the player to press and hold the Partner button until their other character appears; mistakenly tapping the button will cause a crossover Assist, and as many veteran players know, initiating an Assist when you're intending to switch out can cost you a character, or worse, a match. Needless to say, this can take a bit of getting used to, particularly for those accustomed to the simple back+/Partner command that came before.
`Simple mode' from TVC also returns, allowing a significantly simplified control scheme in which special moves and Hyper Combos can be more easily initiated. This may sound unappealing or unfair to those more willing to adjust to the traditional controls, but simple mode also disallows certain attacks and abilities, so it's more of a tradeoff than a wholehearted handicap; it's ultimately a more accessible and user-friendly version of the control scheme.
The roster has been among the most debated-over aspects of the game; MVC2 had a whopping 56 characters to choose from, while so far MVC3 only offers 36. Granted, unlike MVC2, you'll find no recycled sprites here; each and every character is brought to vivid new life and design. Many staples and favorites return, so fans of Ryu, Wolverine, Morrigan, Storm, and many others won't be complaining. Devil May Cry's Dante and X-Men's Deadpool are among some of the exciting new additions, while a surprising number of more obscure fan favorites also managed to make the cut. Some of the exclusions are rather upsetting, however, particularly the lack of Venom, certain X-Men characters and most shocking of all, Capcom's flagship character Mega Man. There's more downloadable content to come, however, so we'll have to see what the game's future has to offer.
Some of the game's modes and single-player options are more disappointing than others; the online mode is overall pretty satisfying so far, allowing players to either log on for a quick match with a random player or friend, or join a lobby of several players in a sort of informal tournament system. Players can `friend' opponents they'd like to play again and even speak to one another through console-compatible microphones. Lag is generally minimal or non-existent, and thankfully you'll be forewarned of the connection strength in the lobbies before joining. There are also of course leaderboards and rankings for the best of the best, but you can only gain ranks through random Quick Matches, and sadly there's no spectator option; this is particularly frustrating when you're waiting around for your next match in the lobbies.
The single-player modes aren't quite as satisfying. MVC3 has a rather standard Arcade mode which features nothing but a series of random battles followed by a boss fight and usually anticlimactic ending sequence which differs by character but is merely a brief series of still pictures and text. The end-game credits are nice the first time you watch them, but they're the same regardless of which character you win with, and therefore aren't nearly as interesting the second, third or fourth time around. Super Smash Bros. Brawl's Subspace Emissary wasn't what a lot of people were hoping for, but it was more engaging than what's offered here. Although the Arcade mode serves its generic purpose, a few more cutscenes or character-specific individuality would've made it really worthwhile.
MVC3's biggest asset is it succeeds in a few of the key areas where both TVC and MVC2 failed. TVC offered an overly simplified control option which occasionally allowed for disproportionate advantages, and yet was oftentimes preferable to the needlessly complex alternative. MVC3 manages to find a healthy balance between MVC2's ice-cold complexity and TVC's desperate attempt at accessibility; both regular and simple mode in MVC3 are useable without being cheaply advantageous or impossible to understand. Although deeply advanced tactics will be reserved for deeply skilled players, as they always have been, most players will gain a deeper understanding of the control schemes offered here more quickly than they would have in MVC2.
Unfortunately, as expected, opportunities to be cheap present themselves in MVC3 just as they do in most fighting games. Thankfully only a small handful of the characters seem genuinely broken or overpowered, but the ones that are can be truly frustrating to go up against; both Sentinel and Iron Man can fill the screen with enormous and heavily damaging beams and projectiles, while Phoenix becomes virtually impossible to approach, let alone defeat, once she transforms into Dark Phoenix. Ryu spammers are also expectedly back in action, but thankfully so far it doesn't seem quite as common as it was in TVC.
The game has a visual style that is distinctly American and heavily influenced by comic books; as where MVC2's artwork and aesthetics felt more authentically Japanese, this game comes off as though it belongs a little more to Marvel than it does to Capcom. This works both for and against it; most of the Marvel characters look amazing, and several of the Capcom ones do as well, although the heavy Americanization of the likes of Tron Bonne and Morrigan can come off as a bit wonky at first. Aside from that, however, the visuals are vivid and gorgeous; one thing you'll never be bored with is what goes on onscreen during matches.
Although the complaints may have seemed heavy, MVC3 is in fact a very entertaining and visually appealing game; the online mode is extremely fun and engaging, and some of the downloadable content to come, namely the new characters and complete costume revamps, seem very promising. Tuning up the roster and 1-player mode-adding more modes in general, for that matter-would have really made it nothing short of excellent, but here's hoping they really take popular demand into consideration for DLC.