To paraphrase Field of Dreams; if the fans demand it, sequels will come. That’s certainly true when it comes to Capcom, a developer whose made it their mission to introduce and recreate some of the most prolific characters in gaming history. The same can be said of comicbook giant Marvel, who found an ideal partner in the studio behind Street Fighter, the match producing several popular crossover fighting game collaborations throughout the 90s.
No doubt ‘encouraged’ by Marvel’s recent string of box-office blockbusters (as well as their own upcoming crossover project due next summer, The Avengers), and an eleven year absence we finally have Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, a fighting game extravaganza with both feet firmly entrenched in two circles with the magic mostly intact.
As you can imagine, the hopes are astronomically high for the series’ longtime players who might have otherwise given up hope they’d ever see Capcom’s best clash with Marvel’s roster again, and its likely that anyone who’s relentlessly played or loved the previous Versus titles will have an opinion on whether or not this installment is bred from the same pedigree, and if it appeals to the hardened veteran or fanatic. The previous game was a coin-op who’s colorful and outwardly frantic appearance concealed a deep and technically demanding 2D fighter – an unusual combination. It was an excellent example of structured insanity that everybody could get into, yet only the competitive pro would be able to really master, effectively alienating those who wanted to enjoy the game.
That’s why Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is such a surprise to me, because even if you really think you hate it there’s something about it that keeps you playing, inevitably to the point where that quick one quick-minute somehow turning into countless hours. Even discerning gamers who dominated in more grounded fighters will at least find one thing to like, or probably love here.
Like the games before it, you’ll pit Marvel’s memorable comic heroes against Capcom’s own icons in frantic three-on-three tag team fare with a radically simplified control scheme that have—like much of the game itself—has been mostly adopted from Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. You’ve got three attack buttons (light, medium, heavy), assist buttons for your two respective partners, and a single special attack button that greatly streamlines those impressive aerial launchers and combos you’ve always dreamed about. Then there’s Simple mode, which is essentially a return of the ‘Easy Operation’ mode from games past, with game’s most radical and awe-inspiring moves reduced to single directional stick + button presses. The deviations from the original formula, holding your own in combat remains as satisfying and fluid as ever, especially for those who’ve been left on the sidelines until now. Veterans needn’t worry, either, and should feel quickly at home with team hyper attacks and exchanging team air combos with ease.
The character roster has been revamped as well with mainstays like Ryu, Morrigan, Captain America, and Wolverine, while newcomers like Amaterasu from Okami, Bionic Commando’s Nathan Spencer join the party; less-exploited Capcom favorites like Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Ghouls and Mike Haggar from Final Fight further round things out. Marvel’s stable, on the other hand, turns a bigger spotlight on the likes of Thor, M.O.D.O.K., Phoenix, and the mentally unhinged Deadpool (“Bang-bang-bang-bang!”), just in time for those upcoming films we’ve been hearing so much about.
The total number of characters tops out at 36, which by comparison is well short of its predecessor’s enormous 56. But to be fair, that game was mildly guilty of using the infamous “palette swap” method to pad the numbers, and most folks probably won’t mind that a few characters are missing after witnessing feats like Wesker’s sinister stage-warping blitz attack and Super-Skrull unleashing a barrage of stolen Fantastic Four powers. Variety is one thing MvC3 isn’t lacking here.
By any standard, the visuals are extraordinarily detailed, capturing a look that blends the sharp contrasting elements of an illustrated comic book with a careful smattering of sharp blacks and vibrant colors that help bring it to life. The whole package is definitely a style that catches more than a few glances, as these 3D representations of your favorite characters are crafted with surprising care. The same can be said of the backgrounds and locations, which continue the melding of both Capcom and Marvel’s unique iconography, and really do a great job of keeping in line with the best of the series (love the Ghosts ‘n Goblins stage). Many (including myself) will undoubtedly miss the fine hand-drawn detail of 2D sprites and lament the processed styling, but I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t impressed, even if your superheroes look somewhat like shiny plastic.
Then there’s the music, which gives you with a techno-infused soundtrack that remixes specific character themes with new synthesized riffs, doing away with much of the polarizing jazz solos that many lauded from MvC2. It’s a change that feels relatively less unique compared to the infamously relaxed lounge melodies (“I Wanna Take You For A Ride” survives, at least in spirit) but some of this can be changed with a ‘dramatic’ soundtrack that substitutes New Age with suitably epic. Either way, it’s a slight improvement for most.
Despite the presentation the choices were pretty lean, especially when compared to similar games (from Capcom, no less) that are stacked with features and options. Apart from the typical Arcade, Versus, Training, and character-specific Mission modes, there really isn’t much here to keep those who might be less-than-devoted to mastering each of the game’s characters interested. Even last year’s Tatsunoko crossover felt more complete than this (and let’s be honest, it was the template for this game), but appropriate nonetheless.
Online multiplayer is another area that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 feels a few steps behind in, especially after the extended options in Super Street Fighter IV. Basic Ranked and Player matches are present and accounted for, and you can play a quick match, create a room, or scour lobbies where you’ll have to wait your turn to fight in “winner stays” fashion. I found no issues with network latency during play, and the performance on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions were pretty spot-on. However, this also comes with a dated matchmaking interface, which forces you to constantly ‘reload’ lobby selections after unsuccessful pairings. It’s adequate for what it is, but still feels stripped-down and less satisfying than it could be.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is the perfect gift for anyone who still dreams of seeing Street Fighter’s Ryu battle against Captain America, or ever wanted to unleash catastrophic chaos on the screen but never had the skills to pull it off. On the whole, this crossover sensation is less complex than its decade-old predecessor, at least for those who might have been expecting a bit more nuance and strategic finesse in its core fighting tactics. Same goes with its relatively meager online matchmaking options. But most players probably won’t mind the alterations however, as they help it become one of the most accessible and satisfying fighters in recent memory. In truth, these changes are probably made for the better. Not just for the series, but possibly the genre as a whole.