Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was a beautiful accident of a game - the result of designers at Capcom flagrantly throwing every character sprite in the database into a game engine and hoping that the result would be playable. The end product was an unbalanced and broken mess, and yet, inevitably, the fans loved it. Rather than playing MvC2 the way its designers hoped, the community built a competitive tournament monster from the original game's scorched remnants, crafting it into the sort of unique fighting experience nobody expected it to become.
I bring this up because Marvel vs. Capcom 3 isn't the sequel to what its predecessor evolved into; it's more the sequel to what MvC2 was supposed to be. Capcom certainly hasn't ignored its fanbase, though, and many aspects of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 are the direct result of paying attention to what the players have enjoyed in previous games. The result is an incredibly fast, fun fighter that oozes pizzazz and personality.
The fundamental mechanics are instantly familiar: players select a team of three separate characters and duke it out with the standard array of normal attacks, combos, aerial rave combos, special moves, and super attacks. Partners can be called in to take the place of the fighting character, and can also be temporarily summoned to execute assist skills and augment combos.
Deciding when and how to swap and call in your teammates, as well as what assist skills to assign them, is a key part of strategy. Longtime MvC2 players will have a good understanding of these aspects, though their implementation now feels more like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom than previous games in the series.
However, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 does more than just tweak existing ideas. You can now swap between characters during aerial combos, which is a far safer option in most cases than the usual on-the-ground call-in. Snap-backs - attacks that force an opponent's reserve character onto the field if it hits - are now available to all characters rather than a select few.
But the biggest and most interesting addition is the "X-Factor," a special skill that can be activated once per match and grants incredible benefits like hyper-speed, boosted damage, the reduction of damage scaling in combos, chip damage elimination, and even healing. Perversely, the X-Factor becomes more effective as your characters become weaker - sure, you can do some nice damage early on, but if you're down to a single character you'll be thankful to have the potential to utterly annihilate the competition.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s character selection is smaller than its predecessor, but I don't see that as a bad thing. More attention has been lavished on individual characters to make them unique and potentially competitive, rather than tossing them in and hoping for the best. There's a wide variety in the way characters play, and it's going to make for some creative and fun team arrays in competition.
The actual characters chosen for the core cast of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 will no doubt please and anger fans in equal amounts. Personally, I'm glad to see characters like Amaterasu, Hsien-Ko, Thor, Phoenix, and She-Hulk in the mix; others, like Spencer from the ill-received 2009 Bionic Commando, are hard to apologise for. The omission of several beloved past characters like Strider and Captain Commando is also lamentable. The good thing is that even if your old favourite is gone, you're likely to find a new character here that plays similarly to them.
For all of its merits, there are a few things that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 could have been done better. There's little in-game assistance to help genre newcomers. It's important for competitive games to get a consistent stream of new blood, but fighting games rarely provide help to bridge the long gap between "button masher" and "skilled player." Sure, you've got the Mission Mode to help teach useful combos, but it's not that helpful when you have people out there who don't even know the basics of how chaining combos together works.
There's also the online play, which, in my tests, was uneven. At times I was able to get beat down with no connection hiccups at all, while at others the lag rendered the game nearly unplayable. Spectator mode and replay saving - features put to excellent use in Super Street Fighter IV - are also absent, but the most surprisingly disappointing is the lack of fan-service. All you get out of running through the game in single-player mode is a short, still-image ending for each character. For all the hype of bringing famed comics scribe Frank Tieri onboard, the result is underwhelming.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is undeniably a fine product. Competitive players of its predecessor may be disappointed, but if you take Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for the game it is you'll find a fighter packed with fun gameplay elements, a great variety of characters, and the potential to remain a favourite for a long time to come.
Next page: Our expert verdict