If you're a fan of fighting games then you've probably been keenly aware of the ten years since we last saw one of the Marvel vs. Capcom games. For awhile there they were churning them out at a rapid pace, bringing out new games in the series on basically a yearly basis. This all stopped in 2000 when, after releasing Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, Capcom lost the license to work with the Marvel characters. In this interim we saw the release of the Capcom vs. SNK games and EA released the craptastic Marvel Nemesis with that license.
With this iteration of the storied franchise there is an actual story that makes sense. Albert Wesker and Doctor Doom have managed to join forces with the other super villains of their worlds across the two dimensions and are plotting to get rid of the heroes. They steal some parts from Galactus which arouses the World Eater's ire, prompting him to attack the now combined worlds. Apparently whatever mucking about these two are doing is messing with the dimensional barriers as well allowing the dread Dormammu to get in on the fracas.
This whole situation leads to some interesting matchups. Chris Redfield and his monstrously huge arms are battling the Hulk. Ryu and Wolverine are having it out in another corner while Morrigan and Iron Man alternately flirt and try to murder each other. Possibly the most amusing matchup is Deadpool vs. Dante in a battle to see who can out shoot, outwit and out duel the other. It's like a match made in obnoxious personality heaven.
Carrying on from the previous game in the series Marvel vs. Capcom 3 features two teams of three warriors, fighting battles that are almost as entertaining to watch as they are to play. Swapping team members, calling on them for support or joining up to do one giant team special move assault never gets old. Ever wanted to watch Iron Man, Dormammu and Akuma fill the screen with blazing energy blasts? Or how about having Deadpool and Dante fill the screen with bullet after bullet? This is all possible with this amazing roster.
While the roster in this title has been whittled down from the previously bloated 56, this is not to the games detriment. Where in the previous titles there were many barely useable characters and palette swaps there is none of that here. Every character feels unique and all of their special moves have a specific purpose they are designed for that compliments their unique fighting style. Light characters have quick moves designed to either help them close the distance or keep foes at a respectable distance. Heavy characters on the other hand have moves to punish foes for daring to come too close, making every mistake an opponent makes a rather costly one.
This variety even extends to Ryu and Akuma, two of the most commonly recurring characters in any Capcom fighting game. In this game Ryu is a bit slower, focusing more on strong single strikes while Akuma jumps all over the place like he's amped up on something. Ryu can control his Shinkuu Hadouken, aiming up at angles or even straight upward, while Akuma can only fire it straight ahead or use his aerial fireball attack. These are small but key differences that really illustrate how far this title is from the palette swapping days of yore.
In addition to just playing differently from each other there's also the fact that each character just feels unique. Deadpool breaks the fourth wall with alarming regularity and has a plethora of weapons at his disposal. Arthur, from Ghosts and Goblins, moves slowly but has a double jump as well as variety in his special moves thanks to having a bunch of weapons at his disposal. Dante can pull off a crazy amount of combos thanks to the fact that every directional input + button combo does an entirely separate move. Paired up with their unique combos it gives a lot of flavor that could easily be overlooked in a fighting game of this caliber.
All of this variety wouldn't mean much if the characters were horribly out of balance. Thankfully this isn't an issue... for the most part. Almost all of the characters feel like they excel in certain situations and so making your perfect team is a matter of finding out who you use well and how the characters compliment each other. This makes the game feel a lot more varied since you're generally not going to be at a disadvantage simply for choosing to use one character over another.
Most of the time anyways. There are some old faces that return and really didn't need to. Storm, Magneto and Sentinel return for no real reason other than to provide people with their usual beam spam attacks which is, to be blunt, lame.
Considering the ease with which chip damage can murder your foes in this title this is an unfortunate turn. If they were going to keep these guys in the game they may as well have recreated the God Tier entirely and brought back Cable to complete the frustration party. But this only serves to highlight a problem that's always existed in these games and that this did nothing to address. Beam attacks, such as Iron Man's Uni-Beam, Storm's Typhoon and Sentinel's basic attack punch through fireballs and hit the other player. By using characters like Sentinel, Storm, Iron Man and Magneto you can easily chip down other players to death and then use someone like Hulk to finish them off with his overwhelming offense. Or his Gamma Wave "beam" attack to chip enemies further.
It's kind of aggravating to see a game that should theoretically be about skill get messed up due to this constant beam spam crap that's always been an issue. With the "Simple" mode of control allowing even the least skilled of combatants to pull of some rather crazy combos left and right it would seem like the necessity to have simplistic, overpowered characters would be obliviated. Sadly this isn't the case and it can make playing online just as frustrating as ever.
Speaking of online, the much touted "Anti-Quitter" system is basically completely ineffective as far as the game is concerned. Since it only seems to impact people who quit constantly, so long as you maintain a ratio of one game completed for every two matches that you quit out of it doesn't seem like it has much impact. Having come across some of the "#1 players" and had them quit out several times it's pretty easy to see how they keep their ranking. The only people this negatively impacts are the bad players who don't want to see yet more losses on their record while having no impact on the ones with any modicum of skill at all. Or who do well with the Simple controls.
The last real issue is that of the controls being far too simple. Since each character only has three basic attacks per position (i.e. standing, crouching or jumping) there isn't a whole lot of variety in basic moves. Much of the fighting is either done via competing special moves or basic move in combos that lead into launchers, followed up by aerial combos. Even special moves have been simplified, with almost all of them done via the classic "Hadouken" motions of rolling from down to forward on the joystick followed by an attack button. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on you.
On the plus side of this simplicity is the fact that you can easily pull off some crazy stuff. With just a few minutes of practice it's easy to start pulling off twenty hit combos without even touching super moves. Heck within the first hour this reviewer had managed to pull off a simple 50+ hit combo using ground combos, aerial combos, team aerial combos and a super hit. The trick to mastering the game becomes suckering your opponents into situations where you can pull off these combos, hammering them as hard as you can and not letting them break free using counters. It's like a very complicated game of rock, paper, scissor really.
There are various other pros and cons to this title but they're not going to make or break it. The online mode is almost laughably basic, being more like Street Fighter IV before its tournament update, the static, comic style cutscenes are disappointing when held next to the awesome animated opening cutscenes and there are a whole lot of minor missions and training you can embark on to help you master the title. This game has a little bit of everything but when it comes to the core fighting game package it excels in ways that one could have only hoped for.
Frankly if you're a fighting game fan you're doing yourself a disservice by not playing this excellent title.