Superheroes and games famously don’t mix very well. The problem so many developers face is that of balance, walking that treacherous line between making heroes so dangerously mighty that their abilities just seem mundane and enfeebling them too much and underplaying their supposed awesomeness.
But not Capcom. In fact, Capcom deftly sidesteps this issue altogether by serving up 18 of Marvel’s finest heroes and villains (well, mostly… a few additions will only be appreciated by real comic geeks), giving pretty much all of them attacks that fill the screen and do a ton of damage, then beefing up the Capcom side of the roster so its representatives can do the same. It’s non-stop pyrotechnics from start to finish, a screen full of overpowered familiar (and a few not-so-familiar) faces to choose from before the fights begin.
Syndrome from The Incredibles would have us believe that ‘when everyone is super, no-one will be’ – Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 rebuts this idea explosively, suggesting instead that when everyone is super, televisions around the world will vomit colour and fireworks as they struggle to keep up with the flashiest, craziest fighter the world has ever seen.
A final character count of 36 (some of which we’re still not allowed to discuss even this close to release) makes for a solid and varied roster, some 20 characters shy of its predecessor but, by contrast, not so full of palette swaps and useless additions. Perhaps more interesting are the four spaces left on the corners of the select screen, which would lead us to believe that the already-announced DLC characters Jill and Shuma-Gorath may be joined by at least two more fighters to fill the board completely.
It’s pure speculation – and we wonder to whom this honour would be offered – but it seems to make sense. Generally speaking, characters here are far easier to categorise than in most fighting games. Some, like Haggar, are all about getting close and doing damage, while others like X-23 play a similar role but with an emphasis on speed and combo rushdown. Then there are the more versatile fighters like Ryu with an answer for everything, and those that might make it into your trio purely on the grounds that their assist attacks are invaluable – Dr Doom’s constant barrage of rocks springs to mind as a prime example of this.
But troublingly, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 introduces a new category of combatant that chills us to the core, one that taps into the spirit of letting anyone jump into fighting games in a way we just can’t get behind. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the spammer. Arthur and MODOK debut in this questionable role, their sole purpose here being to play a keepaway game as they fill the screen with all manner of projectile-based carnage.
Playing cheap is more or less the only way to work these guys, running away and leaving a trail of medieval weaponry or hot laser death respectively in their wake, in the hope of frustrating the opponent until they tire and die. And when they find themselves up against slower characters, they’ll do exactly that with ease – while Viewtiful Joe might be able to triple-jump out of danger and into Arthur’s face, less mobile characters are easily pinned down. These are the main two culprits for bringing the game into disrepute, though others (particularly some of the new guys) push their luck a little as well, and it’s down to the player to retain honour by not leaning towards the projectile-heavy dark side and the abuse of safe ranged attacks.
For a game many see as a button-masher, it’s a relief to see some deep-rooted gameplay mechanics that offer more hope for those that like to frequent Training mode. X-Factor is the first of these, a one-use power and speed boost (the potency of which is increased for the fewer characters you have left, so it’s perfect for turning the tables late in the game) which also serves as a way to interrupt almost any attack, leading to crazy combo potential, and even the ability to cut short a misjudged attack and avoid the beatdown that was in store, had you simply let your opponent block.
Then there are air combos and, while their basic execution is easy enough, experts will quickly learn to milk them for far more damage with extra combos, specials and even follow-ups. This leads nicely onto Capcom’s decision to make so many characters able to punish grounded opponents before they can even get up, again meaning skilled players can pick up their quarry after a slam combo and continue the onslaught. It’s frustrating to find yourself on the receiving end, though such cheeky strings require decent timing and will be missed from time to time, leaving an opening to exploit.
Another thing to master is the art of tagging; though it’s hard to shake the habit of swapping out a badly injured character immediately, a decent opponent will expect just that and punish the newcomer as soon as they enter. Partners can be called in to use their assist attacks (which serve in a variety of roles, from helping keep opponents grounded to extending combos), the trade-off here being that they take a hell of a lot more damage if they’re caught by an attack while showing off out of turn – it’s not uncommon to see stray assists get nailed for almost all their health if they wander into the path of a hyper combo by mistake.
All said and done, nobody expected MVC3 to be a balanced game, and that it comes even as close it does (or appears to so far, at least) is really quite amazing. While not the most technical or complex fighter on the market, it’s certainly among the most enjoyable and intense. Ignore the projectile-focused bastards and players of any level will find something here for them, but expect many online matches to be a mess of medieval weaponry, hot laser death and rage-quitting. Probably in that order.