Monday, February 21, 2011

Review: Marvel vs Capcom 3

Well, I've flubbed my attempt at posting two blog updates per week, and it's only been... six weeks? Hell, that's not too bad. Never mind.

So here's my review of Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

Story - You're joking, right? It's a fighting game. Well, I guess they can have stories if they really want...

In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the villains of the Marvel universe (Dr. Doom, Dormammu, M.O.D.O.K., Magneto, etc.) and the villains of every Capcom game ever made (really just Albert Wesker, although Akuma turns up later) join forces to merge their respective Earths together so they can team up and take over. As in every great villain plan, this falls flat on its face when the heroes of the two Earths team up to beat down the villains. And then Galactus turns up and threatens to eat everyone.

Honestly, there's just enough story here to justify a single-player Arcade mode, and that's it. The endings don't tie together; most of them are just "if this happened, what would X do?" sequences, and with only two illustrations per ending there's not a lot to look forward to. So let's move on.

Gameplay - Now we're talking. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a fast-paced cheesefest par excellence. Each player gets to pick out a team of three characters from a roster of thirty-eight (thirty-six of whom are now available). Despite the title, you don't have to pick just Marvel characters or just Capcom characters - mix and match to your heart's content. A fight takes place in one round where the goal is to defeat all three of your opponent's characters in a specified time limit.

The fighting style works best when you focus on setting up and executing devastating combos on your opponent. For example, you might jump in, punch somebody in the face with three quick hits, then uppercut them thirty feet in the air, jump up after them, and start beating on them again until you get tired, call in a friend to keep up the beating, then call in your third teammate to finish things off and smash your hapless foe back into the dirt. When the poor unfortunate soul lands, you're ready with an attack called a Hyper Combo that takes up the entire screen and does massive amounts of damage. And that could be the first ten seconds of a match.

The cast of thirty-eight characters is smaller than Marvel vs. Capcom 2 had, but you'd hardly notice. Because you pick three fighters for every match, the game has a lot of built-in replay value just from trying to assemble the ultimate fighting team. That's not to mention that all of the characters are great fun to watch and listen to: Iron Man sounds and acts like Robert Downey Jr. is reading his lines, M.O.D.O.K. makes giant heads look threatening, and Deadpool will grab the camera and shake the stuffing out of you after every match.

It does take some time to get used to the controls, and Capcom doesn't do a damn thing to help in this regard, besides providing a robust must-read game manual. But once you know what you're doing, the game is a lot of fun.

Online Play - This is one of the big deficiencies of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, so I have to call it out. Capcom's last fighting game, Super Street Fighter IV, had a robust online matchmaking system - you could search for opponents in a ranked or unranked match and link up easily. You could set up a tournament where you watched each fight real-time, while waiting for your turn to battle. You could save your best fights as replay videos to watch or share with the gaming community.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 junks most of that. You can still search for ranked or unranked matches, but odds are about 50/50 that you'll be kicked out of whatever match you find. This wouldn't be too bad - Street Fighter had the same problem - but for some reason the game then kicks you back to the main menu, wasting your time as you navigate down to search for another fight.

Tournament play is still there, but you can no longer watch any fight other than the one you're participating in. For every other fight, you see two game cards duke it out (read: bounce off each other) as lifebars for the respective fighters slowly diminish. The only real use for tournament play is to set up a game between friends - random gamers will not be interested, other than to get the Achievement for participating in an eight-player game.

And replay videos? Gone completely, with no explanation. I assume there were too many technical challenges to overcome, and given the amount of stuff happening on camera in a given fight, I can understand why; but it's still a little disappointing.

I've heard rumors that Capcom will slowly patch in some fixes for these issues, and I hope they do. Thankfully, the annoyance involved in finding a pickup game online doesn't detract from the fun once you actually get into a match.

Verdict - Despite its flaws, I think Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a superior fighting game to the last few Street Fighter games. The fights are quick, insanely beautiful to look at, and rewarding when you grind your opponent into the dirt. None of the characters seem badly unbalanced, and with six of them fighting in any given match there's always a way to bring down even the nastiest character combinations. As long as Capcom delivers on fixing a few of the weaker features, this game is sure to be a classic. 9 review points out of 10.

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