Some games are slow burners. They draw you into their heart with clever narrative hooks and teasing glimpses at what’s to come. Other games like to give you a good long look at the powers you’ll have in the game from the get go, only to cruelly snatch them back a few short minutes later and make you toil away to reclaim that taste of delicious glory.
Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, on the other hand, throws you head first into a technicolour maelstrom of violence and insanity and refuses to let you out until you’re a half blind shell, gibbering about crossover interrupts, aerial combos and naked ginger midgets.
MvC3 is a three-on-three tag-team brawler, with a roster comprising of the best and brightest of the Marvel and Capcom universes. And M.O.D.O.K. There are nippy, frantic scrappers like X-23 and Felicia, all rounders like Captain America and Ryu and massive brutes like Hulk and Haggar. Mixing and matching fighting styles is key to coming out on top here, and experimenting is a huge amount of fun.
At the core of the experience is a deceptively complex four button control system. You have light, medium and heavy attack buttons and the S, or special, button, which knocks opponents into the air if they’re on the ground and onto the ground if they’re in the air. You can change between your characters with the shoulder buttons at will, whether swapping out to regain some health or jumping in briefly to extend a juggle combo, and you have moves at your disposal that force your opponent to swap too.
Each character has their own fighting style, with a different set of combos, special moves and assists, but there are some basic rules that every one of them follows. Attacks can always be chained from weakest to strongest, S always sets you up for an air combo and if you’ve built up enough Hyper Combo energy you can chain your Hyper Combos to devastating effect.
You build up Hyper Combo energy by performing special moves, dishing out damage and taking a beating. They function in the same way as Ultras in Street Fighter 4, but unlike Capcom’s other 2D fighter, it’s perfectly possible to unleash four or five massive, eye-bleedingly gorgeous Hyper Combos per bout.
MvC3 doesn’t do things by halves. Its explosions of colour are the brightest, its super moves the super-est, its guns the biggest and its combo numbers the most ridiculous. Racking up a hundred hit combo becomes almost commonplace as you get better, but the addictive nature of the game doesn’t wane as your talents grow.
Solo players can battle through arcade mode, which is held together with a flimsy story and features the single cheapest boss since Gill in SF3. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but while the appearance of the big bad is awe inspiring, it comes with a shift in gameplay that is controller crushingly annoying, and does feel a little unfair.
There’s also a training mode that lets you manipulate various settings in order to practice your combos, and a challenge mode that tasks you with completing increasingly difficult combo strings for every character. Neither of these additions are as comprehensive as the training on offer in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, but they’re still massively helpful to both the beginner and the more advanced player.
Online the game offers the same robust experience we’ve come to expect from a Capcom title. Matches are easy to find and jump into, and a helpful report card system keeps a track of all of your stats, as well as giving you pointers as to where your fighting style can be improved. Ranked matches and player matches are on offer, and there are plenty of options to tweak to make sure you’re not punching above your weight.
Whilst there are leaderboards to depress yourself with, the omission of a replay theatre is a disappointment. One of the best things about Super Street Fighter 4 was being able to save your best online bouts to show your friends and relatives, but there’s no such option here, which is a huge shame.
MvC3 can sometimes be overwhelming. When it comes to presentation, it lacks any sense of subtlety, and, at first, when the screen is full of carnage and you’re not really sure where you are and what you did, it’s easy to think that the game lacks the finesse of SF4 and BlazBlue. In reality though, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Once you’re used to the speed and timing of the game, it becomes clear that the combat system is spectacularly nuanced, with each character balanced almost to a tee. The game has to keep its controls simple, because you’re not just mastering one character, you’re mastering three.
Discovering the wealth of different tactics on offer, from using character switch out to extend air combos, to utilising advanced guard and reversals in order to buy yourself precious milliseconds, is a wonder. And, more importantly, it opens up whole new levels of gameplay, previously hidden beneath the multicoloured, explodey veneer.
Of course, if you don’t want to get that deep into the game, there’s still plenty on offer in MvC3. It’s an accessible game, made even more so by the inclusion of a simple play mode that allows you to perform some of the more complex moves by just hammering buttons. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it means veterans can play against total newcomers on a reasonably level playing field.
It’s hard to describe just how good Marvel vs Capcom 3 is without sounding like a gushing fanboy, but the fact of the matter is, it really is an incredible game. It oozes fan service from every pore, tickling the right parts of both Marvel and Capcom devotees, whilst still being open to those who’ve never opened a comic or performed a dragon punch in anger before.
Everything about the game screams ‘labour of love’, from the comic book style character endings to the ridiculously overblown fight introductions, and that passion and dedication is apparent with every fireball, roundhouse and lunging head butt.
Marvel vs Capcom 3 is a triumph, pure and simple. A cavalcade of supremely super-powered violence with an art style that’s enough to liquidize your eyeballs and a pace that’s at times utterly breathtaking. Some games might take a less bombastic approach, but MvC3 prefers to batter your senses around the head with a lead pipe made of neon rainbows, and it’s all the more fantastic for it.
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