Sequels: threat or menace? It's odd that so many people are quick to bemoan a lack of creativity in the video game industry when, compared with Hollywood, there are so many classic properties that would actually be served well by a modern treatment. Nowhere is that more clear than in Capcom's hyperkinetic "Vs." series. Marvel VS Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is making its debut some eleven years after its predecessor, but it seems time has been very, very kind to the crossover slugfest.
The cast featured here is probably the most successful one to appear in anything, ever.
The game makes a powerful first impression with an incredible-looking cinematic opening. Once the actual action starts, the developers' palpable HD prowess continues to shine. Characters are rendered in a shader-heavy, inky, comic-book style that is like the pop-art cousin to Street Fighter IV's more painting-like feel. The cast animates in an expressive, exaggerated fashion, with everyone's arsenal of attacks and modes of movement ringing true to his characterization. The roster also spews forth a variety of iconic effects, from the Kirby-crackling glow of Dr. Doom's plasma beams to the blooming intensity of Akuma's suite of fireballs. It's quite a sight to behold, possibly the first 3D game to come close to matching some of the symphonic visual anarchy present in Arc System Works' HD hand-drawn fighters.
Backing all the impressive visuals is the new and improved soundtrack. While it may leave fans of Marvel vs. Capcom 2's bizarre Japanese jazz sound feeling cold, it will hit its mark with everyone else with remixed tracks from Capcom's library, including new versions of the themes for Marvel characters who are returning from the original Marvel vs. Capcom.
The way that the Vs. series of fighters plays is, in a word, chaotic. The mere fact that it's based around tag teams of three characters makes things already that much more hectic than most games, with partners popping in to fire off assist moves and stack their hyper combos on top of their teammate's. Now factor in a pace that is much snappier than most games, exaggerated mobility that involves being able to jump three times the height of a single screen, and special moves that explode everywhere, forever, like a fireworks singularity. Deliberate, cautious players will have a hard time adjusting to the game's ludicrous intensity and pace. But for everyone else, it'll be the closest thing most fighting games will ever get to feeling like a roller coaster.
Although it's maintained the majority of its classic methodology from previous installments, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has been simplified in certain ways. A lot of what's been done serves to codify what previously felt like an extension, or exploitation, of the basic play mechanics. Combos have gone from just something that happened to occur due to hit detection and animation cycles in Street Fighter II, to a closely tracked and tallied statistic in subsequent titles. These changes make the less-rudimentary tactics of the game, like launchers and air combos, somewhat easier for those who are not particularly skilled in fighting games to follow along with.
The faults of the game are less sincere issues in how it plays or functions, but more of a lack of modern concessions that could serve to make a great game even better. The training and mission modes, which do offer an ambitious player a possible path to mastery, are a bit bare-bones compared to the additional options the game could have included. There's a relative lack of variety in both the single-player and versus modes. That won't bother people looking simply to throw down in the classic style, but it doesn't offer variety for those who like to play in the margins of the fighting game genre. While a more-effective matchmaking system would be appreciated, matchmaking as a feature is full of technical and practical shortcomings in 99% of games that include it, so it's hard to fault for Capcom not managing to find the magic formula.
In this modern age of load-out based online shooters with persistent unlocks and social gaming on browsers and phones, Marvel VS Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds has an appeal that steps a bit beyond the bounds that a traditional fighting game might be limited with. Between the Marvel movie stars and Capcom's own gaming giants, the cast featured here is probably the most successful one to appear in anything, ever. Combine that with the explosive combat whose learning curve is, while intense, straight-forward enough to understand, and it's easy to see the inherent appeal. The balance of power may sometimes be daunting for first-time players going up against veterans, but ultimately there's plenty of enjoyment to be had regardless of whether you're an Annihilator or just a New Warrior.