While many series certainly had their fair share of games in the past, amongst several generation of consoles, there are few games that can brag that any gamer at any time can pick up said game and play it like it was new. Resident Evil? Not as good now on the PSOne. Metal Gear Solid? Not as good now on the PSOne. Marvel vs. Street Fighter? Sweet Jesus it's still good and guess what platform it was on? The Sega Saturn.
Seriously, I'm not sh*tting you.
When I mentioned the original import from Japan to a complete stranger today their eyes lit up with excitement. This stranger said, "You can still pick that thing up and play it for hours." And that dear readers is the goal for games looking for this longevity.
Guess what? Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds fits that mold.
Before we get into looks/feels/characters and everything that makes the game pretty, let's start out by talking controls.
Some of the most irritating moments with the Street Fighter series is the lack of control responses. My biggest gripe with Street Fight IV was how stiff the controls felt. The game seemed to be a little off pace and it was very difficult to pull of the right moves at times. I know I'm completely the minority when it comes to SFIV, but it was a game that felt a bit more bland than it did exciting. I remember playing one of our editors (Steven McGehee) at the game feeling extremely unsatisfied by the end of the first match. The game felt like it was moving in slow motion and I couldn't understand what had happened to all the SF magic I was use to seeing and knowing.
Of course, I didn't put two and two together at the time, but the reason I didn't get that same feel was because it wasn't the game I was use to playing. I still play Marvel vs. Street Fighter (Japanese edition) in the office on the Saturn. It had that offense encouraging mindset for a fighting game that punished you for playing defense, which isn't a bad thing. You mashed buttons here and there on the eight-button controller scheme, which ultimately made no sense, but produced great results. It was fast, furious and begging you to begin again once you had finished the game. When Marvel vs. Capcom 2 rolled around it seemed to dim that entire concept a bit. You had a little bit more defense with less punishment and therefore the game tilted more into the mix of traditional Street Fighter pacing and some good MvC pacing, which didn't work completely. The best analogy I can think of between the first and second MvC is when you compare college basketball to the NBA. College Basketball is intense and everyone tries (shorter schedule pays off with more intensity from the players), while the NBA tries to go the conservative route until it really matters at the end of the season (argue that all you want, but it's true). That's how MvC (CBB) and MvC 2 (NBA) compared to each other.
So the big question is, "What did Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds bring to the table?" Well, it brought pure unadulterated college basketball; and that's just the way you'll like it.
The controls in MvC 3 are very loose. They're almost comparable to Soulcalibur (don't cringe). While there is some skill involved with timing and knowing what moves you really do like, if you're in a jam you can punch a few magical buttons and get out of it. That doesn't mean that you don't have to think hard about what you're going to be throwing at your opponents, but you will find your fingers hitting the buttons fast and furious even when you don't necessarily intend on doing so. If you don't practice every day of your life with the game you're still going to survive it. You'll find the right way to do things and keep doing it, just like in the first Marvel vs. Capcom. For example, after about 20-30 games of the offline mode I found a pattern when fighting that was spot-on. I took Akuma, Ryu and (fill in blank -- I really liked Dante and Dr. Doom a lot) and used them to bring the noise non-stop. Ryu stayed in the ring the most times, while Akuma and (fill in the blank) would jump out to support the cause when Ryu called upon their ass-kicking services. I would have Ryu use mostly heavy attacks (H. Attack) when starting the match and every second or third punch I would bring in my secondary character for a quick swipe. I did this constantly and most of the time it meant victories. It worked so well that I've already obtained half of the achievements for the game in a span of two days. Again, a combination of button-mashing with some simple strategy will generally make this game really fun.
The controls specifically were made to be simple. You've got two ways to play and that's basically normal and simple. Either way you go you're going to be fine. Much like what EA did with the Madden series this year, Capcom has brought back a balanced control scheme that makes it easy for anyone to pick it up and play. Again, there is some button-mashing involved, but you still need some knowledge and strategy. The buttons are broken down into three varied attacks (Light (X), Medium (Y) and Heavy Attack (B)). The odd man out is the special attack (A), which is pretty powerful if performed at the right moment. The two bumper buttons on the Xbox controller call out your partners. The one on the left calls out the third option, while the right calls out the secondary option. I cannot stress enough how absolutely important it is to call out your partners at the right time. They can change a game instantly, flipping the battle from losing to winning. Don't just consider them an afterthought; those buttons/partners need to be part of the gameplan before you start a fight. For example, when I'm playing Ryu I generally want to get my enemy up close, hit them with a nice tripping sweep, kick them in the air, call out Akuma to come in with a Tatsumaki Zankukyaku (hurricane kick for you westerners) and then finish it all with a nice giant powerful fireball called down by using the right trigger button. Again, it's good to get your partners somewhere in the gameplan so you can maximize the amount of damage you're doing in one swift combination.
Speaking of combination, the name of the game really is 'combos'. The more combos you get in the game the further you're going to progress in the game. The best practice you can get with creating combos through your partners and switching out characters once you have someone in the air is by playing the offline mode constantly. I've performed a combo in the offline mode that was so pure that it was scary. I kicked one of my opponents in the air, performed a special attack, called in a switch with Akuma who did his best to keep the opponent in the same combo with kicks and then finished it off with Dante's special attack. It keeps the defense at bay and it absolutely makes you look like a Street Fight genius. It's also the only true way to survive online. Having played about 13 games online this weekend (sorry, didn't get a chance to play anymore) I can safely say that you better prepare your combos or you simply won't survive. I'm not sure if it was developers or other review site people kicking my ass, but I saw combos online today that might make you pee a little. It was amazing stuff and something I aim to practice before getting back online.
One last thing I want to mention to budding fans of this series that never have experienced the ones prior is that you'll want to choose your assist types carefully. Some of them are perfect (Arthur's dagger throw), while some seem to crap out quickly (C. Viper's Thunder Knuckles -- ugh). Every little thing counts and you want to make sure you have the best options available when it comes to partner assistance.
With controls out of the way, let's talk about this defense thing. If there was a low point in the game it would be that you cannot rest on your laurels and wait for your opponent to strike. Having tried that whole sit back and wait thing I can tell you first hand that you're going to be sad with the results. I sat back and blocked constant strikes from Iron Man in one game this weekend and I ended up paying the price for it. This isn't the Big Ten of Street Fighting where defense is equally important, if not very important. You must keep fighting and moving if you hope to survive in the game. You cannot just sit there and take it and hope for an opening. The game will force you to make an opening and create your own advantages. People may not like this very much, as MvC 2 certainly catered to defense more than Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. That might be the breaking point for frustrations of some hardcore fighting fans, as they'll be constantly on the aggressive end of the stick with this game. If you try to play it cool and force defense you will guarantee yourself a loss every time. Is it fair? No. Will it hamper the experience? Only if you let it.
As Doc said in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!, "You gotta stick and move." That completely applies to Marvel vs. Capcom 3, mainly because Capcom wants you to get the adrenaline pumping and keeping moving. It works wonders.
Now, let's talk modes.
There are a few modes you can choose from in the game and they are as follows:
Offline: This mode is basically the single-player arcade mode that we've all come to love; or the mode that was made for lonely people who have no friends (such as yours truly). Inside this mode you get four options: Arcade, versus, training and mission. The arcade mode is just that, an arcade mode. It is the single-player arcade play through that takes you through eight different stages (including the last two fights). Each stage gets progressively harder, as you'll feel it increase in stage 3, but with each completion in arcade you'll unlock goodies (including characters). I played this one the most and I'm still enjoying it, as it gives me that old-school Marvel vs. Capcom that I love. The other option is versus, which is self-explanatory (beat up on a friend). The last two options are sorta boring. The training option allows you to beat up on drones to learn the moves. The mission option allows you to practice specific combos, which is good, but so damn difficult and boring at times. The mission option is somewhat interesting though, as you can go through each character and learn special moves and combos (and get rewarded for it).
Xbox Live: Here's where you can shake your money maker skills online. You have the option of playing ranked and unranked matches. You also have the ability of playing 2-8 people at a time online, which is very cool. While I'm thankful that Capcom didn't put more details in the online mode, I'm very satisfied with efforts they've put in with regards to rankings and leaderboards. I've never been so fascinated with leaderboards before in my life. Anyway, if you haven't had a healthy explanation to how good the online is with this game just know that out of 13 online games today I only had one lag moment. I'm not sure if it was our network or Capcom's server, but it never cropped up again. Per usual with Xbox Live the online connection seemed to be pretty solid and without much interruption. There were times where I 'failed to find a game', but that might have been the lack of players online today, since the game doesn't release until tomorrow. It was good stuff, and again learn combos before you jump on.
Gallery: This isn't exactly a mode in the strictest sense, but it is an option in the main menu. It pretty much is your scrap book for everything you unlock in the game (characters, titles, endings, etc.).
So what about presentation? You wanted a comic book feel to it all then you got it! You get some gorgeous menus that are easy to use and navigate. There isn't much of an information overload with the menu system, which is huge for us old people who don't like too much high-sensation at once. Outside of the menu system, you get some really refined in-game graphics that resemble a more cleaned up version of Street Fight IV. The charactes are nicely cel-shaded. They don't look like Jet Set Radio characters anymore, rather well thoughout models with the proper amount of muscle movement and shading. That was a big turn-off for me in SFIV, but I feel a lot more comfortable with the look in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
One part of the presentation I wasn't too impressed with (and I will catch flack for this) is the uninspired backgrounds. There were a few occasions where I was like, "Oh, now that's cool." For example, the Wesker level where you see experiments and mutated dogs crawling inside of glass cages was damn cool. As the fight drew on the glass would crack and eventually shatter at the end, spilling out the Resident Evil contents inside. It was creepy and perfectly reacting well for a fight. Then there were opposite ends of the equation. For example The Daily Bugle level was like a scene out of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Characters were fighting on the rooftop of the Daily Bugle with parade floats in the background as photographers were snapping photos; ugh, uninspired. The backgrounds in the Street Fighter series are almost important as the character models, so it was sorta disappointing seeing some lackluster backgrounds. When I played Street Fighter II in the arcades years ago (1989, I believe) the backgrounds were entertaining. I just wish that they were a little bit more exciting on all the levels with Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds.
What about the fun factor? Since the game is based on mostly offense rather than defense it goes by quickly. You'll find yourself doing well at times and other times getting your ass handed to you. Regardless, the one reoccurring factor in the game is that you'll want to hit start again quickly and continue the game. This is the same type of feeling that the first MvC emitted. You'll find new ways to perform combos, new ways to get the job done quicker and you'll continually challenge yourself to do better. That's how a fighting game should be in every facet of its being. Even though it doesn't offer you more than just achievements and in hindsight 30 minutes of fighting time before you successfully complete a full game offline, you'll still want to go back and mix and match your characters to find the right fit. I've played this game for three straight days and have used Ryu over 200 times (I have that achievement) and I'm still trying to find that right 'third' person to include in the group with Ryu and Akuma. This game will make you OCD with that type of stuff and it's one of the reasons you'll keep playing it. Another reason you'll want to continually have fun with the game is the matches don't last long at all. Offline or online, you're guaranteed to have a quick fight, which will compel you to hit 'start' and do it again. It's like going on a rollercoaster ride and wanting to stay on again without getting out of your seat. It's fast and (yes, I know I've used this countless times) furious, which makes for great replay value.
So is there anything that Capcom could improve? Well, it's not completely a perfect game. Like I stated earlier, the game relies on combos. The combos are quick when they're performed and some players will really become frustrated when a chain of combos begins and there isn't a break in them. It might turn off some people from playing online, which is very possible. My advice is for players to suck up the boredom and take the training and mission options under offline into their daily fighting routine. The more you know the better you will be, especially when it comes to playing online.
Speaking of online, there is also a real issue with pairing up players at the moment. I'm not sure of the math involved, but I was stuck today with many highly ranked players (maybe two ranks above me) that simply killed me. As of right now when the game says it's trying to find you a 'ranked opponent' don't take that as it's trying to find you an evenly ranked opponent. You could find someone who is equally as fighting challenged as you, or you could find someone who is going to use you as a punching bag. Either way, there absolutely has to be more consistency when it comes to being placed in a ranked match. Right now, it's not cutting it or I'm just one of the worst players of all-time.
Despite the minor flaws, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a triumphant return of the series that truly has been a classic in every sense of the word. I will play this game as much as I play the Marvel vs. Street Fighter on the Saturn; trust me that's saying a lot.