With the fighting game genre now firmly back on its feet and Street Fighter IV having just hit its third iteration in Japan with Arcade Edition, fans are getting eager for more. Luckily the release date for Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is getting very close. From announcement and no doubt continuing on to launch day, Capcom have held fans to ransom with a slow trickle of character details. Some of them expected, some hoped for and some that have come as huge surprises. Three on three crossover vs. fighting is back and it’s looking better than ever.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 saw its original release in 2000 and made its way from the arcades to Dreamcast, then later on to PlayStation 2 and Xbox. More recently it was given a bit of a clean-up and released for XBLA and PSN, further fuelling the fans’ demands for a sequel. This time around the series has taken a step toward its comic book themes with everything from the character select screen to the in-game graphics taking on a comic book style to the point where stages get torn up like paper during the more destructive hyper combos.
In addition to the game’s visual style there’s a great deal of fan service going on, but like all good fan service it’s kept below the surface where it will not confuse the masses, yet elate the true believers. My favourite example of this lies in the fantastic inclusion of context based character speech. When swapping out team members during a fight the departing member will shout the name of the fighter they are calling in. Pretty cool, right? But it gets better. If the characters have some kind of story based relationship they will address them on a more personal level. For example, Wolverine will call his clone and surrogate daughter, X-23 by her real name, Laura. She in turn will call him Logan. Similarly at the start of a match your team leader’s face-off comments can be affected by the make up of your team or the first opponent. I urge you to build an Avengers team led by Captain America and check out Felicia’s comment on the state of Dormammu’s head. I’ll not spoil any more as there is real joy to be had finding them yourself.
Fans are also catered for in the costume department. Each fighter has four different colours on offer and while many are standard pallet swaps, in cases where the opportunity has presented itself some cool things have been squeezed in. Did you know that when Captain America ‘died’ for a little while The Punisher took up the mantle? You knew that, right? Well, his Punisher/Captain America mash-up costume is selectable. You must know that both Wolverine and Deadpool have been members of the X-Force spec ops group, yeah? Well, their X-Force stealth outfits are also included. The beauty here is that even if you weren’t aware of such tenuous facts then these touches will pass you by unnoticed but it’ll mean the world to comic book fans. Providing fan service without alienating the uninformed is not an easy task but here Capcom have really pulled it off.
For all its fan service, though, Marvel Vs. Capcom is incredibly accessible, perhaps Capcom’s most accessible fighting game ever. A curious player that has been enticed into a game by the recognisable characters and flashy graphics will find themselves controlling some impressive onscreen action with very little practice. The control scheme has been stripped back and redefined, taking obvious inspiration from last year’s tragically overlooked Wii exclusive, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Gone are the separate punch and kick buttons of varying strength, now we simply have three standard attack buttons – Light, Medium and Heavy. This can be a little jarring at first but the idea is very simple and works very well. Kicks and punches are used as they are needed. If a traditional special move required a punch then you just do the motion and press the required strength, Bob’s your uncle, Dragon Punch in Spidey’s face! Same goes for traditional kick based moves. Ryu’s hurricane kick? Quarter circle backward and any of the attack buttons… Tatsumaki Senpuu-Kyaku all up in Dante’s grill.
With less standard attack buttons come easier basic combos in the shape of the chain combos system. Just about every standard attack can be followed up with the next highest strength attack to form a simple combo. Start with a light attack then medium followed by heavy, once you have that down start finishing the combo string off with a special move. It’s simple and satisfying.
You also have two buttons that relate to your other team members. The assist buttons are pretty simple; tap it and that team member will hop in to help you out with whatever assist move you selected when you chose them from the character select screen. These vary greatly from a simple fireball to a move that will help fill your hyper meter. Holding the assist button will tag that member in for you to control, sending your currently active member off for a rest. Currently tagged out members have their assist button overlaid on the portrait next to the health bars, a nice touch for when you lose track of who’s who.
Right, I know I said the controls were simple but there is one more button and it’s potentially the best one! It’s had a few names over the course of the game’s development. I’ve heard it called Exchange, Launcher, Special, Air Combo and Aerial. Let’s call it the Aerial button for now. Hitting this will perform a heavy upwards attack that launches your opponent into the air. Pressing up immediately afterwards will send you soaring up to meet them where you can mash out a chain combo on their limp body. Press it again and you smash them back into the ground. It’s essentially a simplified version of the Aerial Rave system in MvC2 and in keeping with the rest of the game it oozes style. Not cool sounding enough for you? Okay, it gets better during your aerial combo. You can hold up, towards or down and press the Aerial button again to switch out your team member mid-combo. Get your button timing right and you will seamlessly swap fighter; keep this up and with another air tag out you can swap a second time. I believe the young people would refer to this as SICK.
As complicated as all this sounds it really is very easy to pick up and if it’s all too much for you there is an even simpler control mode that can be selected to make things easier, perfect for kids who want to mash out some crazy action with ease. Although you should heed my warning: you will only scratch the surface of what is possible using simple mode.
Simple button layouts and easy air combos are all well and good but they belie a complex fighting system under the hood. Put in the time and effort and you will find yourself able to perform amazing combos and seemingly endless chains of hyper combos. One such mechanic is the X-Factor system. Pressing all four of the attack buttons at once will give your fighters a red glow; during this time you will heal back any partially lost life and gain a speed and damage boost relative to how close you are to death. A nice comeback move to keep things interesting but it can also be used to interrupt the animation from some moves. Throw out a massive hyper combo and before it finishes you can perform the input for one of your partner’s hyper combos to have them jump in and continue in your place; you can then do this again with your third partner, but with X-Factor you can interrupt your hyper and before your opponent recovers you can trigger a second. Follow this with two partner hypers and you’ve just pulled off FOUR in a row causing quite literally ‘Massive Damage’. With a bit of luck Capcom will have a training mode in the final game to help you perfect these techniques.
Before I wrap up I wanted to talk about my favourite cast members, or at least my favourites from the cast that have been announced at the time of writing this. In Street Fighter IV I usually play as either Ryu or Chun-Li and they are both present with some nice new tricks. Chun-Li is nice and fast with the potential to unleash a seemingly unending barrage of lighting leg attacks. Her move set is pretty standard but she fits well into the game and her hypers are easy to link together with X-Factor. Ryu seems to be very much like his Tatsunoko vs. Capcom incarnation, a solid fighter with all his classic moves, including his amazing SFIII donkey kick and the new ability to fire off his Hyper Hadoken in different directions. From the Marvel side I am obsessed with X-23, she’s a favourite superhero of mine and I was ecstatic when she was added to the roster. Having played with her I am not disappointed; she is lightning fast and has some amazing hypers. Her level 3 ‘Dirt Nap’ hyper combo seems almost unfairly brutal. She has a permanent place on my team.
A special mention should also go to Okami’s Amaterasu. Capcom has done an amazing job fitting her into the game, it seems like it shouldn’t work but it does. She is able to switch between her different elemental weapons to mix up her move set and keep her opponent on their toes. Her Cold Star assist is excellent with the potential to freeze your opponent in place or when blocked keep them blocking while you setup your next attack.
That’s just four of the 30 or so announced characters. By the time you read this I suspect there may be even more announced with the potential for DLC characters to flesh out the final list.
To sum up this preview I can say with confidence that Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is an amazing game that will only get better as it nears its release date. I played in excess of 100 hours before writing this preview and I could go on talking about it for pages, but that would risk me spoiling all the surprises this game has in store. 100 hours is not enough and I cannot wait to play more with more people. I relish watching the pitiful skills I have developed be outclassed within a few days of release by players performing techniques I never even dreamed of. Don’t wait for the reviews, get your pre-orders in now because we have a smash hit on our hands. Marvellous.