Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds Review (Xbox360)

With the success of Street Fighter IV spearheading a new second golden age for the fighting game genre it’s only natural that Capcom would want to revisit what is arguably the second most important string in its fighting game bow – the Marvel crossover titles.

To someone who hasn’t seen those games before, a title like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 will seem incredibly incomprehensible – you’ll see The Hulk facing off against Amaterasu, the wolf sun goddess from Capcom’s Okami and Magneto fighting Metro City Mayor Mike Haggar, who hails from the Final Fight series.

There's plenty of familiar heroes and moves on display.

Past the crazy character line-up, the gameplay also looks downright crazy to boot. There’s an epilepsy warning about flashing lights and rapidly changing images before the game even hits the menu screen, and with good reason – lasers, explosions and characters jumping in and out of the fray make it interesting to watch but difficult to follow for newcomers.

The beauty of Street Fighter IV is the simplicity it has – it’s a game where if you can jump in and mash some buttons and throw a fireball and bust out a dragon punch you can have fun with the majority of the cast of the game – but if you are better at the game you will have a ton of extra skills at your disposal. To use a well-known phrase it’s easy to learn, but difficult to master.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tries to replicate some of that success with a ‘Simple’ control option as well as the traditional controls that give you full-on control. In the ‘Normal’ control setup there are four main attack buttons – Light, Medium, Heavy and Special, and those four attacks can be chained together in that order almost universally across the cast.

Special moves such as fireballs and dashes forwards are trigged by the traditional joystick inputs that any fighting game fans will be familiar with plus specific button presses, and even without individual punch and kick buttons the commands to use Ryu’s most famous moves were easy for me to figure out and use without consulting the manual.

The basic combo for almost every character in the game will be to go L-M-H-S, which then launches them into the air – and the combo can even be continued by following them into the air and pressing the same inputs again if you get the timing right. The air combos from Marvel vs. Capcom 2 return here, meaning after that L-M-H combo in the air you can actually tap out using the special button and exchange to another character who will then continue the combo with the same buttons. The end result is a game of tennis between your three chosen characters as you smack the opponent back and forth – though there are of course ways for them to tech out of such juggling.

When hitting the Special button to change characters mid-air you have to hold a direction to indicate how you’re going to hit them for the other character to pick up – and the person being juggled simply has to guess which direction you’re holding and hold it themselves and hit special to break away. It’s a simplification of the system from MvC2, and one that works wonderfully.

That’s the four main buttons covered, but MvC3 is still a six button game like most fighters. The final two buttons are covered by controlling your other playable cast members. Each fight sees you choose three characters from the cast of heroes, and hitting each of the remaining buttons will call them into the battle to do a single move and then disappear once more.

Pressing and holding the button will see your character switch to that person completely, giving the character you were playing a rest and a chance to heal some (but not all) of their damage and giving you a different character to battle with. Like any fighting game there are good and bad match-ups for every character, so if your opponent busts out someone your current hero isn’t going to be very effective against you can easily tag out to another character with a press of a button.

End boss Galactus is a sizable – and cheap – dude

As someone who has poured a great many hours into Street Fighter IV it was hard to adjust to the four button system and the L-M-H combos, but in the end it works quite well. It simplifies a game that moves incredibly fast but still leaves scope for a large amount of skill to determine who will win battles.

There’s a five-level meter at the bottom of the screen that determines when special moves – Hyper Combos – can be used, and these can be tagged in and out of in a similar way as everything else. You can follow up a gigantic fireball from Ryu with some brutal face-and-neck stabbing from Wolverine without the opponent having a chance to block if you follow it up correctly. You can also trigger the Hyper Combos of all three characters at once, which looks pretty damn awesome.

The ‘Simple’ Control method tones things down by giving you one attack button for your combos which automatically cycles between the important things to combo and turns the others into dedicated buttons for special moves and hyper combos. It’s a nice addition – sort of reminiscent of the iPhone version of Street Fighter IV – but really this system doesn’t do what the simple mode should do – and that is help you to learn the game to transition to Normal mode.

What Capcom do include is a training mode which lets you wail on infinite-health opponents of your choosing with settings to change their behaviour to stand still or fight back or whatever else you wish. There are some nice settings in there to simulate things like Network Lag online, too, and so this feels like a lightly upgraded version of the Training Mode seen in Street Fighter IV, which was quite serviceable.

There’s also a Mission Mode which is meant to serve the purpose of teaching you important combos and movements for each character in the game, but the manner in which this is set up is less than satisfactory. You’re dumped into the mode with the name of a move or a string of moves above your head and expected to perform it on the spot – without the inputs listed.

It takes two button presses to bring up the inputs, as you have to pause the game and bring up the detailed instructions. This may sound like I’m being ridiculous, but I really find it frustrating having to do that every time – would it have been that difficult to list the inputs right there in front of you instead of the move names, or to have an option to switch between the two? In short, it’s disappointing.

Past those modes there’s the traditional fighting game single player – six stages against CPU opponents and a boss fight against Marvel’s Galactus at the end. Galactus is a cheap final boss with ridiculous moves, and sadly the ending cinematics for each character consist of two frames of gorgeous comic-book style artwork with a few lines of text. Again, it’s fine, but disappointing – I had expected more than just ‘fine’.

That’s true for a lot of MvC3, though. Online, where the game’s heart lies, there’s no spectator mode at all. Playing with friends I found myself staring at a menu screen while they battled waiting for my turn, watching some – to quote a friend – “gamer cards beating the crap out of each other.” Capcom say they’re patching this in, but why wasn’t it present at launch? It seems like a massive, hugely disappointing oversight. The fact that Super Street Fighter IV had a full-blown spectator mode and replay channel only pours salt into that wound.

Multiplayer is what this game is about, and while I had a few issues getting into games (here’s a tip – hit custom match and not quick match) when you do get in the netcode is solid and means the fact your opponent can be hundreds or thousands of miles away isn’t an issue. If you hate waiting for a game to show up, the Fight Request system makes a return, which lets you play single player matches until it finds you a ‘challenger’.

Things get busy often – but you'll learn to keep track.

There’s a lot about Marvel vs Capcom 3 that’s disappointing, but in the end there’s too much in here that’s good to make me really want to be really hard on it. The most important thing, the core gameplay, is absolutely brilliant, and while it isn’t quite as easy to jump into as Street Fighter IV, an hour or so and anyone should be able to play relatively competently.

Pile that on top of the great offline multiplayer experience, the depth of the character line-up, some superb music, great-looking comic book style presentation in gameplay and menus and plenty of self-referential and depreciative humour and there’s an awful lot to like here. Some of the mistakes Capcom have made are very disappointing, but even then there’s no denying that this is a great game.

Note: Marvel vs Capcom 3 was extensively tested with both regular controllers and the Hori Wireless Fighting Stick 3.

Top Game Moment: Properly, truly nailing somebody with a 100+ hit combo for the first time online. A watershed moment for me.