2011 seems to be the year for ending the long hiatus. Duke Nukem Forever is finally dropping in May, Kid Icarus is seeing its first Western release in a decade, and Marvel vs. Capcom returns after eleven years without a new game. It seems that after such a long time, the Marvel vs. Capcom team has learned a few things about making a balanced fighting game while still keeping the chaos and fun at unrivaled highs.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds starts off with an entertaining opening video depicting matchups ranging from intriguing (Morrigan vs. Iron Man) to ridiculous (Chris Redfield vs. Hulk), culminating with the arrival of Dormammu (a classic and powerful Dr. Strange villain). Not much explanation is given to the story. The Marvel characters are fighting the Capcom characters, though the final encounter with Galactus would imply they are all facing a common threat. Endgame movies are given based on which character deals the killing blow to The Devourer of Worlds, though they are only a couple pieces of art with some comic-book style exposition, mostly non-sequiturs. So Marvel vs. Capcom 3 isn’t great on story, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great.
What makes or breaks a fighting game – of course – is the fighting. Whereas Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was sorely unbalanced which led to players only using a few characters most of the time, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has worked to provide a much more balanced experience. This has even resulted in the loss of several playable characters that have been staples of the franchise like Cyclops and Megaman. Still, Fate of Two Worlds comes with 36 playable characters and already has a couple more on the way through DLC. Knowing Capcom, even more are surely in the works like Frank West, who was cut from the final roster.
Controls have been simplified and deepened at the same time. Special moves are almost all executed through some variation of Ryu’s classic move set, often giving low, medium, and high variants depending on which attack button is used in the execution of the move. For newcomers to the franchise or even fighting games in general, a simple combat mode is available that maps special moves to single button presses. Don’t think it gives an advantage, though; it greatly decreases the number of moves and length of combos at your disposal. So while it welcomes the newer players, you won’t last a Marvel minute online using simple controls.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 puts special emphasis on aerial combos, dedicating one attack button to launching enemies in the air. Aerial combos can be extended simply by pressing the attack buttons and a direction, tagging in other characters in mid-air. These combos can be countered if you can simply guess the direction your opponent is pressing in their combo. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 adds one more wildcard to the mix with the X-Factor. By pressing all four attack buttons at once, the character gets a temporary boost to speed and defense. The X-Factor also resets any animations in progress, so you can bounce back from a nasty combo quickly or even combo two hyper-combos together if you’re really good. The duration of the X-Factor is proportional to how many teammates you’ve lost, so it can really reverse fortunes at the end of a match.
While the mechanics and features in the fights are welcome, the game falls short of its big brother, (Super) Street Fighter IV when you go beyond the fights. There is no replay or recording feature of any kind, so you cannot save your best fights for posterity. Ranked and player matches work great with no lag or glitching, but the heralded 8-player lobbies consist of two people fighting while everybody else just watches life meters decrease and chats amongst themselves waiting their turn. This really means six people are bored while two are fighting. At least if you could watch the matches, that would be something.
Mission mode tasks you with completing specific combos for the different characters, but doesn’t provide you with the ability to watch the combos in action before performing them. It can also sometimes ask you to perform combos so long they don’t all fit on the screen at once, making the trial and error nature of mission mode even more trying. Training mode is also available for beating up on varying levels of helpless computer opponents and an unofficial versus CPU mode is even buried in the settings of training mode.
The art style and graphics for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 are great, taking appropriate cues from comic books. Colors are bright and vivid with bold black lines depicting shadows. The stages are few, but details renderings of classic Marvel and Capcom locations like Asgard and Kattelox Island. Character animations are fluid and distinct, with fighting styles that really fit character types, including those never to have appeared in a fighting game. The framerate is solid. Fate of Two Worlds is frenetic and fun, but never hard to follow, even with all the characters tagging in and out.
The sound design is well done, particularly the little contextual voice touches. It seems nearly every pairing of characters have something to say to each other and even their short victory speeches seem to change depending on who they dealt the final blow to. Iron Man besting Captain America results in him saying “It’s like Civil War all over again.” The X-Men all have something nasty to say when battling their nemesis, Magneto. The bantering between Dante and Trish is both funny and laced with innuendo. All the Capcom characters also come with toggles between English and Japanese voicing right from the start.
Sound effects are also well done, even in the normally cheesy menus Marvel vs. Capcom has always used. The menus are still cheesy, but not as blatantly annoying as in previous games. The music is also greatly improved. The music themes of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 don’t make me want to rip my ears off like many themes of the first two games did. The music team even went as far as to create different themes for all 36 characters.
With 36 characters arranged in any conceivable teams of three, the value of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is fairly deep. The arcade mode only takes 20 minutes to run through, but it’s not like you’ll only do it once. Versus play is where most people spend the bulk of their time anyway, and despite the lack of replay, hours can easily be lost in matches with friends and enemies both online and offline.
At the end of the day, Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is where fun and chaos meet and make a baby, but it doesn’t have the depth of more serious fighting games. What it lacks in depth, it makes up in sheer fun. The over-the-top hyper combos and larger-than-life characters make for an explosive fighting game experience more akin to Super Smash Bros. than Street Fighter, but that’s just the way we like it.