We’ve enjoyed some embarrassingly geeky conversations down the pub. Reminiscing about past deathmatch glories – a pint and a tale of mad rocket-jumping multiple quad frags in Quake’s ‘Bad Place’. Or a packet of pork scratchings while discussing who’d win a fight between Spiderman and the Hulk – which, fortuitously enough, is an argument you can settle in Marvel vs Capcom 3. Well, sort of.
You won’t like me when I’m angry
Spidey and the green meanie can definitely go toe-to-toe, but as veterans of this beat-’em-up series will know, this isn’t a game about individual superhero match-ups. It’s three-versus-three tag-team combat, with your trio of fighters chosen from the extensive roster of Marvel superheroes and characters from the Capcom universe. There are 36 in total, with the Capcom brawlers drawn from the likes of Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Final Fight and Bionic Commando.
Naturally, every character has strengths and weaknesses. Phoenix might be able to zip around flinging nasty fireballs and flame attacks at a rapid rate, but she has a painfully fragile health bar. Giant floating head MODOK has some great tricks at his disposal, such as the ability to deploy defensive shields, but his bread-and-butter attacks don’t do so much damage. The hulk is supremely tough and has strong punches and charge attacks – but he’s cursed with having to go home every night via Topshop to buy a whole new wardrobe.
Some fighters are more favoured than others. You’re likely to see Sentinel and Dante who more often, for instance, when playing against others online. But overall the developer has done a sterling job of balancing the characters. While some folks might well moan that Phoenix’s glass jaw makes her useless, she can be devastating in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing.
There’s no ‘I’ in team
This fighting game isn’t just about individual skills, but about the synergy of the entire team. Picking a trio of characters whose skills work well together is vital, and particularly those with complementary assist attacks. Assists can be triggered with the tap of a shoulder button, and they call in one of your team-mates to charge across the screen to deliver a one-off attack, before disappearing back onto the bench.
Knowing what assist to call and when adds a good dollop of strategy to Marvel vs Capcom 3. Despite being a fast-paced, action-packed fighting game, it pays to be tactical in your substitutions and assists. An assist called at a bad time can get the helping team-mate seriously injured – if they get hit by an opponent’s attack, particularly a hyper-attack, they’ll take 150% damage. Clever, thoughtful play is rewarded, and although the temptation is initially loaded towards button-mashing when combat gets frenetic, blocking and building combos is what brings home those victories.
Of course, with these layers of depth comes a learning curve that isn’t for the faint of thumb (never mind heart, it’s your digits that will suffer on the joypad here). Mastering the moves of just three chosen characters, and their interactions, takes quite some time. Having said that, the control system is pretty streamlined, and after some practice the impressive combos begin to come. Those who find it all too much will be interested to learn that Capcom has introduced a mode to make the game more accessible.
Simple mode, as the name suggests, boils everything down to the basics. The player doesn’t have to worry about complex stick-swivelling motions to pull off the fancy special moves, as the game automatically triggers these on the end of normal attacks. The trade-off is that some of the hyper-attacks aren’t available on this easy setting, so a skilled player will have access to a more powerful range of options.
The fact that simple mode can be used in online matches is somewhat controversial, but it doesn’t turn you into a god. This isn’t a game in which button-mashers are ever going to win against someone with even an ounce of skill – though there is the potential argument that in a bout with a bad connection, a normal player will struggle with more demanding moves due to lag, with a simple mode user being far less hindered.
However, this is a pretty minor issue in our book, and we had some pretty smooth connections in our online scraps. What’s slightly more problematic is the range of options available to the player who doesn’t want to get stuck into online combat.
Short on single-player content
When it comes to single-player options, there are just training exercises, and the standard ‘versus’ and arcade modes here. The trouble with the latter is that it’s a pretty short campaign – although at least the end boss is something pretty special: Galactus, the demi-god devourer of planets. Lose to this mighty galactic giant, and he chomps the Earth.
One final minor criticism is that the unrelenting action can get overly hectic – particularly when both sides have assist characters charging in and multiple specials exploding in balls of flame, columns of electricity and so on. All these effects can be rather disorienting when combined, and it’s certainly possible to lose track of what’s happening for a moment.