Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review: Marvel vs Capcom 3

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 strikes me as an emotionally polarizing game in the sense that its fans seemingly loved it and its makers seemingly despised working on it. You’d have to loathe the action-packed, explosion-fueled anime violence-fest fighting game you were developing to have included such grating lounge jazz music and the carnival motif stage. That game rather haphazardly threw just about every other set of character sprites from all of the Versus games with no regard to resolution quality or balance. The end result was something of a cluttered, convoluted mess that fans still made themselves play for over a decade.

Despite the dreadful-on-all-fronts audio and how only 3-5 characters functioned on a competitive level (with one being a giant purple robot), people still loved the frantic, super fast, motor-skills-pushing action. And even if you’re the kind of person that thinks Evo is a Super Nintendo RPG about dolphins with razorblades, the game still had the appeal of letting you pit together comic book hero dream teams in a violent cartoon deathmatch. Want to see Wolverine match wits from the mummy from Darkstalkers? If you didn’t before, it’s because your childhood was deprived of Darkstalkers and for that, I feel sorry for you.

Proving that tenacity pays off sooner or later, the people who have spent the last decade lavishly and begrudgingly playing Marvel vs. Capcom 2 have been rewarded with a sequel developed by people that actually seem to enjoy the work they put into it. In fact, it seems like the folks who made Marvel vs. Capcom 3 seem to like that game for some of the wrong reasons. Within the training menu screen, there is a remix of the last game’s “Take you for a ride” theme song. The Sentinel not only makes a return, but returns in its purple form, complete with “strike a dramatic finger poke pose and summon mini-sentinels” super attack. The game’s new announcer has repeatedly threatened to take me for a ride. I don’t think these are the aspects of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 that people look back upon with admiration. Though the parts of that game that people do admirably look back upon fondly are still very present.

You still assemble teams of three heroes to battle someone else’s team of three heroes. The heroes can still throw fireballs the size of the laser blast that destroyed Alderaan. Your teammates can still make appearances in battle to insert their own sets of Alderann-blasting lasers. There are still air combos that garner more hits than most video game user reviews. Shuma Gorath is slated to be downloadable content. So yeah, everything you like about Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is very much present.

The 36 character roster consists of both popular favorites and my personal favorites. You’ll get your Spidermans and Wolverines and Ryus and Dantes and such. But then the game impresses you with unlikely surprises like recent comic book leather freak X-23 or Viewtiful Joe (of Viewtiful Joe and Viewtiful Joe 2 fame). There isn’t an Amingo in the bunch, as nearly every character seems to make sense within the setting.

The characters have similar enough input command sets (almost everything is a quarter-circle motion) as to not make any individual character too inaccessible, but each one feels distinct enough to not be labeled the cheap imitation of a Street Fighter character. Super Skrull fights in a way that you’d expect Super Skrull to fight (which is to say that he could handedly wipe out the Fantastic Four unless they used the power of teamwork to overcome.) MODOK fights in the way that you’d expect MODOK to fight (which is to say that he doesn’t fight well).
Likewise, the controls have been worked in a way to reduce the amount of memorization needed to figure out a character.

Punches and kicks have been stripped down to three different attack strength buttons and a single “launch the sucker in the air” button. Basic combos tend to be executed by rolling through buttons from weak to strong, and thus the intimidation of learning elaborate ten-button sequences is gone. I’d consider myself something of an intermediate-level player, someone who’s competent enough to not mash the pretty buttons and hope for flashy things to happen, so Marvel vs Capcom 3 is perfect for someone of my play level.

Really, the biggest issue I found with the game is that it the purple Sentinel extends his giant mechanical middle finger at beginners. There is no tutorial to explain the various controls and gameplay systems. I didn’t even learn how to tag in and out my partners until a chance finger slip. I’ve been teaching a friend of mine the basics of Street Fighter 4 for about a month now. We played a single session of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the rapid pace of which Wolverine darted around the screen slashing fools was so overwhelming that she swore off the game after a single round. I’ve since been trying to ease her into concepts like Hyper Combos and chain air combos. It’s a slow process, and I wish the game would do this stuff for me.

Likewise, the game does little to teach players how to up their game to that proverbial next level. The “Mission” mode is similar to the one in Street Fighter 4 in that it gives the player a set combo to learn, but doesn’t present an option to let the AI demonstrate the very combo. Mind you, the internet YouTubiverse does an adequate enough job of covering that base, but You Tube will only do so much to help you at a competitive level. People playing this game online right now are good…really good. Really good as in, they’ll air combo you while eating a bologna and Swiss cheese sandwich good.

I don’t know how imbalanced the game really is, but it seems from my experience that the only recurring character is Albert Wesker (which could have more to do with the competitive scene relating to a trenchcoat-wearing creeper than anything else) so that’s enough of a step up from the Sentinel/Storm/Magneto days of past.
It feels like a lot of the online woes from the game’s launch have been ironed out. You can comfortably search for a ranked game and wind up finding it, a problem that plagued the game early on. And it seems as though the game looks specifically for players of similar win/loss records, and thus there comes a point where you’ll find players of similar expertise (and the occasional Wesker-fueled thrashing). While Super Street Fighter 4 has more robust online options, there’s enough here to last until the inevitable Super Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It’s nice that the option to look for online matches while you play Arcade mode is back, and it’s hilarious how impossible it is to finish a single Arcade mode match without a New Challenger interrupting the proceedings.

About the Arcade Mode; it’s a fighting game arcade mode. You fight computer-controlled opponents of underwhelming intelligence, then you fight a visually impressive but intellectually underwhelming battle with Galactus, then you get two screens and some text’s worth of an ending. I shamefully wasted a lot of time unlocking all of the endings and I can tell you that there are three kinds; “good guy admirably saves the day”, “bad guy is going to take over the world” and “some witty rib on the character”. I would say that you should go out of your way to see how Deadpool, Spider-Man and Hagger’s journey ends, and not too many other characters.
Honestly, I think the best part of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is simply how it allows me to never have to play Marvel vs. Capcom 2 again. Here is a game with a very strong visual consistency (which is to say that you are consistently bombarded with giant laser blasts that look awesome) and a soundtrack that doesn’t have any god-awful jazz music.

Sure, the Sentinel is still kind of way-too-powerful, but this game’s Sentinel seems to exist as a parody of the Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Sentinel, and I’m cool with that. So I think this game works great for people like me that want a version of smarter, more tolerable Marvel vs. Capcom 2. This is a very fast, very energized and exciting can of whoop ass and very different from the current sect of fighting games on the market.