Prepare to be confused, baffled and totally bewildered. Even if you’re not given to pondering why the Incredible Hulk might want to lay the smackdown on Streetfighter’s Ryu in a Resident Evil laboratory, or why Wolverine might pick a fight with Devil May Cry’s Dante on a New York rooftop (with Viewtiful Joe providing back-up) you might still find playing Marvel vs Capcom 3 overwhelming. This is unquestionably the biggest, loudest and most spectacular beat-em-up in town. It’s also one of the most difficult - initially - to get your head around.
For a start, while other beat-em-ups come packed with brutal special moves and vicious strings of combos, Marvel vs Capcom 3 just does things bigger. When you feature a cast of characters that are truly superhuman, you can only expect them to deliver knockout blows to match.
Sure, the Hulk likes to smash puny humans with his chunky green fists, but he’s even happier to knock them flying with a ground-rippling wave of destruction or leap into the skies and return with a mass of space rock to whack them with. Fill up your power gauge by chaining moves, pull both trigger buttons and you’ll see vast, seizure-triggering moves fill the screen, instantly reducing your opponent’s health bar and causing them to weep pitifully into their tea. To say it’s a fast-paced or busy game would be a drastic understatement. The average game contains so many eye-searing energy blasts and flashing, crashing, painful-looking blows that it ought to ship with a migraine warning. If you suspect you have epilepsy, consider Marvel vs Capcom 3 the ultimate test: if this doesn’t set it off, nothing beyond full-scale Armageddon ever will.
And to make it even more mind-boggling, it’s a tag-team fighter too. Whereas your Tekken or Streetfighter IV pits contender A against contender B in traditional mano e mano fashion, Marvel vs Capcom 3 features three on three action. Not only can one of your fighters tag another one in at any time, you can actually combine fighters for short periods, with the second warrior chiming in with a predetermined special move, or all three team-mates hitting together for one devastating super-combo. We’re talking about the kind of attack that drags health bars down from two-thirds to zero in a heartbeat, and with so many characters, combinations and powers at your disposal, it will be a long time before you’ve seen the best on offer.
If we’ve made it sound like the game is inaccessible, nothing could be further from the truth. While practised hands will always have the advantage, Marvel vs Capcom 3 is the kind of beat ‘em up that can forgive a little button mashing, and a special simple control mode makes it possible to pull off some of the more impressive combos with precious little skill or experience. Yet the game also scales up well, providing layers of strategy for the more committed player, and a decent challenge from the AI in the single-player arcade mode. It’s also a game that wants you to get better. On top of a basic training mode, Marvel vs Capcom 3 also has a challenge mode that tasks you with using specific moves to take down specific characters. Each character has their own set of missions to get through, and the more you play, the more bonus items and achievements you’ll unlock.
The character roster is arguably the game’s crowning glory. While nostalgia ensures that most gamers past and present have a soft spot for Streetfighter’s Chun-Li and Ryu, Resident Evil’s Chris Redfield and Wesker or Devil May Cry’s Dante and Trish, just about everyone knows Spider-Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Wolverine and Magneto. Each side also brings us more obscure figures; whether Okami’s Ameratsu and Ghosts and Goblins’ Arthur on the Capcom benches, or villains M.O.D.O.K. and Dormammu on the Marvel team. You can mix and match as much as you like, with each combination bringing new styles and tactics into play. Only time will tell whether certain characters prove to be weak or overpowered, but at the moment our feeling is that Capcom has got it just about right. For every hero or villain, there’s a style that works or another character that can provide an effective foil.
Like all beat-em-ups, Marvel vs Capcom 3 is best enjoyed with some mates, some pizza and a beer or two sitting on the same sofa in front of the same TV screen, but sadly that’s not always possible. Luckily, Capcom has carried over its online experience from Streetfighter IV, and it’s relatively easy to find quick games against challengers of roughly equivalent skill and level up (experience in the single player mode still counts). Beware: if you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll inevitably get, as the youngsters like to say these days, “pwned”, but it really doesn’t matter. Keep learning, keep coming back, and your record will improve. We did experience some lag and dropped fights during testing, but as the only available opponents are mostly in America or Asia at the time of writing, we’re hopeful that this won’t be the case when the game launches here.
Needless to say, the presentation is exemplary. Capcom has taken the basic hybrid 2D/3D style from Streetfighter IV and given it a very slick, comic-book sheen, with arguably the most amazing background scenery ever seen in a fighting game, and beautifully animated fighters who could have strode straight off the pages of a recent Marvel title. In action, it’s a beautiful piece of work, and everything, from the music to the sound effects to the menus, measures up. Being picky, we might have liked a little more in the way of a storyline to tie it all together - but then, really, how on Earth could you bring all these characters together in a faintly believable way? Let’s just say that they’re all feeling mean and want a scrap, and leave it at that.
And did we mention that Galactus is the end of game boss? Or that he’s the biggest, hardest git you’ll ever meet? Well, we guess that we probably should.
Marvel vs Capcom 3 is not as flawless a fighter as StreetFighter IV. Purists will deride its forgiving attitude to button mashing, its relative lack of precision and its ludicrously hyped-up combos. Yet, for the ordinary Joe, this is quite possibly the most enticing beat-em-up of this generation, just because it tries so hard to keep you dazzled with eye-candy and bombarded with comic-book brilliance. You don’t even have to be a Marvel or Capcom fan to see this as the best beat-em-up to come along since Streetfighter IV.