[3 April 2011]
The traditional fighting genre is clearly less prominent than it was before the arcade industry was all but dead. Long gone are the days when quarters went up above the tilted screens of cabinets, replaced by sitting on your couch, waiting for your turn in an online lobby. While the ability to play online has certainly caused a bit of a resurgence for the genre, compared to the early 2000s when internet play wasn’t prevalent and yet console gaming was still suffocating the arcades, it seems unlikely that fighting games will ever enjoy the prominence that they once had. This makes the release of high profile fighters salient, and in order to help keep the genre alive, making new entries in long running franchises approachable seems an important goal.
Fighting games are intended to be competitive, and like the best competitive games, it is critical that there is sufficient depth to keep players occupied for a long while. Tactics evolve as the community continues to play the game, and frame data is studied in order to determine the relative tactical advantage provided by various moves and combos as precisely as possible. But, of course, there’s a whole community of players that simply doesn’t care about that level of detail. As such, there has to be both layers of depth and some mechanism via which those of lesser skill can be at least somewhat competitive.
Though many fighting franchises feature self-contained mythologies and their own iconic cast, some of the most popular entries in the genre have featured actors from different properties, allowing for superfights between characters that haven’t appeared in the same game before. In the case of the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise, the combatants hail from completely separate mediums. The idea of populating a game with characters from both gaming and comic history, given the demographic crossover between fans of both, has always been a fantastic idea. Seeing Ryu fight Wolverine is just as fun now as it’s always been. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the first entry in the franchise in a decade and has been hotly anticipated by longtime fans and newcomers alike.
While the gameplay is fast and fun, there are a lot of changes from previous entries in the series, and neophytes have a relatively steep learning curve ahead of them, particularly if they are used to traditional fighting mechanics—though some concessions have been made for the sake of approachability. The design of Marvel vs. Capcom in general favors constant motion and frequent jumps, making for dazzling, if difficult to follow, encounters. Once the initial hump of comprehension of the game’s mechanics is overcome, much of a player’s time will be spent crafting the perfect combination of characters and assists to complement their play style. This phase is actually remarkably fun, and it’s easy to spend a good deal of time trying to find your favorite team.
There is an almost hyperbolically simple control mode available that takes all the subtlety out of attack mix ups, though most players are likely to stick with the normal mode. This scheme has also been simplified from Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in that there are not separate punch and kick buttons. The use of light, medium, and heavy attacks as opposed to distinct buttons for punches and kicks takes some getting used to—because it feels ambiguous. There’s something initially disconcerting about using the same button to unleash both Ryu’s fireball and hurricane kick, for example.
The online portion of the game is serviceable, though the inability to watch games that are taking place while waiting in a lobby for your turn is a gross oversight. It makes an already somewhat esoteric game style more difficult to pick up for series newcomers, in that they cannot observe what strategies work or learn anything about the play styles of future or past opponents. It seems possible that the absence of a spectator mode was a conscious decision, in order to reduce the bandwidth demands of the title as a whole, but it still seems a strange choice, particularly at odds with the simplification of the control scheme, a change clearly intended to make the game seems easy to pick up and play.
At the end of the day, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a good game, if you can wrap your mind around its particular brand of insanity. It somehow manages to be a fighter that’s intimidatingly deep without being extremely technical, and the latter of these qualities will undoubtedly turn off some fighting game aficionados. But the Marvel vs. Capcom series has always been more about spectacle than technique, despite MvC 2’s place in the history of the competitive fight game scene. For sure, there is a lot of strategy to be uncovered, but it’s concealed by layers of flair.