Street Fighter + Resident Evil + Spider-Man + X-Men = Awesome?
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is an incredibly flashy, fun and kinetic fighting game, one that contains an unbelievable amount of depth. Beloved characters return to the fold while new arrivals, though bearing their own signature styles, have some similarities to classics that didn't make the cut. MvC3 also manages to dig up some very obscure Marvel and Capcom heroes and villains, which will no doubt please longtime fans of both worlds. Less impressive, however, is the lack of diversity when it comes to the game's modes. If you're looking for an expansive, varied fighting game experience, it's nowhere to be found.

This third entry in the MvC series attempts to be the same addicting game as its predecessor. We're still talking about three-on-three battles, complete with the overly-exaggerated hyper combos that we all know and love. If you're eager to cast fireballs the size of your HDTV, this is the game for you. The basic elements of tagging in partners or summoning them for brief attacks is still here, as is the notion of building up a special meter to execute particularly devastating moves.

The core mechanics for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 are at once fantastic, familiar and alien. The four main attack buttons have been remapped from two kicks and two punches to a set of light, medium, heavy and special attacks. Other notable alterations to fundamental controls include a common move to pop opponents into the air for combos, and a shift to calling in partners through the assist buttons instead of pressing punch and kick. It all sounds similar, but veterans will find themselves relearning many mechanics because of the changes. Ultimately the alterations help mature the franchise, removing needless complexity Ė the game has enough depth as it is.

The biggest change to the core game is the roster. Unlike its predecessor, which sported 56 playable characters, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 only gives you a roster of 36, four of which are locked when you start the game. While it's true that the basic format of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the same as before, the characters are largely different. Even the few who were also in MvC2 are different in subtle but significant ways. Combatants who seem to have no business in the game (X-23, anyone?) quickly prove fascinating. I found myself returning to them more than established veterans like Spider-Man and Ryu. Each character has its niche, and no two are alike. You'll never mistake Dormammu's ability to trap and manipulate player movement with the Hulk's more direct, physical style. Even characters that at first seem powerful, like Devil May Cry's Dante, fit well into the balanced roster.

Lose 20 characters, get Wesker. Fair trade?

What's important here is that this cast of fighters is diverse and incredibly entertaining. As you begin to master a character, you'll wonder how that set of abilities and attacks might mix and match with others. That's a true testament to Capcom's tireless efforts here, and it's also a true sign that the developer has succeeded in reviving this franchise. This game isn't perfect, but it got the most important elements right. However this raises the question of quality versus quantity. Compared with MvC2, we've lost 20 characters. Does the balance and diversity of this group compensate for that loss? In some ways it does. There is something very refreshing about seeing unconventional and original fighting archetypes enter a franchise this established. And yet it's undeniably disappointing that many favorites like Mega Man or Venom are nowhere to be seen.

The changes don't necessarily end with the roster. In addition to adding the ability to swap out characters during mid-air combos and adjusting the basic control scheme, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 also introduces the X-Factor mechanic, which boosts the speed and strength of characters. The concept seems simple until you consider every single fighter in the game is affected differently. Moreover, X-Factor activation cancels any attack, including hyper combos, allowing added creativity in combos and tactics. Like everything else in this game, what seems insignificant will take a long time to master.
While the Marvel vs. Capcom series is often thought of as a "button-mashing" game, it is anything but that, and a skilled player can quickly cut off a casual player at the knees. Yet it can still be incredibly difficult for the unfamiliar to adapt to the game's mind-numbing pace and move sets. But Capcom, in an effort to attract players who only want to play a few casual games and not worry about complexity, has introduced Simple Mode.

Simple Mode re-maps the three primary attack buttons to focus on special moves and abilities instead of strength-based punches or kicks. So instead of having three different punch/kick buttons, you'll now have one. Instead of having to memorize a series of inputs to execute a special attack, you can simply press one direction and one button. Want to use one of those devastating hyper combos? That's also just one button now. This streamlined approach does have its cost Ė most characters will lose access to several of their moves, including some of the most powerful in the game. It's a handicap that affords you easier, but not necessarily unfair, access to existing special moves.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has an incredible gameplay foundation that is familiar, fresh and skillfully assembled. Hardcore genre fans are certainly going to appreciate the careful construction here, particularly the fact that most of the roster is immediately available. The presence of an extensive training mode, as well as a "License" screen that collects statistics and allows you to "preset" three teams for quick use, will also certainly be popular. A full suite of online functionality is here, including the ability to play ranked and unranked matches as well as create lobbies for you, your friends and random players from across the globe. You can also allow impromptu challenges from online players while you play Arcade mode alone. At the time of this review, Capcom's servers were firing on all cylinders, and latency during combat wasn't an issue. With any luck the publisher has anticipated the demand that is about to come.

But for all its care in nailing the fundamentals, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 seems to be missing a lot from its total package. Over the years fighting games have added many extras that not only extend the life of the product but appeal to those who aren't necessarily going to want to spend 100 hours in Training mode mastering a half-dozen characters. The Simple Mode control scheme seems custom built for this mass market, but the rest of the game does not.

Prepare for one killer final boss.

What's a bit bizarre here is we've seen other Capcom games nail these extras. Outside of Mission Mode, which challenges you to execute various special moves and combos, there's not much to the game if you tire of the core battle experience. Even Marvel vs. Capcom 2 extended its life by allowing players to "purchase" characters using in-game points. Let's also not forget you have 20 less faces to look at when it comes time to select your team. MvC3 seems content with galleries of models and art, none of which are that interesting and most of which were debuted in the build-up to the game's release.

Where's Spectator Mode? Alternate victory conditions? Time Attack Mode? The ability to change costume colors, freeing you from the four that are preset? Crazy, unexpected bonus games? Extra stages? Behind-the-scenes footage? Survival Mode?

Several of the ideas I just listed were done by Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, which debuted over a year ago on Wii. Once you beat the Arcade Mode a few times, and have unlocked the four hidden characters, you'll find there's not much else to add to the experience. The core of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is incredible - but for many of you that's only going to go so far.

Closing Comments
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 doesnít disappoint as a fighting game, even after a decade of waiting. Itís very much the same insane concept we know and love, which isnít a bad thing. By drastically revising the roster, whatís old is definitely new again. The balance and depth in the game is astonishing, and even the odd characters have their distinct charms. Itís easy to lose hours and hours exploring team combinations and battle strategies. Graphically the game is solid, particularly when the action is at its most fierce. Some of the effects work and animation is stunning, despite a lack of detail because of the visual style that was implemented.

Whatís really a shame here is that the developer didnít manage to find a way to supplement the core experience with extras that would extend the life of the game by adding some variety to the package. If M.O.D.O.K. can be animated so that he presses different buttons on his keypad for every single move he performs, we should have a Survival Mode.