My Street Fighter IV arcade stick has seen a lot of wear and tear, despite me modding it with the kind of components you'd see in actual arcades. It's also suffered when my son has mistaken it for a new toy from Fisher Price, yet it's never looked as worn out as it does after my many hours with Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds.
But despite my aching hands, and a joystick that has seen better days, I'm still a bit confused about how good Capcom's latest fighting game really is - every time I think I've figured it out, the game throws me a curve ball and I have to learn something new. But let's start out a bit more down to earth.
Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is Capcom's attempt to re-establish the series in the same way they did with the phenomenal Street Fighte IV. Compared to Street Fighter, the Marvel vs Capcom-series has always relied more on wild combo attacks, explosions that fill up the entire screen and colorful super attacks similar to the comics that have inspired half of the character selection. The formula is the same this time around, which means you can fill up your three-man team with characters like Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, Phoenix, Thor and Wolverine. And if you don't like superheroes, you can always pick and choose from Capcom's most popular heroes - like Ryu, Chun-Li, Dante from Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Akuma and Chris Redfield from Resident Evil.
Many of these characters have never been seen in a fighting game before, but their abilities from their own games have still been translated to fit the genre. For example, Viewtiful Joe can call upon Six Machine and use his VFX-powers, while Chris Redfield can pull out the guns, grenades and rocket launchers he usually uses to fight zombies in the Resident Evil-games. A lot of work has been put into making the characters work differently from each other, as well as keeping them true to the comics or games they originally come from, which means they are all fun to try out. Somehow they all fit in - a testament to the hard work that's been put into the game.
Marvel vs Capcom 3 can be played in two different ways. While picking a difficulty level in other games simply means that you suddenly take more damage, here it becomes more or less two different games. The "easy" mode means an experience where you really don't have to do anything except picking your characters, hammer away on the buttons and see the massive explosions fill the screen while the combo-counter desperately tries to keep up. Comic fans that don't have a background in fighting games will probably enjoy this mode, while others might find it a bit too automated.
If you go for the normal difficulty, and think that you'll be able to keep up because you've played other games in the genre... Well, get ready to have your cute virtual ass handed to you. You'll have no problem winning a couple of fights, but before long you'll face opponents that literally won't let your team touch the ground before the fight is over. While air juggling (the art of hitting an opponent and keep him or her defenseless in the air while dealing as much damage as possible) is usually seen as an advanced move, here it's a normal and necessary technique to learn.
It doesn't end with air juggles, of course. You'll have to learn techniques like air cancels, combo tagging, X-factors, hyper combos and many others. Unless you have a lot of experience with the series it might seem like a daunting task. Luckily, Capcom has included character-specific training missions, which give you a good introduction to what your chosen characters can do. The only drawback is that the game won't show you how to do the different moves you're supposed to use, instead simply telling you their names.
The more time you spend on Capcom's latest game, the more obvious it will become that "balance" hasn't been a key word during development. In fact, balance has always been lacking from the Marvel vs Capcom-series, and the developers have never denied that they have been aiming for a spectacular experience. As fun as that can be, it can also lead to a lot of frustration for the player that takes the time to learn the game's many techniques only to see them countered by a character that relies more on cheap tricks - Arthur, Chris Redfield and Modok all spring to mind.
That's why I'm confused. There's so much I like about Marvel vs Capcom 3, but there's also so much that frustrates me. I love the chaos, the fighting system and the graphics - at the same time I hate how unbalanced it can be and the many cheap characters that have deliberately added to the roster. I truly enjoy throwing an opponent into the air to start a combo, switch to another character to keep the attack going and then finish it with a hyper combo from my third team member. In the same way I often feel like shutting down my console when I got more or less my whole team obliterated by a long combo I have no chance to break. Capcom also stays true to the tradition of including a final boss so annoying that he might as well just have been Seth from Street Fighter IV.
Of all the fighting games Capcom has made, the Marvel vs Capcom-games have always been the ones I've had a hard time understanding and I've often switched over to Darkstalkers, Street Fighter Alpha 2 or Street Fighter IV instead. That has changed with Marvel vs Capcom 3, though. Despite my moments of pure frustration with it, there's at least some depth here that hasn't been hidden behind all the explosions and chaos. I suppose I better order some new parts for my poor arcade stick...
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