Intellecual property crossovers and convergences are nothing new. We’ve had Mortal Kombat square up against DC Comics, Aliens meeting Predators and the union of the Mario and Sonic universes.
However, when Capcom are involved things tend to be a little different. They treat the subject matter with a great deal of care, attention to detail and respect. This approach invariably leads to some wonderfully crafted and rightfully celebrated games. Games that are usually meet with cries of joy from the Kingdom of Geek as age old forum flame wars revolving around who would win a fight between Devil May Cry’s Dante and X-Men’s Magneto, or Street Fighter’s Ryu and Marvel’s Dr Doom, can finally be settled.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Capcom vs. SNK and the two previous Marvel vs. Capcom games (not to mention the upcoming Street Fighter x Tekken) typify the Japanese publisher’s commitment to creating top-notch crossovers. It’s an approach that other game companies – indeed, other entertainment companies in general (Hollywood, we’re looking at you)- could most certainly learn from.
This same approach is prevalent in Marvel vs. Capcom 3; from the wonderfully detailed arenas to the pixel-perfect character art and animations, everything oozes authenticity to the extent that you’d be forgiven for thinking that Capcom created these Marvel characters themselves.
In order to couple the authenticity with equality, the assembled cast have had to undergo either a sharpening or a blunting of their abilities; depending on their starting ability/strength level. For example, a ‘real life’ Chris Redfield is unlikely to last more than a few seconds in a confined space with an angry Hulk or determined Thor. Thanks to some subtle and well-balanced tweaks from the designers though, in the world of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Mr. Resident Evil more than holds his own.
What’s impressive is that this levelling out of the playing field has been achieved without making any individual seem too under- or over-powered. With many matches under my belt I’m still not sure of what the best partnership is and I therefore tend to plump for those that I liked coming into the game based on prior exposure to them through their primary media/franchise (FYI, I tend to gravitate towards Ryu, Wolverine and Morrigan).
What’s slightly annoying is that any skills you’ve acquired with fighters from other Capcom titles don’t really translate here. Accomplished Ryu players from SFIV, for example, are going to have to teach themselves Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s Ryu all over again; trying to knock out the same Dragon Punches, Hadouken’s and jumping-kick-into-low-kick’s just doesn’t work. In part this is due to the increased pace and team-assist focused gameplay but, it’s equally a result of the simplified control scheme.
Whereas Street Fighter provides you with six attack buttons (light, medium, hard punch and kick), here you get only three basic offensive inputs; hard, medium and light attack. While it’s still possible to pull off long chains of skilfully choreographed combos, the manner in which they’re performed is very different from the well defined conventions that the bulk of 2D fighters largely adhere to. Combine this with the unrelenting, frantic pace of proceedings and even genre veterans can find themselves at the red end of the power bar.
While it may not be the easiest game to master, it’s certainly easy to trick onlookers (and yourself) into believing that you know what you’re doing. Button mashers rejoice because pulling off breathtaking, screen engulfing explosions of pyrotechnic excess is in no way linked to your skill level. This is game that is desperate for you (and it) to look good at all times. Never before will videogame spectators be so simultaneously impressed and mystified by events on-screen as they will be here.
This ease of creating the spectacular creates a bit of a problem when it comes to sorting the men form boys though. As it’s not the easiest game to initially get to grips with (to the point where you know what’s going ot happen being you do it), the button mashing contingent have already, from my online experience thus far, found the beat ‘em up for them as they’re able to look good, and achieve a degree of success, without needing to train themselves in the way of fighter as one needs to do in the likes of Guilty Gear, Street Fighter or BlazBlue.
Hopefully, the novelty factor of being able to fight as Spider-Man and Viewtiful Joe will soon wear thin and these players will move on but, until the dedicated set hone their skills, expect many such encounters online; encounters usually punctuated with the kind of primitive trash-talking you’d expect to hear from someone with an IQ equivalent to that of Paris Hilton’s toilet seat.
If you can get past the initial struggle of learning the game’s systems and techniques though, the rewards are plentiful as you marry your skills with the beautifully controlled chaos taking place on screen. The deep joy and satisfaction in tweaking your team, perfecting air juggling combos and beating all comers is more than worth the required investment and only the most jaded of beat ‘em up gamers will fail to see the beauty in what is on offer here.
Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, perhaps put off by its focus on technical skill and precise inputs, you can still have an enormous amount of fun by selecting your favourite characters, selecting ‘Simple’ mode and watching the screen light up as you perform the game’s most damaging attacks with a single button. While the hardcore fight crowd are sure to baulk at such an inclusion, the fact that Capcom are trying to open the genre up to an audience beyond the already converted is admirable (even if that does lead to the aforementioned button-masher problem).
While Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is not going to distract the competitive Street Fighter IV crowd for long, it largely succeeds in what it has set out to do. It manages to marry some fairly technical play without completely alienating newbies, it manages to blend unique sets of characters into one clearly defined whole and, it always looks good doing it. With its concessions to ‘amateurs’ and its disregard for convention it might not be the easiest game for genre veterans to fall for but it’s charm and good looks mostly make up for it.