Review: Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

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Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 stirs up a lot of conflicting emotions inside my gamer geek heart. I don’t fault Capcom for releasing yearly updates to its fighting game franchises. After all, fighting games are basically in the same boat as sports games, in that the only real room for evolution is through roster updates and balancing adjustments to the familiar formula of one-on-one fisticuffs. However, putting out a modified version of a game within a span of nine months and not even giving existing players the option to update through patches and paid DLC? That’s pushing it.

Unseemly as the process may be, it’s hard to argue with the results. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 takes everything that was so awesome about the initial version and ups the ante tenfold. This is a triumph of a fighting game, folks.

What’s new in this edition? Lots of stuff, actually. 12 fighters have been added to the roster – six per faction – to bring the total up to a beefy 48 iconic heroes and villains. Plus two more if you pay extra for Jill Valentine and Shuma-Gorath via DLC (nope, Capcom didn’t add those to the disc for some reason, but if you purchased them or any of the DLC costumes before you don’t have to buy them again). Three more if you throw in Galactus; however he is only playable in a separate bonus mode unlocked automatically for players with a save file from the original game still on their hard drive (otherwise he needs to be purchased by earning enough in-game player points). Still, playing as the cheap end-game boss for a change is devious fun, deep evil voice laughing at the puny mortals as you squash them like bugs.

What else? Oh, the stage count has been doubled – although sadly the new stages are re-skinned takes on older maps rather than completely original environments. For example, Bonne Wonderland is Kattelox Island with snow, Demon Village Redux is Demon Village with a black and white filter switched on, and Chaos at Tricell takes place in the Tricell laboratory, only the B.O.W.’s have escaped from their containment tubes and the wrecked lab is ablaze. A few different settings would have been nice. I mean, it’s not as if there’s a lack of source material to pull from. (I still want an Okami themed stage, dammit!)

By popular demand, online lobbies now support Spectator mode so players waiting their turn can actually watch the current match live rather than a dull graphic of rumbling health bars. All original characters have received rebalanced abilities and animations (though only serious competitive fighters are likely to notice them) and the X-Factor mechanic has been tweaked around a bit and can now be activated in mid-air for added versatility. The main menu has been reworked into a series of pages that you cycle through like a comic book, bringing greater continuity to the game’s presentation. And, as of a free game update released in December, a brand new online and offline mode called Heroes & Heralds bolsters what remains a fairly light mode selection compared to other modern fighters.

The 12 new fighters are clearly the main attractions. Collectively, the newcomers diversify the existing roster with incredibly unique fighting styles and a stronger emphasis on keep-away attacks. Joining the party on behalf of team Capcom, are Nemesis, Firebrand, Strider, Phoenix Wright, Vergil and Frank West. They square off against Marvel legends Nova, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist and Rocket Raccoon. Inspired choices, I say.

They’re all phenomenal additions (Hawkeye and Strider are personal faves), but of the new kids on the block Phoenix Wright, Frank West and Rocket Raccoon are clearly the stars, mainly because their move sets are so completely different from the rest of the contenders. Phoenix Wright is a particularly oddball character, as he fights by being clumsy, sneezing, using collected pieces of evidence, calling in his assistant, and shouting lawyerly proclamations such as “Hold it” and “Objection”, the speech bubbles dishing out the damage.

As he does in Dead Rising, Frank West brawls using handmade instruments of death – or by whirly-hurling zombies across the screen like undead projectiles. His trusty camera can even be used to snap pictures and momentarily daze the opponent, and eventually, after enough pictures are taken, he levels up and his gear grows in power. At first he’s armed with plungers and golf clubs and baseball bats, but in due course axes, chainsaws, and other deadly tools make up his arsenal. As for Rocket Raccoon, he’s a clever little rascal. His diminutive stature combined with a mastery of gadgets and traps make him a defensive specialist and a tricky foe in the right hands.

Available play modes remain largely the same. Arcade, Versus, Training and Mission modes return, as do Ranked and Player online matches supporting quick bouts and lobby gatherings for up to eight participants. Sadly, that means previous flaws are back as well. During Arcade play, for example, the character endings are inadequately rewarding – a couple static comic book pages and a few lines of speechless text seem even lamer now after seeing what NetherRealm did with its incredible Mortal Kombat story mode.

For online play, matchmaking doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. As someone who plays fighting games for personal enjoyment rather than competitive glory, I find it extremely difficult to find fair online match-ups. Even when setting the search option to find matches of same ranking, I routinely end up in bouts against players of far greater skill and experience. Sitting on a sorry 2-6 record, how is it fair to match me up against someone who is 150-50? It’s not, and getting my brains beaten in isn’t very fun either. I’d be fine losing to other players of similar skill level since I at least have a chance to win, but I rarely find such pairings.

Luckily, Heroes & Heralds does its part to make up for the original’s slim content selection. Capcom again screwed the pooch not having the mode ready from day one; but hey, it’s a free upgrade, and I think we all can agree that free DLC is nothing but a good thing. In this case, it’s a great thing. Heroes & Heralds is by far the deepest, most fulfilling mode Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has to offer.

With the update applied, Heroes & Heralds shows up in the main menu segregated from the other online and offline modes. Playing offline by yourself, engaging in the usual three-versus-three team fights to cease control over nodes on a honeycomb-shaped map, or online in week-long campaigns against other live players, you first choose to fight as a hero, defending Earth against the Devourer of Worlds, or as a herald, waging war as a silver-colored minion of Galactus. The twist comes in the form of a new card customization system. As you win battles, you also earn virtual Marvel trading cards to use in creating decks that augment combat abilities (the Colossus card provides super armor, the Punisher boosts attack power when a teammate is KO’ed, Rogue adds a lifetap effect to Hyper Combos, etc). You can create as many three-card decks as you please, but only one deck can be equipped for any given fight.

This card carrying element is beneficial in many ways. For starters, it introduces an extra wrinkle of strategy to what is predominantly a style over substance brand of fighting game (not that the core mechanics don’t have substance, but Virtua Fighter this game is not). For comic and video game nerds, the cards also serve as yet another source of fan service, giving cameo roles to characters that aren’t playable in the game. Beyond that, the card collecting incentive by itself is just one more addictive draw to keep you fighting on.

Capcom surely did not skimp on fresh, compelling content in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. However, if you already bought the first Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and feel you have to put your foot down in a stand against Capcom’s attempt to shake more money out of your pockets, I can honestly respect that. I too want to be mad at Capcom for already asking fans to shell out $40 for an updated version of a game released within the same calendar year – and then also reselling the original’s DLC costumes and characters rather than putting them on the disc (not to mention holding back a whole new set of bonus costumes to sell at inflated DLC rates). I want to be angry, and then I play the game and have an absolute whale of a time, my heartstrings lovingly plucked as I live out fantasy matches I could only ever dream about as a kid gamer and card/comic collector raised on the Capcom and Marvel brands. Fate of Two Worlds was and still is a terrific fighting game, but this Ultimate redux is truly sublime. Worth every extra penny, too.

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Pros:
+ New fighters expand roster with broader play styles and even more personality
+ Heroes & Heralds adds mode depth and addictive card collecting
+ Spectator mode for online lobbies
+ Playing as Galactus is cheap-bad-guy fun
+ Same kick-ass Marvel vs. Capcom gameplay and fan service, only better

Cons:
– Unevenly balanced online matchmaking
– Arcade mode character endings are still pathetic
– New stages are rehashes with slight thematic changes
– Original DLC fighters and costumes not included on the disc
– Updated content not available to existing players as originally intended

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Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3; also available for Xbox 360 and coming to PS Vita
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 11/15/2011
Genre: Fighting
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (local and online with 8-player lobbies)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!