Remember those days when gaming wasn't just an easy-to-access activity, set in the comforts of your own couch? Instead, it was more like a social event, in a time when “Continue?” was an inquiry into how deep your pockets ran and not an obligatory option. With a row of quarters, this scenario couldn't be more true than for fighting games. Arcades existed as arenas for joystick gladiators, their skill measured by how long they could stay at their position on a cabinet. Other games took up space in a room, but the crowds were around titles like Tekken, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter.
Fighters had their heyday, yet with the popularity of home console gaming, it's shooters that find the spotlight nowadays. With only a handful of releases a year, the fighter landscape may be relatively thin, but it's hardly any less competitive. Their niche appeal makes crafting a success challenging, following up a beloved series even more so. Nevertheless, over a decade since the last installment in the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise hit, the eponymous developer-publisher certainly has done well in their move from sprites to full-fledged 3D models. Now it's time for them to update everything else.
Without a doubt, the visual upgrade in Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is a welcomed, albeit expected, change. Using Capcom's MT Framework, backdrop imagery is anything but a static poster setting for two tag-teams of three fighters to battle in front of. The flashy, interactive action may take place in a single plane at the forefront, staying true to the classic setup, but a number of arenas have so much going on in the background that it's worth taking a beating just to appreciate them.
Characters themselves get an even more appreciable facelift from Marvel vs. Capcom 2 as well. The comic book art direction might not be as noticeable as Capcom was going for, and Street Fighter IV certainly still reigns as one of the most beautifully stylized games to date, but by implementing features from the games in which Capcom fighters star, Fate of Two Worlds is an exhibition of detail. Between Amaterasu's changing weaponry and trail of flowers, to Zero's firework faint and Haggar's spinning attack, the fan service doesn't come at any expense. Every character holds up to their source material, even in alternate costumes.
Animations not only look good with a change in attack controls, but also, thankfully, play smoothly. Known for wildly seizure-inducing special attacks—that are rightfully defined as “Hyper,” being executed with bright colors, over-sized effects, and frenetic agility—the Marvel vs. Capcom series has been one of limited controls and multiple fighters. This time around, the team size stays consistent, but added attack and quick-sprint buttons make stringing together ludicrous multi-hit combos easier than the company's Street Fighter counterpart. An increased emphasis on combinations done in the air also find their way into the follow-up since each of the 36 brawlers has their own pop-up attack and can call on all of their allies to juggle an opponent around before smashing them to the ground.
It all makes for spectacular submissions, that, even if you're on the losing side, are a wonder to watch. A “Simple” control scheme, wherein combinations are mapped to singular buttons means to alleviate the frustration of speedy deaths at the whim of accomplished players, but it ultimately doesn't help against such opponents. This is partly due to a counter system that plays somewhat underdeveloped and less-technical when compared to SFIV, done in an effort to make the game more accessible to newcomers. Essentially, if you're hardcore about fighting games, MvC3 will be a digestible distraction from tournament training.
Unfortunately, the game doesn't push any boundaries for the genre. An “X-Factor” feature allows you a last-ditch effort to battle back from a losing match with increased attack strength and less damage taken, but in a generation where some games (shooters no less) can put 256 players into a single game, or record online matches to let you watch them later and learn new strategies, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 continues the trend of relying too heavily on long-established multiplayer elements and hosting the usual extra game modes.
Two types of offline training modules allow you to learn and practice moves with your teams, but neither are as exploratory as something like Super Smash Brothers Brawl's adventure option. “Mission” play offers objectives of tiered difficulty to complete against a dummy AI that help you learn combos; while “Training” is, as you guessed it, free-for-all fighting with fully programmable opposition—you can even train and account for online lag. Again, they're not unwanted features, just familiar and the norm.
The 'story' here is also developed like similar games of the past: an ending cutscene for the character who beats the final boss, this time Galactus, is all you get. Despite the implementation of the advanced engine, they're not animated. Instead, you just get a few stills brightly done like pages of a comic book. Fighting games have always been more about a premise to the competition and not storytelling, but perhaps it's time to have at least some campy interstitial scenes set up the ending sequences.
Along with the tried-and-true offline arcade play, MvC3 doesn't do anything to push online or multiplayer functionality. Quick matches allow you to sync up with similarly capable players in ranked or unranked bouts, while 12-player lobbies open up round-robin tournaments without much worry of latency problems. The latter may sound enticing, given Marvel vs. Capcom 2's spectate-whilst-you-wait function, but all you're able to do this time is trash talk to no end as you peruse others' stats and wait for your turn to challenge Number One in your group. There's always local multiplayer as well.
In the end, between both online and offline options, an overarching points system tracks your progress and unlocks a slew of hidden content (art, character bios, titles for your online persona, et cetera), but doing so is only accomplished with action that's been a standard in fighting games for longer than we've been waiting for an MvC sequel. The eye candy is no doubt impressive in how smooth it is and how well it's done, not to mention, specialized voice-overs complement a delightfully quirky soundtrack. There's a lot to love for longtime franchise fans and new challengers alike with fighting that's excitingly frantic.
That said, it's time to see growth in the category. Perhaps the lack of competition or the exclusive licenses stymie burgeoning features—whatever the reason, maybe there is, in fact, reason to the over-saturation and popularity of first-person shooters besides big guns and explosions.
Do you want to see more from fighting games? Should it be a focus for the future? Share with us on Twitter @gamers_hell