To fight is human, at least in the virtual realm. And when it comes to fighting games, there’s no more robust, exhilarating franchise than Marvel vs. Capcom, which melds traditional 2D combat with 3D graphical flourishes, a vibrant visual polish, and gameplay that’s easy to pick up but surprisingly tough to master. If 2000’s beloved Marvel vs. Capcom 2, with its insane combos and expansive character roster, set a benchmark in gonzo virtual brawling, the series’s long-awaited follow-up Fate of Two Worlds continues to push the genre into increasingly rich territory, refining its rock-solid template while also developing its accessibility to newbies. It is, simply put, the most entertaining of all side-scrolling fighters, not simply because it plays so well or looks so good, but more crucial still, because it’s been constructed with an eye toward fleshing out every nook and cranny of its formula in ways that enhance the overall cartoon-mayhem spirit. Aesthetically as well as functionally, it’s a complete package, a form-content powerhouse that sets a new standard in punch-kick-punch madness.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which again has you controlling icons from the Capcom and Marvel universes in three-on-three clashes, isn’t perfect. Its Mission Mode, where you work to perfect combo routines, is useful yet thin, and its narrative is as flimsy as ever. Still, those nitpicks—which include the relative one-dimensionality of the final-boss confrontation with world-eating Galactus—are ultimately superfluous, since Capcom’s latest achieves its primary aims more thoroughly than any recent fighter. Whether in the “story”-centric Arcade Mode or playing against friends (on or offline), the game proves as smooth, dazzling, and kinetic as one might have hoped: its hit-detection is spot-on, its combo mechanics are as intricate and excessive as before (despite being slightly tweaked from its precursor’s), and its animations are gaudy, vivid, and fluid. There’s a geeky dedication throughout to staying faithful not only to the series’s over-the-top gameplay, but also to its characters’ personalities. As a result, Deadpool mockingly struts about while badmouthing opponents (and, amusingly, using Ryu’s most famous catchphrase), a team made up of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America verbally refers to itself as The Avengers, and, when pitted against each other, good guys and their specific nemesis (such as Resident Evil’s Chris and Wesker) spout personal pre-match taunts to one another.
The effect is that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 feels fully fleshed out, a fact furthered by a plethora of in-jokes and post-finale cameos, and one which isn’t hindered by a reduced cast of characters; while only offering 36 characters compared to its predecessor’s 56, the available heroes and villains are so well designed, and their moves are so extensive, that experimentation remains a key to survival. Of course, as a single-player affair, there’s only so much replay value; the game was built for multiplayer action. Yet in whatever mode, the central tag-team device affords myriad strategies, and its combo system is deep and varied. It’s there, in its intricate button-mashing sequences, that the game’s mechanics seamlessly marry with its gorgeous, highly detailed audio-video design, offering the appearance of bright, explosive kids-stuff, and delivering complex, mature gameplay. For fighter neophytes, a Simple Mode has been included that simplifies those mechanics (one button push now unlocks a torrent of special-move hyper combos), but, though this addition works as advertised, it’s a supplemental bonus rather than a fundamental feature. For Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the deceptive difficulty is one of the many elements that make this gleefully excessive brawler so easy to love.