Marvel vs Capcom 3 is the videogame equivalent of a punishing military assault course. If you aren’t entirely dedicated to the cause you’re liable to fall at the very first hurdle, and the arrogant are certain to falter when their skills are vigorously tested later on. But if you’re fighting-game fit, patient and (above all) focused, Marvel vs Capcom 3 is one of the most rewarding and compulsive fighting games to hit shelves since SFIV. It does very thoughtfully offer up a control scheme for beginners (scrapping the harder moves altogether and mapping almost every other command to a single button apiece) but as the game doesn’t specialise in the kind of cheap, quick-fix thrills that younger beat ‘em up fans will probably be seeking out, it’s best regarded as an ‘adult’ videogame in the very best sense of the word.

If you’re new to the series, at first you’ll probably balk at the seemingly gigantic advantage given to behemothic characters like Sentinel, but it isn’t long before you’ll discover techniques that work around almost anything; and the turning point for newcomers is bound to arrive when they realise that they have an equally brutal response to the seemingly endless combo that they’ve just been on the receiving end of. The new X-Factor system is simple and fine-tuned enough to allow losing players to regain a little bit ground without unbalancing the fight completely, and in shorthand, it’s MvC3‘s response to SFIV‘s Super and Ultra combo meters.

What makes MvC3 far more accessible than Super Street Fighter IV though (to which this is bound to be compared) is that it’s very easy to combo simple moves into special moves and occasionally back again; as opposed to being a slave to SSFIV’s deeply pernickety one-frame combo links. This doesn’t mean that ploughing your way through each character’s Mission mode trials is going to be a breeze – in truth it’s far, far from it – but mastering a short and succinct set of miniature combos for each character that you can then endlessly re-use to your heart’s content is nowhere near as difficult as it was in either of the recent Street Fighter titles.

The cognoscenti are apparently up in arms about the far smaller player roster (down by around twenty since last time) but this has resulted in a much more balanced game; and the decision to drop most of the MvC2 sideline characters (who were basically re-skinned versions of the rather more popular heroes anyway) was definitely a step in the right direction. None of the characters that appear here feel superfluous, and because move-sets are (for the most part) almost identical, you are never liable to face-off against a character whose moves and counters are completely alien to your own style of play.

As expected (nay, demanded) the faultless lobby system that was ingrained into SSFIV‘s rebuffed online multiplayer is here too, and the only glaring omission is the ability to watch and record bouts of your own, as well as those of your opponents while you wait. We were so spoiled by SSFIV‘s barnstorming multiplayer that this is an irritating oversight at first, until you take into account the fact that you’d probably need the entire bandwidth of a small country to enable such a feature here. Marvel vs Capcom 3 is such a ridiculously busy game that it’s a minor miracle that it works online at all, and despite the ever-presence of inexperienced players rage-quitting – destined to hastily dissipate as time passes – in our experience the online side of things is as fast-paced and lag-free as the offline side.

The sense of player progression both on and offline is bolstered by the constant (and seemingly near-endless) supply of unlocks – such as new characters, title cards, gallery art and FMV – and although one very odd feature of the matchmaking system means that you’ll be booted back to the main menu if you fail to find a suitable opponent, this is hopefully (surely?) something that will be remedied with a patch some time in the not-too-distant future. Marvel vs Capcom 3 is utterly sumptuous to look at (looking like a rich watercolour comic book brought violently to life) and it plays like an absolute dream. The pedantic franchise faithful may have a few gripes, but even they have to contend that those are some pretty tiny potatoes in the grand scheme. Here’s hoping that the fourth instalment isn’t going to take another decade to appear.

Watch the Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate Of Two Worlds Trailer here:


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