Anticipation is high for Marvel Vs Capcom 3, especially given Capcom's return to the top of fighting games with Street Fighter 4. After 11 years, the timing is perfect to see the ever-extending list of classic Capcom game characters launch into another almighty ruckus with the best characters from the Marvel Comics universe.
Today we're fortunate enough to be given a hands-on taste of the 3vs3 two-player action at the Capcom Christmas party in London. Eager gaming journalists are allowed to choose three characters from a choice of favourites. Capcom characters include: Dante, Trish, Viewtiful Joe, Amaterasu (Okami), Chris Redfield, Felicia, Morrigan, Ryu and Chun-Li. The Mash-up continues with the Marvel folk: Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Deadpool, Hulk, Doctor Doom, Thor, Super-Skrull and Dormammu. There will be plenty more added to both rosters before release.
Character moves, style and attitude matches their personae well. Deadpool has a piss-taking stomping swagger when he walks towards an opponent (funnier against the likes of Hulk), Dante struts, Viewtiful Joe zips around and Wolverine prowls.
The matches allow players to tag in team-mates, either for a quick attack or a full tag-in replacement. Two fighters are assigned to the L1 and R1 buttons, with a tap bringing them in for a drop-in attack and a hold of the button replacing the current fighter.
These drop-in attacks are different for every fighter and typically reflect their persona. The Hulk will rip up the floor and send a wave of concrete out in a powerful blast, while Devil May Cry's Dante will appear with his guitar and pull off a devastating riff that summons a column of electrical damage. Drop-in attacks can be very handy to deal some extra damage, but you'll have to be careful as your opponent may be able to get in a counter attack on both of you! If they manage this, the health bars of both characters will take a hammering.
Devastating Super combos are activated with L2/LT once you've filled a metre to one of five levels. The likes of Iron Man or Viewtiful Joe favour pulling out enormous laser-canons, Dante prefers laying down a hellacious barrage of dual-pistol gunfire and Wolverine may hover in the air and unleash and X-shaped blast or just go for a frenzied attack with his adamantium claws. Build up a few levels with the combo metre and you can kick off a spectacular team combo using all three fighters as long as they've not been knocked out previously.
Hopefully in the final game, there will be an option to perform a proper combination of buttons to pull off these Ultra-style attacks, as simply using L2 feels really cheap considering the 50 hit combo you might get out of it.. There were plenty of almost embarrassed apologies amongst journalists throughout the event when using these moves. We did notice a 'Simple' or 'Standard' input option on the character select screen, which didn't seem to make any difference today, but it might have an impact on the Supers by release day.
The X button is used to prepare opponents for aerial juggling as it lifts them into the air, letting you get in some free shots. Ryu might go for an uppercut, while Dante will use his massive sword (stop laughing at the back). Interestingly some characters are better at lifting opponents than others. Dante in particular was very good at it. Skilled players will be able to juggle opponents with their whole team getting involved.
Knowing a Street Fighter character's moves isn't as advantageous as you'd expect as many moves have been stripped back to make everything seem a bit simpler and open to newcomers. Saying that, performing a quarter-circle on the d-pad with a face button will more often than not result in a special move of some sort.
Some characters feel a little unbalanced at the moment. Chris Redfield from the Resident Evil games for example will struggle to get near Dante and even his ranged weapons seem to be no match for Dante's sword. We love the Resi hero's Special combo though, he unleashes a barrage from every weapon in his collection, including machine guns and rockets.
Visually, MVC3 manages to surpass the excellent Street Fighter IV. While similar in style, the hand-drawn effects have been toned down a little, making way for a brighter, crisper look, but still maintaining a 2D feel despite the characters being quite rounded.
How crazy and flashy is MVC3 to look at? Well, one comment I overheard summed it up well: ''is it possible to catch epilepsy?'' The colours explode out of the screen in every stage, usually thanks to the Super combos. Every hit usually shows a violent splash of energy across the arena too.
Some of the backgrounds behind the fights are a delight to look at and will often draw the eye away from the fighting for any spectators. The Spider-Man parade is a dazzling array of colour, complete with balloons, crowds of New Yorkers and a giant floating Spider-Man. Kattelox island is a night time arena with Venetian-style canals and bridges underneath a firework filled night sky. Thor's Asgard stage has a startling level of detail as this fantasy setting shows a Shangri-La-like paradise resplendent with clear blue waterfalls, stone buildings and rich greenery, with the odd flying Viking Ship and giant bird occasionally coming up for a closer look at your scrap. The huge S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarrier also makes an appearance as it docks near a night-time Liberty Island in New York.
With the promise of even more characters in the final version, we really can't wait for Marvel Vs Capcom 3. It might feel a bit over-simplified compared to SFIV, but it's going to be a huge hit for anyone that likes getting a few mates around for a multiplayer brawl.
Marvel Vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is set for release on February 18t 2011 on PS3 and Xbox 360. Until then, check out our gameplay compilation video from the event.