What We’re Playing: Marvel vs. Capcom 3

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I’ve always been a big fan of the Versus series, both as a player and as a designer, so I was pretty happy when I heard this one was on the way. I was even happier to find that in a world where sequels are frequently awful, MvC3 has continued to buck the trend just as well as the second offering did. It frequently seems like the goal with these games has been “remember what we did last time? We’ll turn it to eleven this time” and the result is a pretty fantastic experience.

Knowing What You’re Going For

Understanding what the game is and isn’t and how it fits into the larger continuum of fighting games is something the Versus teams have always been very good at and successful with. When dealing with a premise that is already somewhat ludicrous and unbelievable—that an enormous number of franchises spread across a dozen or so different worlds are going to coexist somehow and what’s more, get in a huge fight—the idea of creating a serious competitive fighting game out of it is somewhat silly.  What’s more, it’s a bad idea, because there’s already a stable of firmly-entrenched serious competition fighters out there from the very same company—Street Fighter 4 is certainly aimed at that market, and Super Turbo (Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo) is still widely held as the gold standard for tournament play.

It seems Capcom isn’t interested in diluting that market by pushing Versus in that direction. Instead, they recognize it for what it really is: kind of silly but really fun fan service. MvC3 is about someone’s favorite Marvel character beating the hell out of someone’s favorite marvel character and it does that very, very well. It’s also an opportunity to play around and experiment with new or strange ideas, which is also something it does very, very well.

MvC3X23The Beauty of Simplicity

So where I would say that SF4 is largely about the joy of precision, MvC3 is about the joy of the beatdown. The former is arcade and tournament fodder, the latter is very much at home in your home with some friends, pizza and beer. This is not, mind, a slight on MvC3. In fact, the differences that crop up between the two styles of game are very interesting and speak to this basic division in intent.

Versus has always favored a much different control scheme than the mainline fighters. Leaving aside the team-based structure of the gameplay, where you play not one but 2-3 characters at a time, the individual fighting commands are much different. In general, MvC in particular favors a faster, simpler control scheme. Where the Street Fighter controls have been largely established since it first hit the arcades (3 punches, 3 kicks, variety of special move commands, no formal combo system as such), MvC has favored breaking away from that standard in favor of simplification. The first in the franchise introduced a Simple Mode, in which one button performed combo chains, another performed a set special move or two, and any pair of attack buttons would perform a Super Move. The sequel dropped this, but reduced the main attacks to four—two kicks and two punches—with combos performed by simply crossing diagonally between the buttons. Supers here where simplified down to a smaller set of common commands where you were almost guaranteed SOMETHING good would happen if you used a quarter-circle forward and pushed both of one attack or the other.

MvC3ShoryukenMvC3’s offering into this trend is an interesting game of simplifying what came before and then adding new interesting complexity for advanced players. Now there are three attacks—light, medium and heavy—and whether it’s a kick or punch depends on context. Attacks can be chained through a simple Light->Medium->Heavy sequence. Most characters use a special move setup based on the classic “Ryu-style” list: Quarter-circle forward, quarter-circle back, and the Forward/Down/Down-Forward movements. Supers follow the same pattern with the addition of pressing two attacks instead of one. Aerial combos, which used to be started by ‘launcher’ moves that varied from character to character, are now started by launchers that are always performed with the fourth face button.

This kind of simplification may irritate fighting game purists, but it’s a great boon to the home player segment, since it elevates the casual player’s game, making them more competitive. Your friend who hardly ever plays has a better chance of remembering how to be basically effective, and is much more likely to play someone other than Wolverine again dammit, that’s all you ever pick.

It also clears some room for new complications to the system for the more experienced players to master. Aerial combos, for instance, used to be single character affairs that were something of an advanced technique and rather impressive. Now that they are easier to perform, they have also been extended to team aerial combos, where practiced players can switch out team members on the fly mid-combo for extra damage and style. At the same time, these can be countered by the defending player. And as with most Capcom fighting games, there is a wealth of detail to master underneath the simplified control scheme.

MvC3ScreenThe Colors, Duke! The Colors!

One of the more interesting differences between the visual presentation of the two. Street Fighter 4, being a more mainline fighting game, looks very nice and clean, with rather understated VFX. My theory is that this is in a large part due to tournament play being pretty far forward in the designers’ minds and the nature of the game requiring a focus on positioning and the like. Special attacks are understated, because you can see what’s going on a lot easier and it promotes precision gameplay.

On the other hand, MvC3, even more than MvC2 or 1 before it, tries to get spectators to say “day-ummmmm!” on a regular basis. Anything but the simplest attacks yield large, colorful hit effects that quickly stack up to an explosion of sensation. It continues to ramp up all the way to the largest of the Hyper Combos, which have a way of making one want to describe them with terms like “visual orgasmic delight” and the sort. The point is, that as much as the gameplay tends to promote an easy path to fast, brutal assaults, so to does the visual component of the game.

SF4Hadouken
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As an interesting exercise, I popped my copy of SF4 in and took some bad off-screen photos of some of Ryu’s moves, then went into MvC3 and did the same. The differences are pretty crazy. His Fireball is fairly understated, if a very nice effect. The super and ultra versions of the fireball aren’t a great deal larger, though they hit 4-7 times or so and do a lot more damage. By contrast, MvC3’s Ryu throws a regular fireball about the size and complexity of

the ultra in SF4. This super version of the fireball, meanwhile, fires a concentrated beam of energy that is roughly as tall as Ryu is, tends to fully engulf the opponent and sends streams of energy whipping all over the place when it goes off. It also does two dozen or so hits. the difference in presentation is pretty striking, and has a lot to do with the difference in what the two games are aiming to accomplish. It’s a bit like Classic Rock vs. 80’s Glam Metal. What I’m saying is that MvC3 is basically KISS. The technical songwriting might arguably be less sophisticated, but the stage show is AWESOME.

Works for Me

On the continuum of fighting games, I tend to like the MvC glam-metal side. It makes for a great experience with a relatively low barrier to entry. Given I don’t have the kind of time to devote to real mastery of these things, it makes the MvC approach register really well with me, since it definitely comes from the “make the player feel bad-assed as much as possible” school of game design, and I appreciate that approach a lot.

I could actually keep talking on this for a while, even though I’ve only had the game a couple of days now, because it’s very deep and a lot of it builds on the previous titles in the franchise (there’s also something interesting to be said for the relationship of the non-Marvel Versus titles). But this is enough for today.

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