I regularly wonder how I’d describe the games I’m playing to my parents. Mom and pop play games, so they’re familiar with what the medium offers. “Space soldiers invade a planet of space Nazis” and “wistful cowboy fights to find his family” aren’t going to earn me confused looks. My relatives have real-life reference points aiding their understanding of why I’d play these games, and paring them down to these bare essentials makes games’ goals even easier to convey. I cannot employ the same tactic to Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds.
“So, Dad, super-heroes punching anime chicks from ancient arcade games. Cool, right?”
“Mom, check it out: I am a 15-foot-tall robot and I just punted an artistically-inclined cartoon dog like a football – and I did it while a winged horsey watched from the serene fantasy background.”
It just sounds so stupid. And yet, if you’re into this particular 2D fighting franchise, it is incredibly awesome. MvC3 thrives on and exploits absurdity for the sake of creating some truly ridiculous, nearly indescribable moments, though the consequence for the game’s chaos is that it’s often incomprehensible. Because each player brings three brawlers into each fight, things quickly get…messy. The screen regularly drowns in bright colors, big beams, and flashing lights, like the exploding love-child of a Saturday morning cartoon and a kaleidoscope—that, or some sort of comics-induced acid trip. Characters are smothered by spinning flames, blasting lasers, and falling Incredible Hulks – the confusion can be fairly agitating.
It feels great to pull off sweet-looking combos like this, though, and it’s rather easy to do. Mashing buttons is almost an artistic skill in itself; maniacal panic works wonders for executing awesome moves that would have the entire room – myself included- audibly wondering what happened and how in Galactus’ name I did it. Yet even amidst its bewildering gibberish, there’s still a sense of control in MvC3. The longer I played and the more comfortable I became with its cast, the easier it became to understand and take advantage of the visual bells and whistles. This is largely what makes Marvel vs. Capcom 3 such a fulfilling fighter. Sure, it’s easy to jump in and feel like a radical fighting game guru, but one can only survive on this natural unpredictability for so long before someone with some know-how lays down an embarrassing licking. At that point, it’s back to Danger Room for more training.
All fighting games have this level depth I’m completely incapable of understanding. I love the genre to pieces, but at no point in my 22 years of life have I been “good” at a Street Fighter game. MvC3’s predecessor Marvel vs. Capcom 2 rocked because my friends and I could act like idiots and still look like gods, and we never met anyone who really knew how to play. Online multiplayer shattered the illusion that I’m decent at MvC3. It took a long time to realize the harsh truth, although it’s not for the reason you’re suspecting.
Predictably, my first online encounter was shameful. I literally did not hit my opponent once, and I spent most of the match in the air while they slaughtered my entire team. This isn’t the issue. The player was better than me, put me in my place, and sent me packin’. Fine. That it took me an hour to actually fight them? Not as fine. MvC3’s multiplayer’s online functionality is a miserable train-wreck in need of serious triage. If I could connect to a match at all—I regularly “lost connection” to matches I hadn’t joined, or couldn’t locate any lobbies—I spent most of my time waiting for my turn. In true arcade tradition, you line up against seven other players, and the loser of the current fight goes to the back of the line. Here’s my problem: Fate of Two Worlds has no spectator mode. I spent 30 minutes at a time staring at a multiplayer lobby waiting for my fight. When I inevitably lost, I spent another half-hour checking e-mails, taking care of my dog, and doing laundry. Yeah, I could suck less and spend more time in matches, but that’s not the point. Six people in a full lobby will always be looking at Xbox Gamertags and PlayStation IDs instead of observing upcoming opponents’ techniques. Since MvC3 abides by arcade traditions with such rigidly—the standard single-player is the same ol’ ladder-climbing structure we’re all used to—its half-hearted multiplayer execution is all the more frustrating.
At this point, Wolverine fighting Ryu isn’t really a novelty, but I welcome the return of Capcom’s looniest fighting series all the same. The inevitable imbalance of a 38-character roster would cripple something as hardcore as, say, Street Fighter IV, but Marvel vs. Capcom 3 doesn’t take itself too seriously. Don’t take this to mean it sells itself short – it wastes no time separating the wheat from the chaff. Just go in with the right mindset. Either you’re in it to explore the complexities of team-based brawling, or you’re in it to kick cartoon dogs as a big-ass robot. The latter’s still easier to explain to my parents, for better or worse.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate Of Two Worlds was developed and published by Capcom. It is available digitally via the Xbox Live Arcade.
Mitch Dyer is an incredibly Canadian freelance writer for Paste, Official Xbox Magazine, GamePro and other fine gaming-related publications. If you like his professional work, perhaps you’d enjoy his considerably less articulate/more profane musings. You follow Mitch on Twitter @MitchyD or listen to his podcast at DownWriteFierce.com.