Nine months ago, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 hit store shelves and delivered exactly what fans of the series wanted, and did so while delivering some of the finest graphics in a fighting game. The pace was quick, attacks were flashy, and the roster was diverse, if a bit limited, even with DLC. The release of UMvC 3 seems odd because in theory; the minor gameplay tweaks, new Galactus-playable mode and twelve new characters could’ve been made available via DLC as well, but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Instead, Capcom decided to release it as a separate boxed game for $40, and included a reversible cover as well, which looks incredible.
The new characters include Rocket Raccoon, who is an awesome little gimmick character due to his diminutive size against monsters like Nemesis (who is also new and has a sweet bazooka), Nova, Iron Fist, Hawkeye (whose fast style made him one of my favorites after just a few matches), Strider Hiryu (my favorite from MvC 2), Ghost Rider (with a very effective flaming chain whip), Doctor Strange,Vergil, Frank West (who comes armed with a shopping cart full of craziness), Firebrand (the demon from Demon’s Crest, an awesome SNES platformer), and Phoenix Wright (who fights with objections, questioning, paperwork, and his secretary). While I’m a bit disappointed my beloved Servbot from MvC 2 wasn’t included in the new character lineup, I am glad that Strider is back and the addition of Phoenix Wright is a welcome one even if he isn’t the most exciting character because his offense is so hilarious. As someone disappointed in MvC 3’s default roster, I find UMvC 3’s to be outstanding overall, with a healthy roster available for fans of any kind of fighting. Those who just want to go with brute strength have a lot of options, as do fans of faster characters like Strider, and the more well-rounded ones like Hawkeye and Ryu.
The new Galactus mode is a playable version of the final boss battle from MvC 3 (and this game’s regular arcade mode) from Galactus’ perspective. It pits you as a planet-conquering monster versus six sets of teams. It’s a very different take on things and the sense of sheer power you feel from playing as him is exciting. And it needs to be, because many of his attacks are kind of on the slow side, which can make playing as him seem boring until around the time you discover his awesome giant right hook that can knock foes down and then hit them while they’re down. There’s a particular thrill of destroying an entire team in 15 seconds that this mode provides, so even though it really does lack the depth of the core game, I’m glad it was included. It’s also surprisingly fun when you’ve got friends over because you can all take turns playing as Galactus and trying to beat each other’s times through his stages.
Aside from the Galactus mode, the core game is the same as it was before. Take teams of three against other teams before finally trying to conquer the screen-filling Galactus. The gameplay is easy to get a grasp on, but incredibly hard to master due to how intricate some attacks and counters are - expect to learn to look for individual frames of animation if you want to master it. Despite the sheer depth in the gameplay, it’s always fun - the mission mode allows you to master attacks and chain attacks one-by-one with each character, and the CPU never gives you too much of a challenge unless you make the difficulty too hard for you to handle. Like the original MvC 3, and countless fighters before it, some changes have been made to the characters to make the experience as a whole more balanced. Some super-powerful characters, like Wesker, the Sentinel, and Akuma, have had the amount of total damage they can take while less-powerful ones like Zero can now take more damage than before. The changes may seem major, but they’re pretty minor overall and just serve to prevent the game from being an unbalanced mess that isn’t fun to play unless you know which combination of characters to use to abuse others.
Of course, the key is to find characters you’re comfortable with and use them. This is especially true online, which has been greatly improved in UMvC 3. Before, it was incredibly laggy, and when you’ve got a game that is so timing-sensitive and also has a whole bunch of crazy stuff going on at once, that’s a huge problem. Now, lag is pretty minimal by comparison and the game as a whole plays much smoother. It still pops up from time to time, but most of my online matches were lag-free outside of a couple hitches here and there where something would be delayed by half a second or so. It was enough to do damage, but not enough to cost me the round. I like the addition of a spectator mode because it allows you to learn what better players are doing without having to feel their wrath.
Visually, the only major change made has been to the menus, which now use more comic-style panels and really fit the game perfectly. The beautiful comic-style 3D models are just as stunning now as they were nearly a year ago, and the new characters’ mannerisms and move animations are quite fluid as well. Just like before, there’s no in-game slowdown, which is impressive given the sheer amount of stuff that happens on-screen. I loved MvC 3’s soundtrack and sillier character quotes, but found the announcer to be grating, and the same holds true here. It’s a fun game to listen to, but one that will have you begging for a bazooka to be taken to the announcer at some point.
UMvC 3 is an outstanding game and an absolute must-buy for those who love the series but didn’t buy MvC 3 for whatever reason. If you did buy it, then I would recommend waiting for a price drop unless you absolutely MUST recreate your favorite Strider Hiryu moments from MvC 2 - $40 is a fantastic price for those without MvC 3, but isn’t so attractive if you already spent $60 on MvC 3. Multi-platform owners should know that the PS3 version has a mandatory HDD install of 2.25 gigs, but otherwise, both versions are identical outside of their controllers and control very well no matter which pad you use. The Saturn-style SF IV Fightpads are preferable and more comfortable to use for extended play sessions, but not a requirement to have a blast with the definitive version of one of this gen’s finest fighting games.