Fans have been clamouring for it, and Capcom is almost ready to stop teasing and hand over the keys to the hugely anticipated team brawler Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Well over a decade has passed since MVC3's predecessor crawled out of dingy arcades and swapped skin and spandex on the original Xbox, Dreamcast, and PlayStation 2 home consoles. Halfway through 2009, Capcom threw fans a bone and rereleased downloadable versions of MVC2 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, complete with competitive online multiplayer support. But while updating an old friend brought rapturous applause from the crowd, it only temporarily sated the strong desire for a true next-generation sequel to the franchise.
Recently Capcom unveiled two more of the names featured in MVC3's 30-odd-character lineup, revealing that hulking Metro City mayor Mike Haggar will be strapping on his suspenders and kicking his way into the fray. The meaty fists of America's greatest political figure were paired with a more feminine touch in Marvel's svelte hero, Phoenix. Like their differing physiques, the two bring with them completely polar approaches to combat. While Haggar relies on the lumbering beatdown that comes with heavy melee thwacking, Phoenix needs to call on the protective forces of ranged attacks, teleportation, and fiery barriers to defend her incredibly fragile frame.
We got our hands on an updated build of the game ahead of its impending February launch to take these two newest pugilists for a spin and see how each performs as part of a team. For anyone unfamiliar with the series, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 takes characters from both of its namesake universes and lets you create your own super-squad, pairing up known chums and less friendly combatant combinations and then pitting them against three other characters in a (kind of) one-on-one battle. Before you dismiss it as simply being Street Fighter with more faces to choose from, it's worth pointing out that while the action is much more frenetic than a single mano-a-mano battle--since you can call for assistance from your shelved characters whenever they're available--there's a healthy degree of micromanagement vying for your attention.
Character health is split into two types with each damaging blow dealt to you reducing your bar but leaving a red high-water mark. Swapping your warrior to the bench lets your warrior regenerate up to this marker over time if rested. While it's old hat for series veterans, it's worth explaining because of one of Phoenix's unique abilities. A backwards quarter circle accompanied by two attack button presses performs a super move that engages a healing aura and restores her own health bar to the recoverable portion instantly. While she can still take damage while in the healing mode, it gives you two bites at the proverbial health cherry. From our time with the game, the aura didn't appear to restore her bar to full health, but it did continue to recharge it at a faster rate even when she was tagged out of the scrimmage. Phoenix is quite weak comparatively, meaning that taking even a small number of hits can spell her demise. You'll definitely want to play keep-away against opponents who can string together multipart combos or against characters like Hulk and Haggar who deal large amounts of damage.
She's not a one-trick pony though, and in the hands of a skilled player--or by unleashing her Dark Phoenix variant by performing a level-five hyper combo--she becomes significantly stronger and able to pummel her foes with furious fiery vengeance. Dark Phoenix comes at a cost, however, and once transformed, she loses health at a slow but steady rate even when not being hit. Healing aura is still available to prolong the inevitable, and she didn't appear to lose health while stabled, but consider the move a last-ditch effort rather than an opening attack. Her bread-and-butter attacks include a quarter circle fireball able to seek out enemies, a burning Phoenix logo ground fire trap, hovering flame walls that deal damage, and both air and ground dashes. Ditching offence for defence, she uncorks a screen-filling burning bird super attack that deals 10 hits and provides breathing space by pushing your opponent to the opposite side of the environment. Light jabs in Dark Phoenix mode come with juggle-able single energy shots, while three- and five-way shots are available with medium and heavy attacks and help protect you from those who like to jump in on you.
Haggar plays a very different game and doesn't just aim for the jugular; he tears it out with his teeth if he can get close enough. Unlike Phoenix, he doesn't feature any ranged attacks, so you will need to be able to close the gap and get within striking distance to pulp some faces. Once there, he features two launchers: the dedicated launcher button and a second that scoops the body of your opponent into the ether enough to begin an air combo. His trademark Final Fight sidekick is in play here in all its brutality and stops just short of knocking the flesh off your opponent's face. A heavy attack adds a steel pipe to the mix and rains down a mighty noggin floggin' for anyone unfortunate enough to be standing in the way.
Haggar loves a hug, and while his moveset is reminiscent of Zangief's in Street Fighter games, grabs are simple backwards quarter circle moves rather than full arcade stick loops. His penchant for pile-driving is represented in spades, and one of his super moves sees him roughly grabbing the opponent and snapping him into a painful-looking back-breaker before throwing his limp body into the air, zooming upwards, latching on, and then feeding him a mouthful of crotch as he comes crashing to the ground. Multiple camera angles of the impact prolong the pain.
With less than a month left to go before the game hits shelves, we're eager to see if still more names join the already bulging roster. Regardless, we had a blast forming teams and putting their strengths and weaknesses to the test to see who made the cut. Keep an eye out for our full review soon.