Alas, Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, your time is spent. We had some fun times--remember when Sentinel was steamrolling everyone?--but now it's over. Developer Capcom has dug you an early grave to make way for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the $40 follow-up that, for some, has come much too soon. Regardless of how you feel, the game is here, and it is the superior version, with new characters, stages, and rebalanced gameplay. Of course, it's also just as challenging as before and can break your heart with a single combo. It's mean, it's flashy, but most importantly, it's Marvel, baby!
Watch enough high-level matches in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and you see a few definite styles emerge. Players gravitate toward Wolverine, Wesker, She-Hulk, and others for their ability to relentlessly assault opponents and lock them down in close-range combat. Even Dormammu, with his fancy black holes and energy pillars, spends most of his time teleporting into melee range. The rush-down game has stolen the spotlight, and now Ultimate wants to make it share. The game has dedicated almost half of the new roster to favor zoning, or fighting at a distance, in the hopes of cracking the original's single, all-encompassing strategy.
Joining the roster are 12 new fighters, many of whom personify the game's overall shift in focus. Together with the original cast, they raise the game's collection to an impressive 48 fighters--just eight shy of Marvel vs. Capcom 2's total. Some of these newcomers, such as Iron Fist and Nova, are hard-hitting, straightforward brawlers. However, roughly half favor fighting at a distance or with unorthodox tactics. Consider Doctor Strange, the sorcerer supreme whose numerous projectiles range from homing disks to a fireball that can ricochet across the screen before striking its target. His long-range antics aren't new to the series, but they were rarely used in the previous game during competitive play.
Of course, this shift won't happen overnight; players naturally stick to what they know. But as the game and the community grow, hopefully these new styles will take root. In the meantime, there are some other core design changes to explore. Team aerial combos, another rarely used mechanic in MVC3, have been granted extra incentive. Now, the direction in which you tag out your character causes different effects, such as giving you an additional super meter. X-factor, the game's comeback mechanic, has also been scaled back in power and normalized across the cast. It can even be activated in the air.
The returning characters received a lot of love in this new release as well. The strongest characters haven't been brought down; instead, the rest of the cast has been brought up to match their strength. These changes manifest in new moves for some characters and new properties for existing moves for others. For instance, Magneto has a new move that physically drags his opponent around the screen, while Shuma-Gorath's throw now drains super meter from its opponent. Take a look at your old favorites, and chances are you'll discover new tricks that weren't possible before.
Luckily, you're not on your own to discover these changes. The game's mission mode, which teaches new players the basic moves and combos for the cast, has been updated to accommodate all these changes. The 12 new characters have their own mission sets, while the veterans' missions have been updated. Unfortunately, this mode still has issues in the way it presents information, so if you don't know your Gram from your Ragtime Shot, then you'll constantly have to pause the game and dive into the menu to see the move's input. Being able to watch a demonstration of the current mission would also have been appreciated.
Aside from the tweaks to mission mode, the gameplay offerings in Ultimate are nearly as limited as in its predecessor. There's a new Galactus mode that lets you hop in the driver's seat of the game's final boss. However, stomping through the single-player arcade mode gets old fast. The Shadow Mode DLC is altogether absent from Ultimate. Its likely replacement is the upcoming Heroes and Heralds mode, which Capcom has announced will be released "postlaunch" as a free DLC. The mode has you collecting cards and assigns them to your three-person team to unlock new bonuses and abilities. For now, however, its absence is felt, and the game's variety suffers for it.
One feature that fans were dying for in the original release that has made it into Ultimate is spectator mode during online play. No longer are you confined to watching two sets of life bars tick down while awaiting your turn; now you can see all the action for yourself. Ultimate also brings with it the online performance updates the original received, leading to a more consistent connection rate. Sadly, online still lacks the replay support enjoyed by Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition; a feature which could have served as an excellent teaching tool.
Ultimately, Ultimate is still a monster hiding under an attractive coat of flashy combos and familiar characters. It may feel inviting at first, but sink a little deeper, and you discover a game in which victory and defeat hinge on a fine line. It's a high-risk, high-reward system that buries you in a brightly colored light show on the slightest misstep. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is unquestionably the superior version, and while its feature set still feels lacking compared to other available fighters, the series' unique blend of structured insanity remains strong.