UMVC3 is one of those rare fighting games that we'll be going back to play again and again for years.
If you are unaware as to what the Marvel vs Capcom games play like, it's fairly simple when you present it in a nutshell. A group of three fighters, representing decades of history from both Marvel and Capcom, take on another group of three fighters. Whichever team has at least one character left standing at the end of it all is the victor. You control one character at a time, but can call in chosen assists from your other characters in order to keep an opponent at bay, extend combos, or other such things. There is a heavy emphasis on the chain combo system that the series is so well known for, with long and flashy combos being more of the rule as opposed to the exception.
What Marvel vs Capcom 3 changed for the series is refined upon here in Ultimate. MVC3 introduces us to the X-Factor system, a powered-up state any character can enter by inputting all four face buttons simultaneously as a command. The character glows red, and they become faster, with their attacks dealing more damage. It can only be used once, and it only lasts for so long. However, X-Factor lasts longer and buffs the character that uses it more as characters are KO'ed; for instance, someone activating X-Factor with their last character will see greater benefits from it than someone activating it with both of their other characters remaining. In Ultimate, X-Factor is now available to use in mid-air, and can cancel just about any attack or Hyper Combo. In addition, what X-Factor does for each character changes; as an example, Wolverine becomes very fast at his highest level of X-Factor while his damage output is only somewhat increased, whereas Hulk's damage output is almost doubled for his highest X-Factor level while his speed remains the same.
Ultimate adds 12 new characters to the already expansive roster from vanilla MVC3: counting the downloadable characters Jill Valentine and Shuma-Gorath, there are 50 fighters you can choose from. For the new characters, Marvel's side brings us Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Nova, and Rocket Raccoon; Capcom brings us Firebrand, the returning Strider Hiryu, Nemesis, Vergil, Phoenix Wright, and Frank West. All of the characters fit unique roles in the metagame. Ghost Rider, for instance, is a stone wall type with plenty of range, whereas Phoenix Wright relies upon a sort of stance system in order to deal lots of damage. Each new character proves to be an engaging challenge to master, and they all fit in well within the current metagame.
All of the characters from vanilla MVC3 have also been tweaked and rebalanced in such a way that Ultimate plays nothing like vanilla. As a result, new and interesting possibilities become opened up for each character. Haggar, for instance, can now effectively hit an opponent off of the ground with a normal move instead of having to rely on an assist to do that for him in order to extend his combos. Some characters gain new moves entirely: Ryu, for example, gains a utility Hyper Combo called Hado Kakusei ("Surge Awakening" in Japanese) that boosts his attack strength and changes the properties of two of his other Hyper Combos. Spencer, meanwhile, gets a new OTG move called Bionic Bomber that allows him to extend combos in new ways. Most all of the new changes have been met with open arms and have changed the way some people play the game.
The game looks much like Street Fighter IV; 3D character models fight on a 2D plane. Thanks to the unique art style, the game ends up looking positively gorgeous for a fighting game with so much going on. Character models look sharp, colors are vibrant, and some of the effects just look really cool. The stages, if you take time to look at some of them, are also very good looking, and are filled with little nods to various things in Marvel's mythos as well as Capcom's.
Much of the sound production in the game is focused around the character themes and dialogue, all of which are excellent. Returning characters get remixed themes of theirs from previous Marvel vs Capcom titles, and many of them sound wonderful; Ryu's theme in MVC3 is one of the best renditions I've personally heard because of how high energy the piece is. New characters have themes befitting them, their powers, and their personalities; Deadpool's, for instance, is catchy as hell while also being completely random from a lyrical standpoint. Voice acting is also a big deal, with many voice actors reprising roles from previous games and, in the case of Marvel, television appearances. Some of them have changed - Lucas Gilbertson does not voice Zero here, the honors going to Johnny Yong Bosch instead - while others have stayed the same, such as Daniel Southworth coming back to provide Vergil's voice once again.
Of course, no discussion of fighting games is complete without mentioning character balance, as evidenced previously in this review. While Capcom tried their best to balance every character out and make each one viable, several characters have fallen by the wayside as being generally poor, whereas select others have risen to the top as competitive mainstays. Hsien-Ko, for instance, is not going to have near the success in battles as a character like Nova would normally. This is one of the only things that can be potentially frustrating: several fun and potentially amazing characters are left in the dust for characters that can just destroy almost anything in their path.
Online play in UMVC3 is a bit of a fickle creature, as well. Lag can become an issue fairly quickly in some games, and finding matches the first time around may not be a guarantee. Fortunately, the offline practice mode has lag simulation to attempt to rectify this, even though the lag settings it has aren't a one-to-one indication of lag settings you may find online. And, as is the unfortunate nature of the beast, you will likely be frustrated by some of the things that happen online, though this is hardly the fault of the game.
Sketchy online play and occasional balance issues aside, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is as addictive a fighting game as they come. Accessible to the new crowd of fighting game players while providing a sufficient challenge for seasoned players, UMVC3 is one of those rare fighting games that we'll be going back to play again and again for years. Something of this magnitude needs to be experienced by all fighting game fans, new and old, regardless of skill level. Whether you're just playing your favorite characters for casual play or putting together a team to dominate on a competitive level, UMVC3 should satisfy all fighting game fans.