Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, Special Edition (from Capcom, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated T for teen, $69.99).
Embellished with three-dimensional designs, the latest update to this classic two-dimensional fighter stars celebrities from both a legendary comic-book publisher and a renowned video-game franchise. The game gives one or two players a roster of more than three dozen characters to choose from as they battle in three-versus-three tag-team matches.
What's the story? From the product literature: From his Latverian throne, the sinister Dr. Doom hatches his latest plot for world domination. Not content with merely leading an ensemble of the greatest villains from the Marvel universe, Dr. Doom has reached out across the dimensional divide to form an alliance with Albert Wesker of Resident Evil fame. Together, these two would-be rulers hope to accomplish what neither of them has succeeded in doing alone.
However, this level of an unholy alliance has caused an ancient and powerful threat to be awakened. Can the might of the two universes hope to control it?
Play the role: Designers have delivered wonderful versions of some truly great characters that exist and fight within animated comic-book-style realms.
On the Marvel side, comic-book fans will appreciate the chance to control familiar legends such as Wolverine, Captain America, Magneto and Iron Man as well as the more obscure heroes and villains such as M.O.D.O.K., Dormammu, She-Hulk, Deadpool, Taskmaster and X-23.
On the Capcom side, fans can select legends such as the short but powerful hero Viewtiful Joe, the humorous knight Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins, the giant sword-wielding Dante from Devil May Cry, and a female named Tron Bonne from Megaman Legends hanging out in mechbot garb.
All of the characters have a quartet of costumes to choose from, with the Marvel side, of course, tapping into a character's sequential-art history. For example, the X-Men's Phoenix can wear artist Greg Land's spandex design from her Endsong comic-book series, her classic yellow-and-green garb from artist John Byrne's era, black leather from her New X-Men days or the yellow-and-blue costume from artist Jim Lee's work with Marvel's mutants.
Better yet, the combat arenas are nearly as familiar and spectacular as the character lineup. Fighters gather in famous animated locales, including Resident Evil's Tricell's lab (just try to concentrate as lickers break out of their glass cages) or the Daily Bugle (with a parade-size Spider-Man balloon floating about) or on the deck of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier (with guns blazing in the background).
Get to the action: With two control schemes — Normal or Simple — to appeal to both hard-core and average gamers, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 truly delivers accessible action to all fan bases.
With the Simple setting, button-mashing folks use a basic four-button assault to easily pull off repeated combos and special moves with just one click. (Hulk's Gamma Charge dazzles.) They will, however, lose access to some of the more spectacular as well as complex attacks.
The Normal controls are anything but, sometimes requiring the finesse of a surgeon as the player handles the precisely timed manipulation of analog stick and buttons to pull off an insane assortment of chain, air and hyper combo attacks along with more special moves.
Also, under both schemes, other team members easily can jump on-screen to attack opponents and swap out with mates, staying on as the lead fighter. Each fighter also can enact an X-factor option (causing them to glow red for a short time) which offers an increase in power to help turn the tide of a match.
Match modes include arcade (beat six teams to face off against a formidable boss), versus, training (practice and don't get hit) and a misnamed Mission mode that enables gamers to execute 10 specific attack sequences for each character.
Memorable moments (in no particular order): My first encounter with the mighty Galactus; watching Deadpool use the on-screen health bars as weapons; turning the seemingly defeated Phoenix into her powerful doppelganger, Dark Phoenix; practicing all of the Fantastic-Four-based powers of Super Skrull; and the red Hulk pounding his fists on the ground until it buckles. (Yeah, I'm forever enamored with the Marvel side lineup and its abilities.)
Violent encounters: Besides the unending stream of grunts, screams and moans heard as matches take place, combatants crumble to the ground in defeat but are not bloodied. This is a hyper comic-book universe in action, complete with onomatopoeic bursts during attacks and special effects that engulf the television screen and characters.
Read all about it: The 48-page, digest-size art book found in the game's special edition contains a 12-page prequel comic book written by Frank Tieri and illustrated by Kevin Sharpe. Also, sequential-art fans get one month of free access to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, where they can select from more than 9,000 comics to read online.
Pixel-popping scale: 8.5 out of 10. I often enjoyed the game much more as an audience member, thanks to being able to step back and admire some bold and explosive attacks that play out with lightning speed through fantastic and colorful cel-shaded design choices. (Thor's Mighty Spark is awesome.)
Multiplayer: Besides the head-to-head combat between a pair of players in the same room, the matches also quickly happen online through lobbies containing opponents from all over the world. Online players are also always readily primed against opponents through four pages of statistics so they can select challengers with comparable ranks and skills.
Unlockables and extras: The special edition includes a code to unlock the characters Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil games and Shuma-Gorath, a supernatural villain in the Dr. Strange universe (available March 15).
While enjoying the arcade action, players not only unlock more fighters, such as the Sentinel, but after beating the boss in any of the arcade-mode matches, also can view the match leader's biography, a 360-degree viewable 3-D model, a unique ending cinematic, and a ton of extra artwork.
Extras also include all of the musical themes and audio phrases from each character. Deadpool's audio nuggets definitely are worth a smile.
What's it worth? Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is an amazing-looking game that provides a beautiful treat for the comic-book fan. Unfortunately, it will appeal to only a limited demographic — mainly the old-timers. The younger generation weaned on Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War and Tekken, having no reason to appreciate the game's legacy, might lose interest after only a couple of arcade matches.
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