The original plan, according to Capcom, was to release the new characters in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as DLC over the course of 2011. Then Japan got hit with the Tohoku earthquake in March, which screwed up all manner of things, so now, here we are. In the fine Capcom tradition, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is an updated rerelease of the original game.
To be fair, Ultimate MvC3 is larger than what could reasonably be released as DLC, with 12 new characters, an impending new gameplay mode (which has yet to be released, but will appear as free DLC at some point in the near future, and as such cannot be reviewed), and a large number of balance tweaks to the existing cast. If you already bought MvC3 once this year, I can't fault you for feeling screwed over, but when you play the new game, it's pretty obvious where your money went.
The new characters are a bit controversial, since all 12 of them have managed to not be either Mega Man or Gene from God Hand (there are people out there who, 10 minutes after they die, will still be talking about how much Gene needs to be in an MvC game) and a couple of them are so obscure as to be practically invisible to anyone who isn't a die-hard Marvel fanatic. I've spent a lot of time over the last month telling people who Rocket Raccoon is ("He's a raccoon. With a gun." "Oh. Neat."), and Nova's not that much better known.
They add a surprising amount of variety to the existing cast. Frank West and Phoenix Wright both start off weak but can be built into powerhouses over the course of a round, which appeals to anyone who prefers the long game. Iron Fist and Nova are built around nonstop offensive pressure; Nemesis is the second coming of Juggernaut; Firebrand is Wolverine with wings; Hawkeye, Ghost Rider, and Dr. Strange provide a lot of zoning tools for people who prefer to stay at a distance; Vergil has a trench coat, a katana, and a built-in audience of Hot Topic customers; and Rocket Raccoon is a tiny, angry, British glass cannon.
The biggest problem, though, is that there seems to be a disconnect between how a lot of characters in MvC3 are meant to play and how it actually does play. This applies just as well to the original, but more so here. There's a point in MvC3's gameplay that's actually pretty easy to reach where it comes down to who lands the right combination first, which turns a lot of matches into a simple reflex test. (Look, for example, at some of the Evolution 2011 finals matches for MvC3, where the winner of a given round is whoever landed She-Hulk's sliding punch first.) It's one of the twitchiest fighting games I've ever played, with an online community that seems to be made up of 14-year-old monsters on a taurine drip. One touch from somebody who knows what he's doing, and your entire team's dead.
Some characters — like Frank West, Phoenix Wright or Strider — need time to set up their game, and that's time they often simply aren't going to get. One of the biggest issues with the original MvC3 was that outgoing damage was just too high, pretty much across the board, and UMvC3 makes it even worse. Several characters have gotten health nerfs, including Phoenix of all characters, and others can cough twice and kill half the opposing team. You can adjust the damage and handicap appropriately in the game's versus mode, but even at their lowest levels, a good round of UMvC3 feels like a knife fight between hemophiliacs.
With that in mind, playing UMvC3 online is likely to be frustrating for anyone who isn't a longtime fan of fighting games, to the point where a lot of newer players have a hard time figuring out what's going on at all. A match of UMvC3 rapidly turns into a huge rolling wall of particle effects with vaguely recognizable characters behind it, throwing out rapid-fire punches and kicks and occasionally turning into featureless dark red blurs. This is about the worst possible game to hand to somebody who doesn't already know the genre.
If that describes you, and you don't mind the damage issue, UMvC3 does have a lot going for it. Most of the characters are genuinely fun to play, and like I said before, there's somebody in this roster that you're going to like. There are a lot of clever touches and relatively subtle fan service, and there are a lot of laugh-out-loud funny moments in the characters' actions and dialogue. Even the music is pretty good.
UMvC3 is a great game to throw into your console when you've got some friends over for the evening. As I mentioned above, it's actually pretty easy to get to a decent level with it. Anybody can pick up the controller, pick somebody who looks cool, and be doing super combos and jumping around within a few minutes. That makes this one of the better party games this year, particularly for little kids.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has never been a bad game, and neither is Ultimate. It's important that you know exactly what you're getting into, though. It's been built to appeal to a fan community of die-hard experts, who spent 10 years playing Marvel vs. Capcom 2 at increasingly high levels of performance, who own their own customized fighting joysticks and who've been researching their team for the new game for the last six months. There are a lot of people who're going to pick this up for chuckles based upon the presence of the Marvel characters. They are going to get absolutely annihilated the moment they step into an online match, and they will be very, very angry. Don't be those guys.
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