'Marvel vs. Capcom 3': Fun, But Hamstrung by Industry Practices

Capcom's Marvel vs. Capcom series of side-scrolling fighting games is a great example of both the ridiculous lengths to which games can go to entertain and the ridiculous lengths to which the industry can go to keep us from being entertained.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes in 2000 was a bloated behemoth of a fighter, with an unprecedented 56-character roster representing several facets of each company's respective works. While other games might quail at such a prospect (or worse, mismanage it), Marvel vs. Capcom 2 infused this over-the-top stance into every aspect of its gameplay, becoming for 10 years a benchmark in its genre.

But licensing restrictions reared their ugly heads, and after Capcom lost its license to produce Marvel-based games in 2003, it looked like New Age of Heroes' limited PS2/Xbox releases might be the last time the franchises would come together.

It was a dark decade for 2-D fighting fans, punctuated only by a few Capcom vs. Other Less Popular Company titles that felt like they were trying too hard to win our affections. An Xbox Live/Playstation Network re-release of New Age of Heroes was made possible by Marvel and Capcom execs savvy enough to notice that the licensing restrictions didn't include downloadable titles, but even that was a pale shadow of what could be.

Amazingly enough, what could be is finally here. After years of legal wrangling made possible by no less than one Capcom VP and the purchase of Marvel by Disney, the two companies have ironed out their licensing wrinkles to the tune of Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, possibly the most hotly anticipated fighting game of the last decade.

Depending on who you are, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 comes in one of two flavors. For casual players and intermediate fighting game fans, it's a joy to play. The new game maintains a tightness and complexity similar to that of its predecessors, while it simplifies a variety of previously skill-dependent maneuvers, allowing low- and mid-tier performers to dip their toes in the waters of bad-assery.

For hardcore fighters, however, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a twisted, alien mockery of the obsession of their last decade. Dozens of changes and additions, from the subtle to the overt, litter the gamescape, leaving players adrift. Fortunately for these players, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 does nothing to ruin the memory of the original Dreamcast version of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, to which they will undoubtedly remain loyal.

There is one element that players of all levels can justly complain about, though, and it's another case of the industry's most ridiculous tendencies. Compared to the roster of its immediate predecessor, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 feels more than a little spartan. The quality is there, both in the breadth of fighting archetypes and the variety of characters represented, but at times the sheer quantity leaves something to be desired.

This would be fine if it was, for instance, merely a storage-space limitation. It's not. Capcom has admitted that some characters—in some cases fan favorites—were held back to be released later as downloadable content. You know, paid downloadable content. For a game that already costs $60. One that, by comparison to both its own series and other games currently on the market, doesn't really offer a ton of content out of the box.

I've never been the biggest naysayer about downloadable content. (I'm actually watching a Dawn of War II expansion download as I write this.) But there's a caveat to that: it has to be implemented well, and it can't be an explicit cash grab.

The time when Epic Games would regularly release mammoth Unreal Tournament expansions for free just because they could is behind us. Gamers have largely made peace with that. But the idea that players should pay somewhere between $5 and $10 for the privilege of beating up my friends as the multi-tentacled Dr. Strange nemesis Shuma-Gorath or Dead Rising protagonist/Dan Aykroyd look-alike Frank West is a little bit insulting, given the miniscule amount of content it actually represents.

It's an increasingly common flaw, and one made more glaring in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 by the 10 sequel-free years that preceded it. An otherwise perfect return marred by incompetence would be bad enough, but one blemished by a sales decision is an order of magnitude worse.