The Curious Case of Marvel vs. Capcom 3

I just finished playing a few games of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with a few of the guys from Select Button, during which I was simultaneously enraged and delighted. So I thought I’d use that to fuel my first official blog post on Palette Swap(s).

MVC3 is a fighting game that’s turned up to 11 all the time, for better or worse.

A little bit of background: I’ve been playing fighting games seriously to semi-seriously for about 11 years now. Went to Evo during the early years (2003 and 2004, at Cal Poly Pomona), and yes, I was there for The Daigo Parry.

My best games were Capcom vs. SNK 2 and Guilty Gear XX, but I had a functional knowledge of most of the Capcom canon–MVC2, Super Turbo, 3s, etc., and I was in Japan when SFIV launched so I had a little bit of a head start on the US players when I came back.

SFIV/SSFIV do a great job taking the competitive essentials of a classic Street Fighter game and making them more accessible. The game is similar in basic mechanics to ST/CVS2/3s, but unlike those three, a relative newbie to fighting games can learn the basics relatively quickly. In order to have a decent command of SFIV skills, you’ll need to know a few basic combos, maybe one or two setups to land your Ultra combo, and a functional knowledge of your character’s pokes and anti-air options.

That’s a lot compared to your average single player game, but not nearly as much as CVS2, where you needed to learn three characters, plus your Groove’s various features (roll, parry, Just Defend, meter management etc.), and some way of dealing with players who can roll cancel consistently. The core elements of the game are still there–throw mixups, poking, zoning, and so on–it just doesn’t take a few years of dedicated practice before you can actually use those core elements. (You can know the basic mixups/pokes/combos in CVS2 and you won’t get a chance to use them against a guy who’s doing Blanka roll cancel electricity all day.)

MVC3 basically does the same thing to MVC2 that SFIV did to the rest of the Street Fighter series, but naturally, the “core elements” are a bit different. I imagine that the design team probably tried to figure out how “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” became “MAHVEL BAYBEE”.

Their final bullet list of MAHVEL BAYBEE probably looked something like this:

  • A lot of characters with nostalgic value (either from classic comic books and video games, or nostalgia primarily linked to the previous Vs. series games)
  • A lot of crazy shit happening on-screen
  • Lots of character tagging/swapping/assisting action
  • Really long visually impressive combos
  • Very high comeback potential
  • Minimal concern for game balance

The top four shouldn’t be unfamiliar–they’re practically the hallmark of the series, and plenty of other fighting games have tried the same formula to various degrees (Super Smash Brothers, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, a few others). It’s the last two that are the most interesting to me, mostly because they’re what really separate MVC2 from the rest of the pack, and that’s what Capcom really brought to the front with MVC3.

MVC2 gets a bad rap for being “imbalanced”. If you decide that game balance means “the whole roster of characters is competitively viable”, yes, MVC2 fails miserably on that count. Storm, Sentinel, Cable, Magneto–each tournament-winning team most likely includes at least two of those characters. Outside of the Big Four, there’s a few characters chosen only for their invaluable assists–Captain Commando, Cyclops, Psylocke, Doctor Doom, and Tron Bonne are the most common of the bunch. Out of a cast of 56 or so, that’s pretty miserable as far as balance goes.

Each of those characters mentioned above are top tier for a good reason: Namely, they’re able to play a game that no one else in the cast can. Storm can run away and build super meter almost indefinitely and rush down with high-speed mixups and clear the screen with her Hailstorm super. Cable can kill a character in the blink of an eye if he has meter, whether it’s an assist you didn’t protect or an incoming character getting guard broken or anything else and he can zone out the vast majority of the cast without using meter at all. Magneto can be pretty much anywhere on the screen with a blink of an eye, and once he touches your character they’re either dead, or worse, snapped out so your assist character has to take point. Sentinel gets high-damage combos with or without meter, full-screen zoning ability, a great assist for rushdown or zoning, and “armor” that allows him to continue performing a move even when he’s hit in the middle of a move. Compared to all that, almost no one in the game stands a chance.

MVC2 remains fun despite the above for two key reasons: First, that the game they’re playing is way more fun than the game the rest of the cast is playing (seriously, just try a few low-to-mid-tier games with your buddies and you’ll find that there’s a lot of boring combos, easy-to-block setups, and games won by time over), and second, the character synergies between the Big Four (and their assists) make for plenty of variety. Off the top of my head, these were most of the high-level tournament teams:

  • Storm/Sentinel/Cable
  • Storm/Sentinel/Captain Commando
  • Storm/Sentinel/Cyclops
  • Sentinel/Cable/Capcom
  • Sentinel/Cable/Cyclops
  • Magneto/Sentinel/Cable
  • Magneto/Storm/Psylocke
  • Magneto/Storm/Sentinel

Despite the apparent similarity between those 8 teams, each one plays very, very differently. Storm/Sentinel is a popular combination in part because Storm’s basic air combo -> Super -> cancel into Sentinel’s Hyper Sentinel Force super can kill a character for only two meters, but the team will play very differently if you have CapCom’s anti-air assist, because it complements Sentinel very nicely and is great for punishing enemy assists. Swapping CapCom out for Cable trades your anti-air assist for better zoning ability, plus Cable is much better on point than CapCom, but having Cable on your team means that Storm and Sentinel won’t have the benefit of an anti-air assist and they won’t be able to use as much meter since Cable needs it to work his magic.

By having so much game-breaking stuff in the game, MVC2 becomes a game where losing one character can mean you lose the game (it’s very to come back when your opponent has two assist characters to your one, since they have better ability to combo you and control the screen), but each character is still capable of mounting a comeback.

In order to recreate the MAHVEL BAYBEE goodness that kept people playing so long before, Capcom needed to keep a lot of this while simultaneously making it more accessible and balanced–if newcomers thought that they wouldn’t be able to play a fun game with their favorite Ryu/Zero/That Guy From Bionic Commando team, they wouldn’t go anywhere near MVC3.

The end result is that pretty much any team in MVC3 is capable of rushing your shit down incessantly and/or preventing you from ever moving into their half of the screen and/or making a one-character comeback.

There’s no coasting, here. The reason I was enraged and delighted while playing online was because I got OCVed (“One Character Victory”–they didn’t have to switch their point character once) by a relatively inexperienced Ryu/Dante/Iron Man player in my first game of the session. I don’t mind losing, and I generally try to scale back my game when I’m playing with guys who clearly don’t have my experience, but I didn’t feel like I had that luxury in this game. Even if I had a two-character lead, I was playing at 100% because they had X-Factor, or meter, or were playing a character with powerful combos, or any other of a dozen reasons that made me turn it up.

So I went on a 10-game win streak–not because I wanted to, mind you, but because I felt like I had to. MAHVEL is all business. If SFIV is a sparring match (or even a tournament match), MVC3 has the gravity and intensity appropriate for a 3-on-3 clash between super-heroes and villains.


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2 Responses to The Curious Case of Marvel vs. Capcom 3

  1. Pingback: How To Get Good At Anything | Palette Swaps

  2. Pingback: MVC3 as a Spectator Sport | Palette Swaps

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