In the heyday of fighting games, Capcom was the undoubted king. Street Fighter II set them up as the game to beat; their followups (Super Street Fighter II, Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, Street Fighter EX) and ancillary lines like Rival Schools continuously carried them forward. They landed a cush contract to produce beat-em-ups and fighting games with Marvel Comics characters, and then the VS series - X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel vs Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom. The crowning achievement was Marvel vs Capcom 2, which had an amazingly numerous roster, 3-character tag team fighting, and turned out to be one of the most fun fighting games ever made.
Alas, Capcom lost the Marvel contract for a long while, and their business went downhill. SNK vs Capcom games simply weren't the same, geared far more for the exacting tournament scene than for any semblance of fun gameplay. Waiting in the wings, Guilty Gear (and later Blazblue) began chipping away at Capcom's market, becoming the go-to tournament games by out-Capcom-ing the Capcom play style. Capcom themselves hired programmers from other, failed companies who brought in fighting game mechanics that simply didn't mesh well with the main reason Capcom's previous play style - with internally self-consistent rules that made combo and hit mechanics flow organically from the system, rather than being defined in a "it's a combo because it's on the preprogrammed combo list" manner.
And then gamers started to talk about Capcom again. The first gasp of a possible resurgence was Street Fighter IV, followed by Super Street Fighter IV. After the newness wore off, gamers decided... well, SFIV is Capcom's toss-out to the tournament type players. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings, Capcom tested out a new system imitating their rivals with Tatsunoko vs Capcom. Gone were the punch and kick buttons; instead, Capcom ripped off the Guilty Gear/Blazblue "light/medium/fierce/special" 4-button setup and bolted it into their characters.
Gamers weren't impressed. And then Capcom announced the unthinkable. After a decade of wait, we were about to see Marvel vs Capcom 3.
If you're thinking this review has been held up... it has. It has because I spent a lot of time trying to give MvC3 the chance I felt it deserved. I've toyed around with every character. I've been back and forth waiting to see what the DLC will bring out, even while recognizing that Game + DLC cost is probably going to be insanely high (seriously, Capcom's announced plans put my calculations at around $120 to actually have the whole game roster). I feel I've reached the point where this review can be fair to the game.
First point: Marvel vs Capcom 3 is not a Marvel vs Capcom series game. Approach it with that mentality, and you're going to be disappointed. Approach it with the mentality of "I know character X from the first series of games, I should know how he/she works in this one" and you're going to be very, very unhappy. The "new" (sorry Capcom, but I've got to say it: you should have stuck with your own fighting system rather than ripping off another studio's) fighting system doesn't work like that. It's oversimplified to the point of absurdity, with many characters' signature moves not using remotely the same button/motion sequences.
The Marvel vs Capcom 3 fighting system works very simply. Instead of punch/kick buttons and call-in buttons, it reworks the button scheme: there are now light/medium/heavy/"special" attack buttons and two call-in buttons. Various moves work only on certain buttons, rather than being universally a motion plus either punch or kick and severity/power/start-up time being controlled by the punch or kick pressed. For old-school Capcom players, this is a fundamental shift, and one that's going to take a lot of practice to get past. Even after a good solid time playing the game, I still occasionally want to go back to my old MvC2 button presses. The strangest part of the system is the "special" button, which is universally used for either the character's air pop-up attack or for a high-damage air combo finisher.
The roster of Marvel Vs Capcom 3 is the main attraction, and Capcom appears at this point to have been holding a fair number of characters back for DLC - not surprising since Capcom's publicly stated they intended DLC to be used as a money-making stream from the game. Still, it's nice to see the series get an update. With a decade of characters to add in, as well as old favorites from previous lesser-known Capcom games, the base disc is a decent start. Perennial favorites like Iron Man, Captain America, Ryu, and Chun Li are there alongside newcomers like Dante and Viewtiful Joe, as well as "classic" Capcom characters like Haggar and Bionic Commando. On the Marvel side, some of the additions will leave gamers wondering "who are these guys" - Modok and X-23 certainly come to mind.
Capcom's also taking time to issue patches to the game balance. For console gamers new to the "ship now, patch later", the last crowd to see it coming was the fighting game crowd; FPS gamers who were on Halo or Call of Duty, of course, have been angry about "ship now, patch later" for most of the past decade. With Marvel vs Capcom 3, fighting game players can now join the ranks of those hopping onto game forums screaming about the "nerf" to their favorite character or how overpowered another character is.
But... is it fun? Quite honestly, this is the hardest thing for me to review. There's so much history to the Marvel vs Capcom line. Looking at it dispassionately - if I were a newcomer to the fighting game genre, I might find it fun. If I were a BlazBlue player wondering "what is this Marvel vs Capcom stuff", I'd probably adapt to the controls rather quickly. For previous fans of the series, however, it is either a welcome and much-needed update with some changes that simply have to be put up with, or an outright betrayal of the Capcom fighting system. For gamers who like a certain level of complexity in their fighting games, it just doesn't have it - handing the controls to a buddy, sight-unseen, he and I were both executing high-level, advanced gameplay combos within half an hour of nothing but head-to-head gameplay. The system is really that simple, lacking the depth for real long-term replayability.
Oh, and also: yes, the Marvel vs Capcom series has been known for crazy, over-the-top end bosses in storyline mode, but really, whoever programmed Galactus with half a dozen "I Win" buttons is a real jerk. Fighting Galactus is just an exercise in frustration, nevermind the fact that his two "Heralds" break the system whenever they are on both sides of the player's character, and share a 99-second timer with Galactus himself.
I'd wait till it hits sale time before picking this one up. You'll be waiting that long for them to properly balance the fighting system with updates and get all the DLC released anyways.