‘Marvel vs. Capcom 3’ lives up to name

Capcom pretty much invented the modern fighting game back in the ’90s with “Street Fighter 2” and helped usher the genre into obscurity by charging players for new versions of the game every year. Now they’re releasing an update to the original “Marvel vs Capcom 3” less than a year later for only $20 less than the original game’s price. However, “Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3’s” 12 new characters and improved online experience should be more than enough to reel hardcore players back in.

Remember the story from the original “Marvel vs Capcom 3?” Me neither. Capcom has made no attempt whatsoever to explain why Ryu and Spider-man are brawling in the streets, so players looking for any sort of story mode will be disappointed. The only reward for slugging through the single player modes are short endings composed of static images that are admittedly pretty funny. Still, comparing “Mortal Kombat 9’s” story mode to “Ultimate’s” is like pitting a linebacker against the Hulk. The biggest addition to the single player experience is the ability to play as Galactus, but the novelty wears thin rather quickly. Simply put, multiplayer is the game’s real focus.

The multiplayer is just as chaotic and heart-pounding as ever, with dramatic comebacks being the norm, not the exception. The three-on-three tag team battles explode with more dynamic action than the X-Men and Avengers put together, and the relatively streamlined controls mean that even beginners can wreak super-powered havoc in no time.

“Ultimate” makes some tweaks to the infamous X-Factor system and hands out new moves to certain members of the cast. Ryu can now rapid fire his trademark hadoukens. Storm can blow opponents around with her wind powers. She-Hulk can whack her opponent with a lamppost. Unfortunately, several characters who were underpowered in the first game, like Chinese vampire Hsien-Ko, are still too weak to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Magneto. The balance changes will please some players and cause others to “Hulk out.”

Twelve new characters bring up the roster to a cool 50, if you count the two downloadable characters sold separately. Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Dr. Strange, “Devil May Cry” antagonist Vergil, and “Dead Rising” hero Frank West are fan favorites with enough wrinkles to keep players training and strategizing for years to come.

Even the nobodies like Firebrand (who starred in only one game on the Super Nintendo) and Rocket Raccoon (a gun-toting raccoon from outer space) bring such unique gameplay to the series that they feel like games within games. For instance, Frank West gets more powerful by taking lots of pictures mid-battle, and if lawyer Phoenix Wright collects enough incriminating evidence on his opponent, he can strike them down with the full force of the law. Each of the new fighters is more fun and well-developed than some entire games, and if you plan to master them then expect to clock in countless hours doing so.

The improved online multiplayer boasts a more consistent frame rate and a spectator mode to watch other player’s matches while you wait for your turn to fight. Another new (and free) mode combines the card-collecting strategy of “Magic: the Gathering” and allows you to imbue your characters with special effects such as invisibility. This mode is not yet available to the general public, but should make a fun diversion from standard versus modes.

“Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3” matches its predecessor in presentation, with the 12 new characters looking great and accompanied by their own musical themes. Alternate versions of existing levels add some variety to the backgrounds, but all-new levels would have been preferred. The first “Marvel vs Capcom 3” looked great, and the follow-up is no different.

An add-on for $40 seems a little steep, so casual players not interested in delving into the finer points of air combos and team-construction strategies may find little to warrant the price tag. Hardcore fans of the first game simply can’t do without this one. It is undeniably the better version of the game, and if anyone missed out on the original, they owe it to themselves to dig into the meaty, exhilarating chaos that only the “Marvel vs Capcom” series can provide.

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