This year marked my first trip to the Eurogamer Expo. I was only able to attend the opening day, and with so many games and conferences I wanted to sample, I came up with a simple strategy: don't stay on one game for too long and try to mix it up.
Unfortunately this plan was abandoned after about ten minutes. As soon as I entered the Expo I made a beeline straight for the Challenge Zone, where I was confronted by not one but two Vewlix arcade cabinets hosting playable Marvel vs. Capcom 3 code.
With jaw slightly slackened, I witnessed Chun-Li taking a Proton Cannon to the face for the first time in glorious 3D. It was at this precise moment that I metaphorically hammered in the tent pegs.
Tinkering with the arcade machines was Leo Tan, Capcom's illustrious PR manager, who introduced me to Marvel 3's new six button layout. This turned out to be more in line with Tatsunoko vs. Capcom as the top three buttons were assigned to light, medium and heavy attack, with the lower three catering for a dedicated aerial button as well as two different tags. However, due to some kind of configuration problem, the second tag button was set to dash.
Seeing these calibration kinks as a potential excuse for losing I hastily clasped the arcade stick, hit the player two button and began to peruse the select screen. Scrolling up and down it was clear this was the same build shown at Comic Con with an even mix of Marvel and Capcom faces for a total of 18 characters – including oldies like Hulk, Felicia and Captain America and newbies like Trish, Doramammu and Viewtiful Joe. Nonetheless I was slightly disappointed by the absence of Albert Wesker.
Not wishing to look like I was trying too hard I fought back the urge to instantly pick Doctor Doom, Iron Man and Wolverine and instead opted for Chris Redfield, Dante and – mostly because I wanted a backup plan, but didn't want to pick the more obvious shotokan – Morrigan. It was then immensely refreshing to hear the nostalgic phrase, "select an Assist Type", because just like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Marvel 3 is all about choices.
It's also about fan service as the first fight of the day, fittingly enough, was set in an Umbrella research facility packed tightly with caged Lickers and a slumbering Tyrant. Without any more time to contemplate what was about to happen the word "FIGHHHHT!!" exploded onto the screen in massive orange letters. This was going to be all kinds of awesome.
Redfield's moveset felt like a full-featured evolution of what an ex-STARS operative would be like in an extreme crossover universe. He can dish out some meaty punch combinations as well as throw grenades, lay proximity mines and pull out a flamethrower. His basic quarter-circle-forward special is also variable depending on which button you press, resulting in a shotgun blast, a machinegun volley or a hadoken busting magnum blast.
Hyper Combos also make a grand return with Redfield's payload being typically weapon based. The one which came out more often than not had him reaching for the grenade launcher and firing off a progressive salvo of ice, flame, explosive and electric rounds, but his more viscous Hyper Combo starts out with a knife slash and steadily works up the weaponry tree before cumulating in a devastating rocket blast.
More lethal still is his Level 3 orbital satellite laser which, as one of the days defining highlights, was used to finish off a Deadpool player as the Merc with a Mouth bellowed, "You pressed the wrong button!"
But while Chris was all about projectiles and strong spacing tools, Dante came off as the ultimate combo exhibitionist with, allegedly, around 25 specials in total. Indeed, the son of Sparda can Million Stab with Rebellion, summon icicles from the ground with Cerberus, use Artemis to fire off homing pink death and even drench himself in lightning with Nevada. Throw in a 30+ hit Ebony and Ivory Hyper Combo with the option to go Devil Trigger and you've got a devilish playstyle which epitomises the DMC heritage.
In his current state Dante is a shoo-in top tier which hopefully suggests that Capcom has learned its lesson from the lopsided roster of Marvel 2 by giving the warring houses in Marvel 3 a more even footing. And although it's hard to get any sense of individual character balancing after only a handful of matches, any fears of infinite combos and broken characters appear to be minimal.
The more forgiving inputs are also a clear bid to ease those recently weaned on Street Fighter IV into the considerably more rabid Marvel tempo. Indeed, whereas the one-on-one Street Fighters tend to be about getting into the other players head by methodically reading their movements and baiting mistakes, Marvel is more about prolonged aerial assaults and ending every other combo with an epileptic super. And Marvel 3 isn't looking to deviate.
Mechanics-wise many of the old systems make a return, including Delayed Hyper Combos, Variable Counters, Advancing Guards and Snap Backs – which forces the opponent to tag out against their will.
The new aerial button also means that instead of each character having a specific launcher – classically a command normal – most characters can now simply chain combo from light to aerial and then super jump to keep the hit counter soaring with an Air Combo.
The aerial button can also be used mid-air with one of three directions to tag in one of your benched characters for a Team Aerial Combo, but if your opponent guesses the direction you're going for they can Team Aerial Counter and make you eat damage instead.
Another new trick Marvel 3 has up its sleeve is the glitzy X-Factor system which seems to work as a single use damage booster which also has the added advantage of cancelling anything you're doing.
More on Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Face-off: Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3: Round 29
Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Test Drive Unlimited 2, Fight Night Champion, Stacking, de Blob 2.
Review: Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Hands On: Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
Tableaus of famous faces from both licenses battling each other. Each appears to be winning. Tremendous.
This even applies to Hyper Combos, making it possible to cancel two into each other and – if you've meter to spare – adding on some Delayed Hyper Combo antics on the end for suitably massive damage.
But as complicated as all that may sound it's clear that Marvel 3 is a game striving to uphold two conflicting principles, i.e. to reduce the inherent complexity without diluting the depth. And if Capcom can pull this considerable challenge off, MvC3 is most definitely FTW.
Once the day was over the memory that stayed with me the most wasn't seeing Ryu dragon punching Thor ten feet into the air, or Deadpool mockingly shouting Shoryuken and then moon walking. It was of two small arcade machines in a massive hall of gaming opulence that had become – at least from my perspective – the Expo's epicentre of camaraderie and rivalry.
Marvel 3 is shaping up to be the kind of crossover fighting game that only Capcom knows how to make. With Spencer from Bionic Commando, Arthur from Ghost n' Goblins and Marvel universes' MODOK and Magneto recently confirmed, and more still to be announced, this ride can't come soon enough.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is slated for a spring 2011 release on PS3 and Xbox 360.