Capcom no doubt hopes challenge will spring from mental strategy rather than physical dexterity. In the main, the game accomplishes this, and the wall between a player's will and execution is perhaps the thinnest yet.
But past the basics, there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Much of the higher-level game revolves around off-the-ground (OTG) moves, attacks that bounce your opponent off the ground when they fall, allowing you to swipe them into the air again and follow up with air combos.
During an air combo, you can switch in a team-mate to carry on the attack by pushing up, down, left or right and the special attack button. The direction chosen offers one of a variety of effects; for example, pushing up lands high damage but doesn't fill your special meter, while pushing down does the opposite. Your opponent can break out of the combo if they manage to match your input, and fascinating mind-games ensue.
X-factor is another inclusion that adds tactical depth. By hitting the attack buttons simultaneously, your character will enter X-factor, a temporary mode during which red damage refills while in the arena, attacks are more powerful, and you no longer take chip damage. X-factor becomes more powerful the fewer characters you have left, so choosing when to deploy is of paramount importance, and will very often swing the outcome of a match. These simple yet robust ideas, while overwhelming at first, give the game an appealing and impressive strategic edge.
For many, however, the visual assault will be too much. In the game's more frantic moments, it can be difficult to both keep up with what what is happening on screen and to decipher it. Likewise, with a number of combo strings that will essentially KO a character before they can do anything, the gulf between experts and beginners is gigantic, and can be dispiriting.
Nevertheless, the sheer variety of attacks, Hyper Combos, crossover counters and other factors that allow you to string together elaborate sentences of attack make this one of the most flexible fighters to date. If you can imagine an attack sequence then, with a little practice, it's possible to execute it, and there will no doubt be some jaw-dropping YouTube combo showcases over the coming months.
Sadly, while there are areas in which the game improves upon Super Street Fighter IV's online modes, in most others it falls short. While lobbies are included, allowing players to gather and play-winner-stays-on round robins, inexplicably you cannot watch other players' matches while you wait your turn. As the point of lobbies is to offer a communal arena in which to cheer and jeer your friends and, perhaps more importantly, learn tips and techniques from your betters, the exclusion of viewable matches is a serious shortcoming.
Elsewhere, there are Ranked and Player matches available, but this represents the full range of online competitive avenues. The option to instantly replay a Player match without having to return to the character select screen is a welcome one, but being thrown out to the main menu if the game fails to pair you with an opponent, instead of being able to simply tap to search again as in Super Street Fighter IV, is a needless irritation.
However, the way in which stats are presented is stronger here, with an explanation for how to collect each of the various unlockable titles that you can assign to your profile, and a rather explicit readout for how many wins and how many losses you've occurred in Ranked Matches that will either inspire pride or shame.
Ultimately, Marvel vs. Capcom 3's appeal will depend on your own disposition. Far more welcoming to button-mashers than Street Fighter IV, this is a game in which you can tap stuff and watch sparkly miracles happen. But to begin to understand and master its systems will take just as much practice as it did in Ono's game – and quicker reactions to boot.
For a game conceived in the bed of fan service, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arguably does too little for fans of its various mythologies outside of the characters themselves. There are precious few unlockables here.
But perhaps that reveals Niitsuma's focus : to make a game that can rival his own rival's, one that discards frippery in favour of density. In that regard, Capcom has a Hulk smash on its hands – at least, for those able to keep up with its tune.
8 / 10