Version tested: PlayStation Vita
Editor's note: this is an import review of the Japanese version of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 on PlayStation Vita. The game is released in Europe and the US at the same time as Vita itself on 22nd February.
It took over a decade for the follow-up to Marvel vs. Capcom 2 to arrive, and twelve months on we find ourselves preparing for a third helping of a dish that's traditionally appealed to those with a sweet tooth. Marvel vs. Capcom 3's extended combos, impossible aerial scrapes and on-screen fireworks have made a perfect counterpoint to the more studied and graceful pugilism of Street Fighter.
There's more to it than that, though - much, much more. The former part of Marvel vs. Capcom's formula brings bold colours plastered across a screen that screams with stylised lettering and motion lines, the fighting infused with comic-book intensity.
It does well to obscure the fact that the Capcom side of the equation is working harder than ever, producing one of the most complex and strategically deep fighters around, and one that's established itself as a tournament favourite. The three-on-three fighting, an emphasis on juggling and multi-tiered attack and defence strategies mean that while it's ostensibly a comic-book game, it's about as dense and accessible as Joyce.
How well it's all suited to a handheld port becomes an issue of irrelevance within seconds of playing Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 on the Vita. This is a pitch-perfect port, and the first proper realisation of the handheld's promise of home console gaming on the move.
All 48 characters are here, and all of their combos are intact. If you want a more detailed run-down of the game's mechanics, I can send you to our original review with confidence - this retains each and every detail of the home versions, and loses so very little in translation.
So all that remains to assess is what's been gained and what's been lost. UMVC3 is powered by MT Framework, Capcom's current-generation game engine that debuted with Dead Rising and proved its flexibility with Super Street Fighter 4 3D Edition on 3DS, and more recently and most impressively with Resident Evil: Revelations on Nintendo's handheld.
Chalk the engine's Vita debut up as another success. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is one of the finer-looking launch games, boasting the fidelity and detail of the likes of Uncharted: Golden Abyss and WipEout 2048 and throwing in an added sense of spectacle.
Admittedly, a little of that spectacle's been watered down, with Hyper Combos losing some of their impact and the backgrounds losing their animated flourishes. It's a compromise that's quickly forgotten in the tangle of sprites that maintain their fluid animation in a perfect 60 frames per second.
It's not just what's beneath the Vita's skin that's put to the test. UMVC3's combo-heavy fighting makes strong demands of the handheld's control set and it rises to them admirably. The Vita's been blessed with another of Sony's exquisite d-pads that have traditionally acquitted themselves well with fighting games, and it serves the game well.
So do the Vita's face buttons, their diminutive scale actually working to the game's advantage; the light-mid-heavy combo that's the backbone of UMVC3's fighting can be pulled off with a roll of the thumb, while the inputs are sturdy enough to support more complex command chains.
So it's a disappointment to see UMVC3's implementation of touch controls falling well short of the mark laid down by Capcom's 3DS port of Super Street Fighter 4. Rather than exclusively granting access to combo-sets, UMVC3 over-reaches itself, allowing control over the player's movement through a set of swipes and gestures. It's an awkward mess, and thankfully an optional one.
UMVC3's run-through of the Vita's networking capability is a more comprehensive success. Again, it's a facsimile of its home console brother, but again its imitation is so eerily accurate that it's incredibly impressive. Ranked matches are easy to find and connect to, while eight-player lobbies retain the ability to spectate other fights before you step up to the plate.
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Tableaus of famous faces from both licenses battling each other. Each appears to be winning. Tremendous.
Playing over wi-fi sees only occasional lapses into lag - and as it's currently connecting to players on the other side of the globe, it's safe to assume the issue will all but disappear once the local infrastructure is in place.
There's an emphasis on competitive play that UMVC3's online mode carries well - it's possible to comb through past online matches in a detailed replay system that overlays hit-boxes and allows analysis on a frame-by-frame basis, while your own stats and fighting style are exhaustively detailed and available at the touch of a button.
This focus comes at the expense of accessibility, though, as well partly excusing a lack of anything for the solo player to indulge in. Few concessions are made to the novice; a training mode introduces the basic move-sets, but does little to explain the more complex mechanics at the heart of UMVC3.
It threatens to make UMVC3 bewildering for the upstart, but for those already in tune with Capcom's sugar-coated fighter, the effect is enthralling. This is the most hardcore of games arriving intact on what's shaping up to be the most hardcore of handhelds and right now, it's one of the best testaments to the power and potential of the Vita.
8 / 10