First things first, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is nowhere near as complex to control as many of its peers. There are only four main attack buttons, offering the expected light/heavy punches and kicks. The other two buttons from the classic arcade layout, now mapped to the shoulder buttons, are used to call in your support characters.
Far from being a simple one-on-one brawler, this pits teams of three characters against each other. Each can be assigned a specific support function, although the game will nudge you towards the one best suited to their skills. You can also swap characters during play, which allows damaged fighters to recoup some of their lost health, and combine their powers by unleashing Hyper Combination Finishers using energy amassed by successful attacks.
Not only does this make the gameplay more varied, but it adds a deeply tactical element. There's always been a chess-like quality to the rapid-fire ballet of attack and counterattack in Capcom's games and that finds its more rewarding incarnation here. There are hundreds of team possibilities, and it frees up the character selection from being too samey.
Naturally, titans like Hulk have had their powers quelled somewhat - otherwise he could punch poor Ryu's head clean off - but even some of the more jokey inclusions prove useful when teamed up with the right partners, and deployed at the right time. All the same, there are some curious choices. The inclusion of long-forgotten Marvel characters like Marrow and Spiral dates the game as a relic of the grim late-nineties speculator boom that damn near killed the US superhero comic industry. Likewise, the inclusion of Iron Man and War Machine, not to mention two Wolverines, seems a little redundant when the likes of Thor go unused. It's all about balance rather than fan service, so while my inner Marvel nerd bristles, the game benefits.
Such phenomenal depth comes at a price, however, and novice players unsure of taking the plunge should certainly be warned that this is a ferociously tough game. Even the single-player campaign, on Easy, is a stiff challenge and anyone thinking of jumping straight into an online confrontation should be prepared to be pulped in less than a minute. The hardcore have been waiting for this re-release, and they're already out there, waiting for fresh blood.
You'll need patience and discipline to restrict yourself to the robust Training Mode, learning the moves, cancels and snapbacks essential to victory, not just for your preferred characters but for those you're likely to face. Experiment with different line-ups, test them against various combinations, keep practicing until you've absorbed as many combos as possible, and then you might be ready to tackle a live opponent. It's like the Karate Kid, only without wax or fence-painting.
The game demands that sort of devotion and investment, but repays it in spades. There's a reason why Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has been so eagerly awaited, and so revered, still being played on the pro-gaming circuit after the best part of a decade. This really is the fighting game evolved to the level of artform, and while mastery can be a long, tough slog, it's also its own reward. There are few fighting games better.