Writing a review of a game hasn’t been this challenging since the very first one I wrote. That first time is hard. Games are multi-faceted beasts. The machine they’re played on affects things, as do the experiences of the gamer up until that point. You need to assess objectively, cover off the key points and colour them with apt description and reasoned opinion. When you first set your mind to try and output such an article it is full of information, crammed with thoughts. Getting it all down onto paper as succinctly and entertainingly and ultimately as usefully as you can takes a Herculean effort. After that time it’s a comparative easy ride. The activation hump has been traversed and what comes next is a repeat of what came once before. Which is why that sitting here now, starting this review for the ninth time, surprises me so. After all, the game in question - Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 on the PS Vita - is a port of its bigger home console siblings, reviewed back in November last year. It’s the third in a series of beat ‘em ups involving characters from other games such as Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition, as well as the comic book and movie worlds. This should be straightforward.
But it isn’t. In trying to understand why, it occurred to me that it’s a simple combination of multiple factors. The fact that it’s possible to fight on a train in a setup which may well be superior to that available at home is one. That you can do so as Wolverine still tickles me to this day given his iconism and birth outside of gaming media. The effect which an online beat ‘em up mode has is mesmerising and terrifying in equal measure (because you love playing it but are also acutely aware you can’t play it forever). The cool things Capcom have programmed into this version. The great demo potential the game ensures the Vita has. Basically there is so much good to write about this game it’s hard to channel that excitement and write about one thing after another in series. But let’s try. So, in more detail, what things are so great about this game?
First thing’s first. Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 on the PS Vita is a stunning port of the PS3 version, delivering everything offered in the home console build but making it the superior version of the game thanks to the PS Vita itself and the additions made in-between the two releases. In the absence of a fight stick the D-pad and feel of controller in hand is all important. With the Vita each and every Hadoken and ion beam can be executed easily and consistently even towards the end of an extended play session. The feel of the Vita never strains the hands or arms whilst playing this and maintaining a steady grasp of the machine. The triggers are easier to manipulate and more tactile than on the Dualshock 3 and the D-pad itself is correctly sized and balanced such that awareness of what is happening at all times is assured. The screen is arguably what elevates the in-game experience over and above that when sat at home in front of even the biggest and best screen. The blacks are blacker than nearly any decent sized television and this in turn makes the colours more vibrant and accurate than seen elsewhere. In a comic book world with OTT moves and animations this can only benefit the action and sure enough, it absolutely pops. This game is visually stunning. Thanks to the very busy nature of match-ups, where it’s hard to determine what’s going on anyway (at first) the size of screen could be seen as a detriment. The suspicion though is that this happens regardless because in time it becomes much easier to follow as you improve as a player and learn more of the roster’s move sets and probable reactions. The third reason playing this game on the Vita is of benefit compared to its brethren is the ability to play anyone in the world when you’re anywhere in the world as long as a wireless connection (and/or 3G signal) is available. Digital addiction, right there.
The online execution of the game is exactly as can be found in other versions. The beauty is that a beat ‘em up where one fight can last between thirty seconds and three minutes is the perfect title to have from day one on a handheld. By its very nature portable gaming is to be done on the move (or at least needs to be playable whilst on the move - for sure many will play in their armchair just as they would with another system) and needs to be able to last a sustained period of time (long-haul flight) but more often than not just a short bus, or tube journey; a few minutes waiting for your partner to exit a dressing room or time in the queue for lunch. Thankfully the netcode herein doesn’t let us down. Match-making was simple and although it almost always failed on the first search, an immediate second picked out an opponent swiftly and launched the character selection screen. From that point in lag was rarely present - all important in any game and especially so a fighter. It was apparent at times but once was when the opposition quit (or their connection died) and otherwise it was at the very start, whilst the bout was loading up. The community is already pretty busy online and once you find other players via near or your friends list multiplayer beats will not be far away.
The single player mode is pretty standard fare. Fight some opponents, fight Galactus and save the world. There are various difficulties and different character endings to play for. Galactus is cheap as ever and not fun to play. This is pretty much a training ground, a chance to try out various three person tag teams and see how they mesh and play together. You also get to learn how others can and will attack you, which is helpful when it comes to online. It’s also a useful place to try out the touch controls which negate the need for any D-pad and face button touching at all if so desired. Whilst it’s very good fun to randomly tap and swipe your finger across the touchscreen to instigate attacks and juggle Viewtiful Joe in the air, the mode is either too mysterious (it’s seemingly not possible to practice against static opposition using touch controls - only available in actual fights) or random - whilst you can call in an assist, shoot a fireball and deal damage via a hyper combo it’s just not reproducible, precise or fast enough and in higher difficulties or online chances are you’ll suffer.
The touchscreen controls don’t add much, but if you are in possession of a PlayStation 3 version of the game as well, Ultimate Controller is a very intriguing mode. By connecting the Vita via wireless connection to the aforementioned PS3 you can use it as your controller for the PS3 version of the game. Whilst this delivers a handy alternative to the usual ergonomics it also provides four touchscreen controls typically kept for special moves and hyper combos. This is similar to Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition on the Nintendo 3DS and shows Capcom are happy to reapply ideas to best fit particular hardware. Fun as it is this is going to be a niche functionality but anyone who’s aware of it will salivate at what could be done with future games, and provides a ready made WiiU competitor months ahead of the Nintendo console’s release.
There is a Smörgåsbord of content here. 48 characters, offline and online play, various control inputs, Hero license (wins, losses, relative use of characters and more than enough statistics to keep all happy), inputs can be shown in training if desired when trying to pull off a new combo or move and also inputs can be seen in previous online fights saved as replays. Of course, the latter is good to show off to friends too when you pull off a very special win! You can even port DLC between the PS3 and Vita if you buy it.
It’s not all great. there are pretty significant load times. On each boot you’re asked if you want to check for new DLC. As mentioned you can’t practice touch screen controls and the Heroes & Heralds mode is a wholly distinct aspect centered around card modifiers and is frankly far too complex for too little reward to warrant the attention of all but a select few.
Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 was a great game already as our review attests to, and all that was good is translated exceptionally well to the PS Vita. What’s more there are a variety of additions which sometimes succeed and often fail but regardless are in this package. What really makes this the best version to own though is the glorious experience delivered via the handheld and the ability to fight anywhere, something you will want to do continuously. This is the best version of the game. Fact. Given it’s one of two fighters on the system, and by far the most in-depth and serious of the two (and doesn’t face further competition until later in the year) it should be in every Vita owner’s collection from day one. It will always entertain and never overstay its welcome.