Marvel Vs Capcom 3 gameplay preview

Hands-on: We tackle Capcom's new beast at E3...

It's been ten long years since the last MVC hit the shelves - and about as long since we got hands on with the classic fighter.

But getting 'back in the saddle' at this year's E3 was surprisingly easy - in stark (Tony Stark?) contrast to the wait to do so; queues for the game snaked across the LA Convention Centre throughout the show.

The title has obviously taken some inspiration from Capcom's own Street Fighter IV - with brightly-coloured, fully 3D characters and backgrounds, all controllable in old school 2D.

As you'd expect, it's certainly a step up graphically from its Dreamcast predecessor. There always seems to be something going on in the backgrounds, which have been highly improved - from towering fireworks raining down from above to mech ships menacingly floating along.

Character animation, meanwhile, is nothing short of exquisite. Capcom showed off a build with ten playable characters: Dante, The Hulk, Chris Redfield, Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Felicia, Dead Pool, Ryu and Morrigan.

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Each is beautifully detailed - surely a product of Capcom building this one with the Resident Evil 5 engine. The Hulk is a visibly rippling man mountain; Iron Man so reflective you can see your face in him. Captain America, meanwhile, sears the eyes with burningly azure garb.

Visually, the game's biggest treat is when the camera swoops into your character's close quarters ahead of delightful special moves. It's literally impossible not to look smug when you've managed to get Dante to whap out his guns and go bullet-happy on his opponent.

Pulling off said specials - and other graphically and machismo-pleasing button combinations - has been made slightly less cumbersome via a tweaked control system, which thankfully doesn't rob any of MVC's deceptive depth. Three attack buttons (light, medium, heavy) direct the action - and there's a touch of optional finesse by combining them with directional inputs.

The biggest step forward, however, is a new 'launch' button. Whenever we've played MVC previously, getting your opponent in the air is a tricky challenge - usually achieved via certain challenging moves. This time, things are much simpler. Pressing a single button to fling your foe airborne is an elementary pleasure - one which gifts you a split second window in which to plan a devastating attack.

Inevitably, this means much more of the game tends to be played off the ground than in the past - so it's just as well Capcom has introduced some cool game mechanics to make it interesting.

A launch follow-up direction will determine what you do with your freshly-catapulted opponent: Left or right to attack, up to throw higher or down to chuck them into the dirt. However, should they second-guess your move and press the correct direction ahead of you, a cunning counter-strike will take place. This is hugely frustrating or satisfying depending on which side you're scrabbling - but never becomes stale.

In addition, the old 'call in team-mate' manouvre has been extended to mid-air, meaning you can start an air combo with one character, then fetch an appropriate team member (we're back to squads of three, by the way) to finish the job.

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Of course, what you probably want to know about is the characters - and more importantly, the new ones. Capcom has gone on record saying they don't want to swamp MVC3 with 'filler' characters, and it's good to see a sliver of considered conservatism pemeate this area. The ten characters available at E3 all had a very unique feel to them - and idiosyncratic (yet equally explosive) special moves. Fingers crossed Capcom keeps it up for the (reported) further 20 as-yet-unannounced stars in the game.

Our personal favourite was Chris Redefined. Despite his fairly stoical approach in Resident Evil, he is armed to the teeth - and Capcom hasn't scrimped in allowing you to let rip. In one melee attack, he can shank you with a knife until you lose count of the holes he punctured.

His abilities with guns are topped off with a special move where he yanks out weapon after weapon and fires them off, culminating with a rocket launcher - from which a missile promptly smashes his opponent right in the mush. It's deliriousy ridiculous. You've never seen anything quite like it in a 2D fighter.

Deadpool and Devil May Cry's Dante were also personal favourites - and both pack plenty of heat. Dante exposes a huge shooter from behind his cape and lets rip, but he can't beat Deadpool for a bit of Marvel-esque comedy; who actually makes a gun noise as he fires off. Our inner 12-year-old was in stitches.

Other, more classic characters still rule the show, though - with Hulk in particular lighting up our playtime. Not only is he an absolute giant, but his special move of picking up and shaking the ground is devastating. Captain America's jingoistic flying shield was a little more boring, but darn effective nonetheless. Iron Man is the zippiest brawler we saw - so quick in fact, he threatens to offer speed freaks a slight unfair advantage should they choose him in multiplayer.

Overall, though, the game is slightly slower than its predecessors - no bad thing for those that want to extend their mad combo skills beyond crazy button bashing - whist Marvel-heavy, excited graphical touches dominate like never before (including the classic 'READDDY!' opening slogan ahead of each fight).

Marvel Vs Capcom 3, then, is a very beautifully rendered, smartly designed, more intuitive update to a Dreamcast classic - with plenty of cool characters announced, and plenty more to come.

What more, really, could an MVC fan ask for?