As I write this review, Im looking back at my original assessment of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and thinking about how much the game has transformed from then until now. For the first month of release Sentinel was the hideously broken character. After a fairly swift nerfing via a patch, the real terror revealed itself to be Phoenix, whose gimmick proved to be so powerful that putting her on your team would earn you frothing hatred from a large-sized segment of the competitive community. And thats not even getting into things like the DHC glitch and the very powerful X-factor.
Such is the nature of fighting games: people find and utilize elements that even the developers may have overlooked, especially when fame and fortune is on the line. And when things get too out of hand, they needed to get fixed hence why fighting games often see incremental upgrades, which is exactly what Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is.
Pretty much everything I wrote in my review of the original game still stands, so its best to focus here on whats new and improved. For starters, there are 12 new characters, 6 each on the Marvel and Capcom sides of the fence. The new characters are all interesting selections that are extremely cool in their own ways, adding play styles and gimmicks to the mix that affect the strategic team-dynamic metagame. As much as I love playing with characters like my longtime favorite Strider Hiryu and experimenting with gimmick-laden fighters like Iron Fist and Phoenix Wright, its extremely early (and shortsighted) to speculate on their long-term viability especially since I am admittedly far from tournament caliber.
Existing characters have had various skill and movement properties altered, and a select few have had some additional elements added to their play mix. Known exploitable bugs have been removed, X-factors appearance and functionality has been altered (its less powerful overall but can now be activated in the air), and notorious troublemakers (read: Phoenix) have been debuffed. And just for kicks, apparently, everybody now has an MvC2-style "mash harder" super where wailing on the buttons like a madman can yield extra damage.
Those arent the only enhancements, of course. There are new visual flourishes: the HUD has been changed up and there are several new stages (a good chunk of which are just mild cosmetic alterations to existing levels, sadly). MvC3s rather lacking online mode has also seen some much-requested improvements in the form of a spectator mode and the ability to reject matches if you dont like who youre going up against. (Handy markers let you know which players have a reputation for being jerks.) Online play is said to have been improved, though in my testing I didnt feel like there was a substantial difference between the netcode in this and the previous game.
So yes, UMvC3 is a definite improvement. Overall, however, I cant shake a feeling of mild disappointment. The new characters are awesome and the fixes are very welcome; at the same time, having to buy an entirely new package to get them leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I look at it this way: When Super Street Fighter IV released as an upgrade to the original, it felt like a substantial revamp. You got improvements and new Ultra Combo skills for all characters, new intros and endings in the single-player mode, improved online, and an extremely cool replay channel, all in addition to the new characters, stages, and interface enhancements.
UMvC3, in comparison, feels rather paltry: the additions to online come off as stuff that should have probably been in there to begin with, the bonus single-player Galactus Mode is entertaining for all of five minutes, most of the games endings are entirely unchanged. There is the very cool-looking free Heroes and Heralds mode coming as DLC. I was quite looking forward to testing it out unfortunately, it was unavailable as part of the review copies we were furnished and wont be available on day one, so I cant factor it into my current assessment of the game. Everything here feels like it could have easily been part of a big DLC package like SSFIV Arcade Edition and apparently that was the original plan. There have been accusations from a vocal fan contingent that UMvC3 is a mere moneygrab, and while I think thats a knee-jerk reaction, its hard to deny that its unpleasant to be asked to buy a new package less than a year after the original particularly when it feels so strangely sparse in places.
So is UMvC3 worth buying, then? It really depends. If you missed the boat the first time around, yes. If youre a player interested in playing regularly with friends and competing in tournaments, you dont have much choice UMvC3 is going to be the standard from this point on. But if youre a more casual fan, someone who didnt really feel it the first time around, or a habitual tournament "pot monster," its harder to recommend. With so many big-name fighters on the market, players now more than ever have to make a choice as to which games they want to invest time and money in, and you shouldnt feel obligated to drop $40 on an upgrade to something just because its a big-name game if its not to your tastes. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is still a spectacle, but compared to the first time around, the hype feels far more subdued.
PROS: New characters are all interesting and unique; lots of tweaks in interface and gameplay to improve competitive experience.
CONS: Core online play is still iffy; doesnt feel like quite as substantial an upgrade as hoped.