Capcom did an amazing job on a technical level; in every way, this is the console game, playable on a portable device. However ... it's the console game, playable on a portable device. The reduction in size unfortunately adds some baggage. What's new this time around? Well, mostly the size of the system you're playing it on. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a profoundly faithful port, with all the same characters, moves, DLC (for sale, not included), and even a consistent 60 FPS framerate. I thought Uncharted was the best showcase of the Vita's graphical abilities, but this is actually the more impressive game to look at, indistinguishable from the full HD version unless you see them side-by-side.
There's even a bit of new playable content, in the form of additional Heroes & Heralds "ability cards" for that mode. Heroes & Heralds was released as post-launch DLC for the console game ... and that's true here as well. It's day one DLC. I'll update once I've experienced it.
There's a new way to experience that content, as you might have gathered from the absence of an arcade stick peripheral for the Vita. Like Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Ultimate Marvel allows you to use the touch screen to control your character, and to specify whether or not to let other touch-based players compete with you online. Unlike the 3DS game, however, which gave you a suite of programmable touch "buttons" one the bottom screen, the Vita's implementation seems neither exploitable nor terribly useful. You can actually swipe around to move your character and tap the screen to initiate combos, which is just as imprecise, crazy, and limited as it sounds. You can also tap meters to activate super combos or X-Factor, which is somewhat more useful. But in general, nobody's going to be using the touch screen to move around.
Other new content is a "Replay Mode" that lets you watch recorded matches, pause them, and even highlight hitboxes -- a very cool feature for those trying to learn a high-level game (who are also playing on a handheld ...) A bonus "Ultimate Controller" mode lets you connect your Vita and PS3 and use the Vita as a touchscreen-enhanced controller for the PS3 version. This adds touch-based macros to the console game, making it play more like the 3DS Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. It's also incredibly impractical and completely a novelty, especially if you have a real arcade stick for your PS3. But it's a cute bonus.
How's it hold up? The control issues "ultimately" prove impossible to ignore. If you're a habitual D-pad player, you're going to be all right, but the Vita's tiny analog stick seems less up to the challenge than even the 3DS's Circle Pad. The touch screen functionality does little to augment the difficult controls.
The online play also leaves something to be desired. While I was able to accept an invitation from Richard and battle that way -- with no connection issues or noticeable lag, I might add -- when I tried to create a lobby, he couldn't find it, and vice versa. There was, as far as I could tell, literally nobody else in North America playing, and yet we couldn't find each other in the only lobby in the continent. (This could very well be a pre-launch issue, and I will check again once the game is for-real launched).
Even with the trouble I had pulling off combos, and the frustration of feeling lost and alone in the lobby, I still think this is an amazing port in many respects. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a game I would consider far too flashy to fit on a handheld, and Capcom accomplished it. It bodes very well for the system that Capcom got this running at 60 FPS in time for launch.
This review is based on the final Vita version of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, provided by Sony.