So, you've dribbled over the character roster, gawked at the super-lush art style, and marvelled (ha!) at the spectacular combos. You know you want Marvel vs Capcom 3, and the very thought of playing it has sent blood rushing to the naughtiest parts of your body. But one question remains: how on Earth are you going to pull off those 21-hit aerial combos?
As it turns out, the answer is "with less difficulty than you might think". The speed and immediate intensity of MvC3 may be intimidating if you've been playing Street Fighter IV for months, but once you get a feel for its systems you'll find it's arguably a more welcoming experience. And while it's certainly true that you can do surprisingly well by mashing buttons like a seal receiving ECT, there's no doubt that the game will happily reward players who are prepared to make a genuine effort to improve their play.
If you've been following coverage of this title - our last preview is available here - you'll know that MvC3 uses a four-button system, consisting of light, medium and heavy attacks, plus a launcher. Land a successful hit with the latter and you'll send your unfortunate opponent flying high into the air; if you immediately tap up on your stick or pad as soon as the blow connects, you'll leap up after them. At this point you'll have the opportunity to batter seven shades out of your foe with an aerial combo, and by adding a second press of the launcher button, along with a directional input, you can tag out to one of your other two fighters and allow them to continue the punishment.
It sounds complicated, but in practice it's only the timing of the initial follow-up jump that presents any real difficulty - and even this is swiftly mastered. The real challenge, of course, is in learning how best to brutalise your airborne rival. At the most basic level MvC3 uses an escalating system for its combos, allowing light attacks to cancel into medium ones, and medium attacks into heavy - but needless to say, that's just the tip of the beatdown iceberg. If you're not entirely sure what "cancel" means, don't fret; just forget about it and make like that convulsing seal.
While launchers and aerial combos have been part of the fighting game establishment for decades - if the genre had a Ten Commandments, they'd probably be high on the stone tablets somewhere - it's somewhat unusual for the launcher to have its own dedicated button. The idea is that this setup allows everyone, even newcomers, an easy introduction to a relatively technical concept. And while the heroes and villains on offer differ wildly in their appearance and combat style, the vast majority of their moves are mapped to shoto inputs - i.e. quarter-circle or dragon punch motions. While you do come across the odd rapid-tap or charge command, there are no purely charge-based characters. No matter who you're using, you'll invariably be able to perform their basic special attacks - and since Hyper Combos simply require a quarter circle motion plus two buttons (in most cases), you'll be able to unleash their more spectacular onslaughts with relative ease.