What does "ultimate" mean? For starters, it means that players can select from all 48 of the game's characters from the beginning - no need to unlock them. Considering that most fighting games make me play the same basic fights for about a dozen hours before giving me access to the coolest characters, I'm willing to call this game "ultimate" just for saving my time.
Those four-dozen fighters are drawn from some of the greatest bam-biff-pow brawlers ever imagined. From the Capcom side, there are heroes and villains from classic videogames such as Resident Evil and Street Fighter. Marvel, of course, contributes icons like The X-Men and Spider-Man. It's the player's job to assemble a team of three fighters with which to pummel the competition.
Each character has their own way of fighting that's just a little bit unique. Flying characters battle fully grounded fighters. Characters with unchangeable, innate superpowers must battle fighters who build and upgrade their own weapons during the course of a match.
But the real variety comes into play when the characters combine forces during the game's tag-team swap-outs, generating unique power attacks. While the basic fighting commands are easy to learn, these combos are gradually revealed over time. Playing Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 doesn't result in new costumes or characters like most fighting games. Instead, it results in the ultimate improvement - better gameplay.
THE GOOD: I don't play videogames in order to watch movies. I play videogames in order to play games. Fighting game stories are usually the worst - they try to make the characters seem emotionally invested in each other and the various battles. This never works. But Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has figured out how to integrate an actual story into a fighting game: Galactus - the Marvel super-villain - will destroy the world unless I'm able to reach him and defeat him in time. The timer during each match is actually a countdown to the end of the world. If I don't win the match and reach Galactus, everyone dies! It's a simple story with some built in pressure, and no need to endure a movie.
THE BAD: Capcom, the publisher of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is also the publisher of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 that was released nine months earlier. Players who already paid $60 for the original game will wonder whether the new game's $40 price tag is worth the additions. The answer is: not really. As much as I like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I liked the un-ultimate version too. It had a lot of the same strengths as the updated version, and only lacked a few extra characters and some under-the-hood tune-ups. Those changes might be worth a $10 download, but I don't think a $40 re-purchase is warranted.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the ultimate version of an already solid fighting game.