When you meet the big purple man at the end of the story mode in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, he summons silver versions of the game’s characters to help him. They look like T-1000s. I guess they’re “heralds”, because if you select the herald faction in the Heroes and Heralds DLC for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom, all your dudes will be silver. Since the two factions are otherwise identical, this automatically makes me want to play the other faction. Who wants to play as Spiderman and whatnot wearing a costume leached of all color?

After the jump, enough about the costumes already. What’s the deal with the game?

The Heroes and Heralds DLC is a new mode for folks who got suckered into shelling out the money for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The owners of Penultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 are stuck with the awful story mode where you meet the purple man at the end. It could be worse. It could be a pair of giant white Mickey Mouse gloves like you meet at the end of Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Heroes and Heralds, which is free except for the $40 you paid for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcon, is the sort of wacky variables mode that every fighting game needs. And except for Capcom’s games, pretty much every fighting came comes with a mode like this.

Once you’ve decided whether you want all your dudes to be silver, you pick an arena from a little hex map. When you win a battle, you earn a new card. Each arena gets more difficult as you fight battles, but you earn better cards based on the arena’s difficulty level. The main draw of this mode is winning cards. But a “hit list”, which is really a grid, on the side of the screen adds a Bingo element. Cross off the faces of enemies you’ve beaten. By getting a straight line — Bingo! — you unlock a challenging bonus stage that gives you a chance to win the best cards.

The cards make this mode worth playing because they aren’t just collectible bits like titles you’ve been unlocking up to now. Before any battle, you pick three cards, each of which features a character and a special variable. Some are useful, some are wacky, many are hardly worth bothering. It’s a bit like a pull on the slot machine in Capcom’s Lost Planet 2. Speaking of which, why is Capcom milking all their games with DLC except Lost Planet 2? Those of us who love Lost Planet 2 are suckers, too!

Capcom’s community manager posted a complete list of all 104 cards here if you want to get a sense for the collection. Of the three cards you bring into a battle, you can select the primary ability from one and the secondary ability from the other two. There are lots of great synergy options here. I just called Bingo after beating Haggar, which let me fight a few battles on a bonus stage, and now I have a Blade card to show for my efforts. Blade, as you know if you’ve played Pinball FX, is a vampire-hunter/vampire played by Wesley Snipes. The Blade card lets my fighters heal themselves by doing damage. That seems pretty ridiculously overpowered until you realize the other team is equipping cards as well. I stopped fretting that my Blade card was going to break the game once I fought a team that had magic purple shields and some sort of ungodly health regeneration that didn’t even require doing damage.

I’ve now settled on a hand of cards that consists of Blade, Captain Blue, and Bishamon. Blade lets me suck up enemy health; Viewtiful Joe’s Captain Blue form starts me with an additional hyper-combo gauge; and Bishamon — who? — lets me directly damage my opponent’s recoverable red health while I’m punching him. So long as I’m not facing guys with magic purple shields and ungodly health regeneration, my heroes are doing a heck of a job saving the Earth from T-1000s. And here I am enjoying Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as a single-player game. Go figure.

Oddly enough, for a mode so willing to defenestrate balance, Heroes and Heralds has an online mode in which you and your choice of cards fight multiplayer battles for one faction. At the end of every week, the winning faction gets some goodie. Lost Planet 2 did something similar. Remember that game, Capcom? This five-dollar bill could be yours. Just give me a horde mode.

Unfortunately, going online in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 isn’t a viable option for me unless I want to see my three characters summarily crossover air combo’ed to death. But that’s fine, because Heroes and Heralds is exactly what I need to make me want to play Marvel vs. Capcom 3: a sense of advancing slowly up a difficulty curve, with gameplay incentives pulling me forward, and cool stuff to collect along the way. So why wasn’t this in the game in the first place? Oh, Capcom! I wouldn’t be so frustrated with you if I didn’t like your games so much.