As with most pop culture ephemera with their origins in the early 90’s, fighting games mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But just like Doom and Super Mario 64, it’s contemporaries in game genre creating masterpieces that would come to define the decade, Street Fighter II (1991) emerged from the primordial Japanese video gaming ooze almost fully formed, updates to its milieu from both within and without only adding to its masterpiece foundation even to this day. With apologies to Mortal Kombat’s digitized murder puppets (1992) and Virtua Fighter’s kung fu Lego dollies (1993), the first major offshoot from SFII’s fighting formula was Capcom’s own X-Men: Children of the Atom (1994).
The western licensed, high flying, screen filling mayhem introduced in that game added tag team functionality in 1996’s X-Men vs. Street Fighter, and thus, a legend was born. Just like most (hell, all) of Capcom’s franchises the so-called “Vs. Series” has had its ups and downs over the years, with “update-itis” turning off the mainstream in Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter and the original Marvel vs. Capcom before the kitchen sink approach got asses in the seats for the catastrophic 3 on 3 mayhem of deathless Dreamcast killer app Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in 2000. 2011’s Marvel vs. Capcom 3 brought the series kicking and screaming into Street Fighter IV-esque 2.5D, and also into a poorly optimized arena of PvP online battles, it’s simplified control scheme and small group of viable characters amongst its large roster resulting in over used assists and “touch of death” combos that alienated all but the most dedicated of keyboard warriors.
Jedah makes a welcome, non-Morrigan addition to the cast as a representative of Capcom’s long dormant and underappreciated Darkstalkers franchise, while Firebrand and Arthur return from Ghouls and Ghosts/Ghosts and Goblins to call back to Capcom’s arcade golden age.
The big story to come from the inception of the new Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite was its matches being busted back down to 2 on 2 encounters, with no assist characters, hopefully resulting in fairer, more technical fights, and bringing back MvC2’s 4 button control scheme, a clear upgrade from MvC3’s 3 attack baby time button masher bullshit. MvCI comes out the gate with a much subdued art style vs. MvC3’s ultra-colorful cel shaded vistas though, and a roster severely lacking both in overall numbers and individual appearances (licensing entanglements prevent any X-Men or Fantastic Four characters from appearing here). So how simple is too simple? And can the MCU soldier on without their mutant compatriots in an environment initially created specifically for X-Men? Read on, true believer…
Believe it or not my biggest gripe with MvCI isn’t the Marvel side of its roster but the Capcom one. There’s some boneheaded decisions from a thematic standpoint here meant to appeal to the competitive community’s meme hungry nature, but whatever cache’ the whole “Bionic Arm!” thing may have had at one point, there’s no excuse for including the universally reviled Spencer from the failed Xbox 360 era Bionic Commando reboot in anything in 2017. Similarly, Devil May Cry’s Dante is still here Poochie-ing up the place, and despite the recent positive reappraisal of Ninja Theory’s DMC reboot and the HD rerelease of Devil May Cry 4, it’s still the Dante from Devil May Cry 3. Resident Evil’s Chris is still the RE 5 Chris and Dead Rising’s Frank West is still the Frank from the first game, again, despite well received updates to those franchises having come and gone since MvC3’s release. The whole thing smacks of laziness and reeks of the type of B level production this game must’ve been in the eyes of the Capcom powers that be.
From a production design and gamplay standpoint, Captain Marvel is easily the game’s strongest addition.
The absence of fighters like Wolverine, Magneto, Sentinel and even characters introduced in MvC3 like Deadpool, Taskmaster and Super Skrull is definitely felt though, with additions like Gamora, Captain Marvel and an all new Thanos (from a gameplay perspective, compared to his prior appearance in the series) an interesting distraction at best and a poor substitute at worst. Which isn’t to say that those characters aren’t fun to use, but they pale in comparison to a character like Wolverine who is A. One of the most popular and recognizable fictional characters ever created, and B. An indelible staple of every single previous iteration of this series. Substituting characters may have been the way to go, having say, Captain Marvel adopt Magneto’s flying keep away play style or Black Panther assume Wolverine’s be-clawed rushdown prowess. The fact that Capcom hasn’t gone this route lends credence to the ongoing rumor that the X-characters are eventually coming, but if that isn’t the case we’ll ultimately be left with one of the most anemic feeling Vs. Series casts ever.
Which is a shame, because the gameplay here is scratching me right where I itch. The 2 vs. 2 setup perfectly splits the difference between the more staid and technical Street Fighter 3 inspired mechanics of Street Fighter V and the absolute carnage on display in the 3 on 3 Vs. Series games. The lack of partner assists and super cancels make this game’s system feel quaint even compared to the pre-MvC2 2D installments of the series, calling back to the 1 on 1 fights of Marvel Super Heroes and, yes, X-Men: Children of the Atom. Something about the assist system, especially in the hyper caffeinated mind fuck matches of MvC3, had a sort of “walk and chew gum” barrier to entry for me that just never clicked in my brain. Hey, I said I loved fighting games, not that I was good at them. There’s something honest and pure about MvCI’s gameplay, with no X-factor type garbage to muddy the waters of its purity.
Black Panther, Monster Hunter, Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Venom and Sigma are confirmed for the game’s first round of paid DLC characters.
Except for the Gem system… And it’s… kind of cool? Tying into the Infinity Gems/Stones from Marvel lore just as they did in the aforementioned Marvel Super Heroes, Capcom avoids the randomness of MSH and the lack of polish and balance that doomed the Gem system in Street Fighter X Tekken by, again, keeping it simple. At the outset of each match you choose an infinity gem after you pick your team, and during the match the gems provide both an alpha counter-esque universal attack and (after a meter is filled, naturally) full on screen filling status buffs, ranging from the basic (power and speed gems are self-explanatory) to the highly esoteric (space gem locks your opponent in a transparent cell similar to Thanos’ MSH super, reality brings fallen partners back to life and allows both onscreen at once calling back to OG MvC’s “cross fever” mode) and adds a slightly different wrinkle to matches without completely throwing off the game’s balance.
So the cast is lacking but the gameplay almost makes up for it. Almost. What about the *other* elephant in MvCI’s room? The graphical issues that the Internet had a field day with earlier this summer have been smoothed over for the most part and the game looks, well, fine. Lacking Injustice 2’s almost scary hyper-realism, Tekken 7’s anime flair or even Street Fighter 5’s old school manga style texturing and shading, MvCI is just kind of there, as is its UI and overall presentation. Looking very plain, feeling almost placeholder. Capcom feeling the sting of being unfavorably compared to Netherrealm in regard to single player content, you can tell that the lion’s share of the effort that went into this game was lavished upon it’s cinematic story mode. It’s gotten a pretty thorough drubbing from most reviewers but throwing the book at this game’s story is perhaps giving the similar modes from other games too much credit. This kind of jumpy narrative, watch a cut scene, jump into a single round easy mode fight with random characters, rinse, repeat deal has never really done it for me, even in the admittedly fantastic recent round of Mortal Kombat and Injustice titles.
Though playable MvC3 fighter MODOK is relegated to background character here, his unlikely involvement in the typical zombified shenanigans of the Resident Evil universe is one of the Story Mode’s better reveals.
What I can say is that some definite thought went into the crux of this narrative, hinged on a melding of the Marvel and Capcom universes, presided over by the unholy union of Ultron and nearly forgotten Mega Man X villain Sigma. MODOK finds himself at the head of AIMbrella, Black Panther and Monster Hunter collide in Valkanda, and the aforementioned Ultron Sigma declares himself the lord and master of X-gard as he enslaves Thor’s former subjects and then even the thunder god himself. It’s stupid, yes, but in a thoroughly amusing way that a longtime Marvel and Capcom nerd like myself can completely get behind. If the idea of Ryu and the Hulk teaming up to kill some giant demon dragon dinosaur thing in the desert doesn’t make you smile then we can’t be friends.
While not as great as the sum of its regretfully mismatched and disparate parts, against all odds, I like Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, I really, genuinely do. I just wish I loved it. And this is coming from a diehard who usually has no trouble finding something unique to adore about each incremental installment of Capcom’s fighters (Street Fighter 3: Second Impact FTW), even the ones that appear seemingly identical to the uninitiated. Casual fans would do well to just stick with Injustice or grab a cheap copy of the much more feature rich (though in my opinion less interesting and precise gameplay wise) Ultimate MvC3. The rest of us, for better or worse, will just continue to let Capcom “take us for a ride”.
Hey Philly Area Marvel Zombies! Don’t miss our Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 2 Dance Party at The Barbary in Fishtown this Saturday, September 30th! Costume contest? Dance off? Drink specials? Decorations? You’re welcome.