When I was a kid, it was not uncommon to see Spiderman battle the Street Sharks or for RoboCop to clash with several Digimon at once. Although these characters had never met in their respective stories, and indeed their universes were completely separate, the playful mind of a child imagined what it would be like to see them cross paths. Armed with my action figures, I could envision the spectacle of these incredible battles, and of course had many theories about which hero was strongest and would dominate the others.
Children today won’t have to push their imaginations half as hard, though, now that the gaming industry has clued into this style of play and brought it to market in the form of cross-over games. Standing chief among these cross-over projects is the long-running Marvel vs. Capcom series.
Beginning in 1996 with X-Men vs. Street Fighter, the series has appeared on almost every platform available in the last 21 years. Gradually including more heroes from a broader range of IPs, the games were eventually re-labelled as Marvel vs. Capcom in order to properly umbrella this expanding roster. The series’ last outing came in 2012 with the success of Marvel vs. Capcom Origins on PS3 and X360.
At last, bringing the series to the latest generation of consoles, Capcom have unveiled Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (MvC:I) which releases worldwide on September 19th. Hoping to step the series up a notch and claim some prized real estate in the competitive fighting game scene, MvC:I promises an updated hero roster, state-of-the-art visuals and, for the first time in franchise history, a fully fledged story mode. Capcom hasn’t released all the details yet, but we do know that heroes from both universes will team up to fight mega-villain Ultron-Sigma in a fully voice-acted and highly dramatic cross-over arc pulled straight from the comic books. All the Marvel fans just started salivating.
Last week, I sat with a preview build of the game to get a feel for Capcom’s latest approach to tag-team combat, and was lucky to test out all the heroes announced so far (and a couple that aren’t public yet *wink wink), as well as three of the new Infinity Stone special moves, and three maps from the completed game.
Straight off the bat, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Character models are detailed and fluidly animated, each sporting a recognisable costume, with the Marvel characters seemingly donning cartoon-ified versions of their most recent movie outfits rather than classic comic-style costumes. Capcom characters are rendered in their usual style but have also received some TLC to bring them into the latest generation.
Combat animations are on-point, so the expectedly fast-paced and frenetic combat of a Street Fighter title is exciting to watch but easy to follow. Of particular note are any special combos or abilities, which fill the screen with incredibly detailed effects such as fire, electricity or pure energy, and really drive home the satisfaction of landing one of these attacks on your opponent.
As stated, I only saw three of the game’s stages, but each was unique and clearly underwent the same meticulous design process as all MvC:I’s other visual assets. In the graphics department, MvC:I certainly impresses.
Combat will feel familiar to returning Street Fighter fans but has been sufficiently revitalised by, among other additions, the new tag-team approach. At the character selection screen, you choose two heroes (or villains) to take into the fight, swapping them in and out during combat. This introduces a new layer of tactical complexity to your pre-fight planning stage, as different characters will have unique strengths and weaknesses, as well as positive or negative match-ups with other characters. The act of switching during the fight can also have tactical implications such as helping a character to escape an enemy combo or even setting up your own dual-character combo moves.
A subtle addition, and one of my favourite discoveries while playing the game, comes in the transition time of your character switches; as the second character comes onto the screen, your first character is still present for a few seconds, leaving both characters on screen for a brief moment. The crafty combatant will watch for these opportunities, and unleash an AoE super-move, such as Thor’s whirlwind or Hawkeye’s rain of arrows, to trap and damage both of their enemy’s characters at the same time. So, your decisions around the tag-team mechanic can really swing a fight either way. It’s a small tactical option, and one that may not have significant implications once the game reaches the competitive scene, but things like this demonstrate a considered and thorough approach to combat design on the developer’s part.
Infinity Stones are another welcome inclusion to the game, designed as a charged special ability to be unleashed late in the fight. I tested out the Power Gem (significantly increased attack damage), the Time Gem (increased movement and switching speed) and the Space Gem (traps your opponent in one place). Each of these introduces a genuine advantage over your opponent for a short period; however, none of them felt imbalanced or overly game changing. Your Infinity Stone alone won’t win the fight for you.
My favourite thing about the implementation of these Stones is the manner in which the special abilities are charged. It seemed to me that you get the most significant charge when taking damage from your enemies, meaning that the character who cops a harder beating will have access to their Infinity Stone sooner. This posits the Infinity Stones as somewhat of a comeback mechanic, designed to help you out of a rut if you’re having a rough fight, and maybe even swing the outcome at the last minute. This should make playing the game a little more exciting, but as matches become more tense and nail-biting, I expect that the streaming and tournament scene will grow in strength through additional viewership.
A good character roster is the heart and soul of any fighting game, and, as in past titles, MvC:I promises to bring out the big guns. At the time of writing, only 15 heroes have been announced, but I would expect that number to grow in the months before release in September. The list already includes some star names from both universes, including Thor, Hulk, Ultron and Captain America from the Marvel end, and Chun-Li, Ryu, Mega Man X and Sigma from Capcom’s back catalogue.
I only had a brief period with each character, but it’s clear that each has been fleshed out with voice lines and interactions with other characters, accurate move-sets and unique, impressive special abilities tailored to each character’s lore. While everyone feels balanced, particular match-ups proved quite difficult, such as playing anyone slow against Hawkeye’s ranged dominance, as well as match-ups that seem made in fighting game heaven, such as Ultron vs. Iron Man; an aerial mech-suit/laser battle that was epic to behold.
There was no taste of the story mode on offer, but with access to such iconic characters, I’m really excited to see what Capcom manages to achieve. That these characters are fully voiced and well animated only bodes well for a cinematic story experience, and I think Capcom will be capable of producing an exciting and fan-serving plot-line to justify the cross-over of these two cultural juggernauts.
So far, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite has ticked all of my boxes; top-tier visuals, refreshed and polished gameplay, and proper handling of its iconic characters. I found it accessible for a newbie like myself but still deep enough to capture some of the more dedicated fighting game fans out there. It’s looking like a solid title, and I’m excited to see what else is added by release on September 19th. Until then, my place, Saturday night, blue Power Ranger vs. BOTH Bananas in Pyjamas. BE THERE.