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Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite review

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has never been more appropriate than here

Back in the heyday of sprite-based 2D fighters, I remember friends playing what I thought at the time was a really bizarre Sega Saturn release: X-Men: Children of the Atom. As someone who had no care or concern for the Marvel universe in those days, I simply couldn’t understand why—of all things—Capcom would pick that to base a new fighting game around. However, things would soon get even weirder, when a few years later the paths of those two companies properly crossed in X-Men vs. Street Fighter.

Seeing characters like Wolverine and Ryu face off against one another seemed like the stupidest idea I could think of, but over time I’d end up bearing witness to many other ridiculous-on-paper gaming crossovers. (I’m especially looking at you Kingdom Hearts.) Something about those two worlds clashing clicked with a whole lot of gamers, and just over 20 years later, we’ve now been given the franchise’s latest chapter.

Admitted, it hasn’t been an easy road to this week’s release. While the game’s reveal during Sony’s PSX keynote last December caused huge excitement both in the fighting game community and outside it as well, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite has been as underwhelming as it’s been impressive in every reveal or announcement since.

There are two major points that have caused feelings of trepidation, and let me start with the bigger in terms of how it affects gameplay: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite’slaunch cast of 30 characters. To be fair numbers-wise, that’s honestly not that far off from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s final selection of 50 choices, especially when considering that rosters often reset to smaller numbers with the first version of any major new iteration (MvC3 began at 36). The problem is, those thirty boxes are filled with far too many familiar faces given the six years we’ve been waiting for this game. Excluding what we can expect from DLC, only five members of the roster are completely new to the Marvel vs. Capcom series, while 24 were last seen in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

Curious, I compared that to how Street Fighter V faired at launch. Before any DLC characters, there were four totally new additions, four that were returning after some amount of absence, and eight that we’d previously seen in Street Fighter IV—or half of its roster versus 83% of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite’s. Whereas SFV’s character selection felt fresh, here it can seem like we’ve experienced all of this already. Honestly, a lot of Marvel choices probably have to be here, either because of who is popular or who’s currently being pushed in their comics or movies. (Which then, of course, leads to the conversation on those that deserve to be here but who might never arrive due to Marvel not wanting them promoted.) The Capcom side, however, feels especially lazy. This version of Bionic Commando’s Nathan Spencer hasn’t been relevant since 2009—why is he still here? Did we really need two Ghosts ‘n Goblins inclusions at this point? And seriously Capcom, why are you torturing me by forcing meathead Chris Redfield on the world yet again—especially when you just had a brand new Resident Evil that has fresh faces who could provide for a unique twist? If we were a few DLC batches in and already had a fleshed-out roster, that’d be one thing, but the Capcom side especially comes off like this was a lower-budgeted project that had to re-use previously-created work as much as possible.

I know hardcore Marvel fans will argue the superiority of “their” universe of iconic heroes and villains, but as someone who has loved Capcom’s characters since the days of the NES, there are so many great choices from the company’s long history that I would have loved to have seen here. Let me clarify, though—the Marvel side doesn’t fully escape my ire. There’s a level of inconsistency to the representation of those characters that bugged me a bit, as if there were three different schools of design at play: movies Marvel, comics Marvel, and Capcom Marvel. Iron Man couldn’t be any closer to mimicking Robert Downey Jr. unless you got the man himself, yet Thor comes off like an awkward mix of old and new representations—and then you’ve got heroes like Captain America and Spider-Man who are bulked up to almost laughable levels considering their modern-era interpretations. (And, really, there’s no reason that there couldn’t have been a better character selection on that side too—even if the X-men and Doctor Doom aren’t on the table at the moment.)

Of course, what doesn’t help those designs any is the game’s visual style. Very reminiscent of King of Fighters XIV before its launch, people all across the internet have been pretty brutal when talking about how Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite looks. While some elements—like Chun-Li’s previous and rather unfortunate face—were fixed by launch, my secret hope that Capcom was holding a fancy new visual filter close to their chest sadly wasn’t to be. It’s not really that the game is ugly, because it isn’t—it’s just terribly boring. After the more cartoony visual style that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 received, MvC: Infinite looks shockingly plain, more like some throw-away Marvel free-to-play mobile game than a major title from one of the masters of fighting game graphics.

In fact, almost everything here is extremely average visually, with UI and menus that more resemble placeholders than a finished product, and backgrounds that serve the storyline but don’t live up to the more lively locations of previous outings. It really doesn’t help that, in between when MvC: Infinite was announced and when it was released, a little game called Dragon Ball FighterZ would come along. I’m not sure there’s been a wider gap between two directly-competing games in how they present beloved characters popularized in comics and animation, and that comparison makes what Capcom has given us here look even more embarrassing.

The thing is, those two elements didn’t end up being as important as I expected them to be. Yes, the launch roster is disappointing, but there have been plenty of great fighters over time with that exact problem—and the cast selection here isn’t outright terrible. I’ll never think the visuals are anywhere near what they should have been, but again like The King of Fighters XIV, they start to fade away once you’re in the heat of battle.

And that, really, is where Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite shines. As someone who’s never been a super fan of this franchise, my still admittedly brief pre- and post-launch playing has won me over. The craziness that the series has been known for is still alive and well here, but it’s done in a way that does legitimately feel friendlier to dig into. I know that’s always a sensitive subject—leading to fears of “dumbing down,” especially given Capcom has made decisions such as changing a number of dragon punch motions to down-down motions instead—but I think (hope?) that it’s a good compromise between something that’ll be satisfying long-term to the more hardcore and pro players, yet also be welcoming to those who can find fighting games too intimidating to even take a chance. In saying that, I think back to Marvel vs. Capcom 2—my personal favorite from the franchise—and how I’d play that with friends who were usually not the fighting game type. That was a perfect example of a game that could walk between both of those worlds, and we need more games like that, not less. (Of course, I say that while knowing full well how easy it is for pros to find ways to “break” games and make them less newbie-friendly over time, so I might be eating those words later.)

The biggest and most obvious change present in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite are the Infinity Stones, which serve as one big, sweeping replacement for previous elements like X-Factor and assists. It’s easy to get flashbacks of Street Fighter X Tekken’s Gems when talking about them, but they’re really two very different things. First, there will be no Infinity Gems sold as DLC—thankfully—and as opposed to the wide variety of combinations you could have depending on which Gems you and your opponent used, here there are six set Stones where you instantly know what to expect from each. Given that teams are now two characters instead of three, and assists (and assist types) no longer come into play, the Infinity Stones are a way to introduce a bit of variety and “spice” to matches while still lessening the elements that players need to worry over and manage. So far, I like them—and at least as of now, I’m not worried about them causing the game to become an unplayable mess anytime down the road.

Of course, it’s hard to fully know what a fighting game will evolve into a year after release, let alone a few months or weeks later—a point that always makes them so challenging to review—but I really do have a good feeling about the core of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. At the end of the day, this early in the game, you just have to ask yourself these questions: is it fun to play? When I lose, do I want to dust myself off and try again? Does the experience offer me something I can’t get from any other fighting games? Do I think I could put it down for a few weeks and still have interest in coming back to it later? For me, right now, all of those answers are a solid yes.

What’s also solid is the rest of the package in terms of modes. I had no problem with launch Street Fighter V—the absence of single-player content bothers me little in most fighting games—but I’m glad to see Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite be better off on that side of things for those who do care. Yes, there is an arcade mode here, along with a narrative-driven story mode that is humorous at times but overall kinda mediocre. The expected local versus options (CPU or human) are included, as are your standard Capcom training mode, missions both general and character-specific, and a gallery that features artwork, audio, and videos as you unlock them.

Online is where things get a bit more interesting for me. Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite offers up a new type of lobby system that, offhand, I don’t remember seeing before in any Capcom games. After entering a lobby, there are four virtual “stations” where you can jump into fights, and players not currently active in a match can queue up at any of the stations to either wait their turn or simply sit back and spectate. It isn’t as complex as the crazy stuff we’ve seen Arc System Works or some other companies turn out, but it’s a nice option that should come to Street Fighter V as well. There’s also the Beginner’s League, a place for new or less-skilled players to compete with other such players without getting totally steamrolled by higher-level opponents while they’re still getting the hang of the game.

Options like this are really important in releases such as fighting games, because it can be so easy for players to get instantly stomped by pro-level challenges and lose all drive to keep playing. The downside to the game’s online, conversely, is that SFV offered up some niceties that could (and should) have also been included here. First, you can’t register a Fighter ID like in Street Fighter, which was a hugely-appreciated option for many (including myself). Profile cards also feel lacking, and there’s not enough presentation of players stats for my liking. Thankfully, in playing online in the few days since the game’s launch, I’ve had only the occasional laggy match here and there—so, so far, the netcode seems to be holding up just fine.

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite has a lot of elements working against it. It comes off like an under-funded project that desperately needed more of a budget, it’s got one of the worst visual design choices I’ve seen in a game on this level in some time, Capcom doesn’t deserve to get off without harsh criticism over the lackluster launch roster (no matter the reasoning), and I can’t shake the feeling that some of the goofy-yet-charming fun of previous games has been stripped away this time around because Marvel is now actually paying attention and wants it to “align to current branding” or some other nonsense like that.

However, the biggest point that I need to stress is this: what’s more important than what Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite got wrong is what it got right, and I think the positives here outweigh the negatives enough to make some of those failures forgivable. It’s easy to go into a review like this and just knock off “x” amount of points from the score for this thing or that thing, but reviews are far more complicated and nuanced than just a point-by-point breakdown—and dragging a legitimately good fighting game down too far because of elements (like visuals) that don’t legitimately harm its gameplay feels a bit pedantic. Yes, the game will no doubt remain ugly throughout its lifetime—but as the roster fills out and players find more subtleties of its gameplay, the foundation that Capcom has built in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite looks to give us a pretty great new chapter of a still-kinda-ridiculous fighting game series for years to come.

★★★☆☆

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite looks ugly, feels kind of cheap at times, and suffers from a disappointing initial roster—but it’s also a frenetically fun fighting game that got almost all of the things it needed to get right right. With (hopefully) a bit more polish and DLC helping to flesh out its character choices, this is set to become a worthy—if still flawed—new chapter in Capcom’s beloved fighting franchise.

Developer
Capcom
Publisher
Capcom
ESRB
T - Teen
Release Date
09.19.17
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.

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