It all started when the Wolverine met Ryu two decades ago. Capcom’s 1996 arcade game X-Men vs. Street Fighter mashed up Marvel’s mutants and Street Fighter’s World Warriors in a fast-paced crossover fighting game that reinvigorated both properties. Over subsequent entries, the Marvel vs. Capcom series expanded to include more of each company’s rich rosters in a fanfic fever dream brimming with deep-cut characters and myriad Easter eggs. The series has always been a frantic, bombastic alternative to traditional fighting games, but by the time 2011’s Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arrived, it had become so over-the-top and convoluted that it was difficult for more casual players to even know where to start.
Capcom is looking to remedy this with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (multiplatform; $60), which cuts down team selection from three to two and simplifies the fighting system considerably. It also introduces the first story mode in the series’ history, which sees Avengers foe Ultron merging with Mega Man big bad Sigma to take over the world. The single-player story mode is clearly influenced by the DC Comics fighting game Injustice, and while it doesn’t quite reach the heights of that series, it’s an enjoyable way to get a hang of the new gameplay mechanics while watching a ridiculous comic book crossover. It’s hard not to smile seeing Chun-Li team up with Captain Marvel, and it’s great fun to see the various character mashups and interactions (even if the voice work is woefully uneven).
As someone who has loved fighting games ever since Street Fighter II hit arcades but who could never quite hang with Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I think the gameplay changes are for the better, as pulling off combos and super moves in Infinite feels much more manageable — and, more importantly, more deliberate. Previous MvC games had reduced me to a button-mashing mess, but I actually understood the gameplay mechanics presented in Infinite. And even though they have been simplified, there’s still a great deal of depth to be discovered thanks to the introduction of the six Infinity Stones, each of which grants unique abilities to mix things up considerably. If anything, the ability to pull off flashy, screen-filling super moves with just the press of two buttons is a little too easy, as I found myself performing them accidentally too often.
The game has received a complete visual overhaul, ditching the heavy ink outlines and comic book look of the previous entry for a more realistic approach (well, as realistic as Ghost Rider and Nemesis can look, I suppose), and it’s a surprising step in the wrong direction. Captain America and Ryu look roided out, and the normally lithe Spider-Man looks more like a linebacker than wall-crawler. It’s much less noticeable in gameplay than in cutscenes, but it’s still a bit of a bummer.
But the biggest disappointment is the complete lack of X-Men characters, especially considering that Marvel’s mutants kicked off the entire crossover in the first place. This is probably tied up with Marvel and Fox’s licensing agreement of the characters, but regardless of the reason, it sucks that fan favorites like Wolverine and Magneto are AWOL for the first time in the series. And the game’s launch lineup of 30 characters (six fewer than MvC3) isn’t a problem in itself, but only six of these characters are brand-new additions. Considering the loss of the X-Men, it would have been exciting to see even more new characters join the fray.
But those problems aside, seeing Capcom’s characters interact with Marvel’s superheroes remains delightful even after 20 years. Capcom took a big risk in so completely altering the core gameplay system, but it paid off. Infinite feels infinitely more inviting and is a fun, super replayable fighting game even for those who might have been scared off by previous entries in the series.