Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite arrives this week, bringing a revamped two-character tag-team battle system and cinematic storytelling to the long-running crossover series. The fighting is a blast. The storytelling could use some work.
Since X-Men Vs. Street Fighter back in 1996, Capcom has been pitting heroes and villains from Marvel Comics with its own character creations without worrying to much about the whys and hows. The focus was purely on the ride they were taking us for. We don't need to know why these 36 characters (including DLC characters Black Panther; Sigma; and the newly-confirmed Venom, Monster Hunter, Black Widow and Winter Soldier) are filling our screens with flashy special moves and aerial combos. It's just nice that they are.
But Capcom tried anyway. Our first taste of the plot, which involves Marvel's Ultron and Mega Man X villain Sigma joining forces to merge dimensions and wipe out biological life, was during the story demo released back in June. I said it felt like awkward fan fiction. Now I've played through the entire two hours and change worth of narrative, and that feeling only got stronger.
Those who hoped the familiarity that saw Dante from Devil May Cry tossing Rocket Raccoon his pistols in the demo would be explained in some earlier moment in the story will be disappointed. The story picks up directly after the events in the demo, so we never get to see how the Marvel and Capcom characters react to suddenly winding up in a combined universe.
It all feels so sloppy. The two realities (if there was a reality where all Capcom games coexist) have merged, forming a world combining conceits from both. The Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil and Marvel's evil science company, Advanced Idea Mechanics, are now a single entity called A.I.M.BRELLA.
This one is very clever, I will give them that.
What's odd is that while the conjunction has made it so all of the characters from both universes are familiar with one another, they are at the same time aware that they come from two different places. It's stupid and makes my head hurt, all the way to the end. And when the coolest battle in story mode is between two characters from Capcom franchises, I can't help but feel that maybe the point of Marvel Vs. Capcom was lost along the way.
Everybody knows the Mayor.
Not helping the story at all is the quality of the voice acting. Capcom has assembled some amazing voice talent here, and they do their best with what they have been given, but some of the delivery suggests they could have done with more context. Lip sync is hit or miss, especially during intro animations.
And the sound quality is just... off. In the video below you can hear voice samples from the game's gallery. There's a distortion to them them that's been driving me bonkers.
It all comes together in a package that makes me feel like the previous games in the series had it right. Playing through a series of seven story-less battles in arcade mode is just fine. Trying to add a cohesive narrative to a crossover fighting game is futile and pointless. Remember Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe? Ugh. I'd say I appreciate the effort, but I really don't.
Just let the fighting be the star, I say. Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite has some really good fighting. There are just a couple of tweaks to be made before getting started.
First of all, the game introduces a trio of assistive features to help make the game more approachable for new players. Auto Combo allows players to tap light punch repeatedly to execute a professional-looking series of attacks. Easy Hyper Combo executes super moves with a simple two-button press. Auto Super Jump makes sure the player is always ready to follow up on that aerial combo. If you're at all serious about learning to play the game, turn these off (I have them enabled in the video further down the page for demonstrative purposes).
Second, I would highly suggest getting yourself a fighting stick if you don't already own one. As advanced as directional pad technology has gotten, nothing beats a good old-fashioned ball-and-buttons combo. Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite is one of the first fighting games I've played exclusively with an arcade stick, and I am never going back.
Hori's Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai is my new best friend.
Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite swaps the three-on-three battles of previous games in the series with streamlined two-on-two affairs. Instead of pounding away at opponents with a combination of core attacks and assists from the sidelines, players can swap between their two characters almost on-the-fly.
This active tag system essentially lets players create their own assists, swapping in partners to continue combos, stringing together combinations of special attacks. With a little gauge expenditure a tag can even be used to break out of opponents' combos, though having both characters on the screen can also result in them both taking a beating.
The four main attack buttons -- light punch, heavy punch, light kick and heavy kick -- lend themselves well to combo creation. Even a novice player should be able to tap them in sequence to make it look like they know what they're doing. Toss in a crouching high punch at the end and the opponent is in the air, ready to unwillingly partake in one of the series' signature aerial combos.
Mission mode helps players master their characters by completing special moves and combo sequences. I have a lot of mastering to do.
My only real worry is this whole Infinity Stone business. Giving players one-button abilities such as a warping dash or projectile attack is just asking for Stone spam, especially when using these Infinity Surge abilities charges up game-changing Infinity Story sequences. Maybe it isn't so bad with the announcer voice turned off. Otherwise it's all "TIME STONE! TIME STONE! TIME STONE!" We'll see how it goes once I can take the game online later this week.
Capcom wanted to make the game more approachable to novice fighting game players, and I feel like the new system does exactly that. It's still the same rapid-fire spectacle, only a little less complicated. While I've not had any time during pre-release to play online against human opponents -- my battles have been mainly against normal or higher AI in arcade, versus and story mode -- I feel confident that I can at least make other players work for their wins.
We'll have more on Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite as the competition kicks into high gear following the game's launch on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. That's when the real story will be told.