With the announcement of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, we have another entry into Capcom’s storied Marvel Versus series. This announcement, as well as the gameplay changes being implemented, has started a fair bit of conversation among both fans and non-fans about the chaotic–almost broken–nature of the series.
The Marvel Versus games are famous for the way player push their engines well beyond what the developers envisioned. Despite this, the games have remained popular and highly competitive: “Marvel never dies” is so common a war cry that it’s almost clichéd.
Why is this the case? The answer may lie in their tag-team nature, specifically the tag-team format that they use. During the creation of the original X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Capcom chose to use an elimination-style tag-team system. Why does this matter? Because elimination-style tag-team games are all about momentum and control, or more precisely, being able to steal these things.
Fighting the Slippery Slope
Since the game doesn’t end once one character has been eliminated, the system creates a slippery slope for the losing player, where they can end up having to fight in situations where one character on their last legs has to somehow fight against an entire team of 2 or 3 characters–who may still be at full or near-full life.
Situations like these wouldn’t make for compelling battles if the losing player had little chance of taking down an entire team. This is where the ability to steal momentum and control comes in. The “broken-ness” that makes the Marvel Versus games so chaotic is also what allows a skilled player to fight out of a 1-on-2 or 1-on-3 situation, and come out on top.
This is most evident in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, where many of the glitches and exploits found in the game actually made it much more competitive. The game’s oppressive reset-heavy nature (the term “vortex” actually originates from MvC2) combined with occasional one-touch kill combos meant that a skilled player could make a comeback off one or two good reads. Meanwhile, exploits such as the “double snap” glitch (that allowed a player to kill off an assist character, while the player character was forced off screen) offered even more ways to even the odds.
Meanwhile, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tried to make this reversal of fortunes more accessible by giving every character access to big, near-character-killing damage, off of almost any hit confirm. This was combined with X-Factor, a mechanic that tended to favor the last remaining character of a team.
The Marvel Versus games aren’t the only titles to do this. Other elimination-based tag-team games also try their best to implement this concept. Skullgirls–which borrows heavily from Marvel vs. Capcom 2–features similar reset-heavy gameplay, while also turning the “double snap” glitch from the latter into an actual feature.
Meanwhile, the Dead or Alive series has been one of the few titles that implement both singles and tag-team in the same game. For Dead or Alive 5 and its updates, Team NINJA combined the new game’s more combo-oriented nature with changes in the games physics in tag mode. Tag mode in DOA5 has lower gravity, allowing for longer combos.
Indeed, this philosophy can also be applied to non-tag games that do feature a team-elimination system, such as The King of Fighters and the Capcom vs. SNK games.
Meanwhile, certain other tag-team fighters, specifically the Tekken Tag series and Street Fighter X Tekken, try to work around the aforementioned slippery slope situations by simply removing the elimination factor, and thus requiring the players to take out only one character from a team to win.
Balance, Allowing the Best of Each Style
This emphasis on stealing momentum and control also applies to how these tag-team games are balanced. As we’ve seen multiple times in the Marvel Versus games, these games tend to allow the most powerful and oppressive expressions of certain playstyles, as these are best suited to steal control and momentum.
The application of this is easy enough to see in rushdown characters. By their very nature, rushdown characters are good at generating momentum and taking control–which is why they often take the point role in a team. Naturally then, these characters are also good at taking back momentum and control as well. That said, with other play styles also being given the “best of” treatment–being made stronger in response to rushdown’s naturally affinity for this–the style does need a little something extra.
In the Marvel Versus series, that something extra is freedom of movement. The series sees an amazing diversity of movement options, with multiple directional air dashes (including the vaunted 8 way air dash), fast teleports, free flight modes, and more. This is why characters such as MvC2’s Magneto or UMvC3’s Zero are top tiers. They have good mobility that compliments their rushdown games.
Zoning is a style that’s less straightforward when it comes to making it something that can steal momentum and control. Just keeping an opposing team at arms length slows momentum down, but doesn’t actually steal it. What these characters need is a way to capitalize on the mistakes that their opponents make in trying to get in.
The simplest example of this is MvC2’s Cable. When he has five stocks of meter, he can punish any mistake with multiple Air Hyper Viper Beams. Skullgirls has a similar thing, where Peacock can combo her Argus Agony beam into another one (if the player knows how). Of course, being able to punish with powerful supers isn’t the only way zoning characters can steal momentum. MvC2’s Storm, arguably the character most capable of running away in that game, can still easily take out and deal massive amounts of damage when she gets in on her opponent. Meanwhile, aside from her “bullet hell” fireball lockdown, Morrigan in UMvC3 can also deal a healthy chunk of damage if she gets a hit–which is why it took a player like EG|Chris G to popularize the bullet hell style.
The latter example, Morrigan, also brings us to another interesting playstyle that is only really expressed fully in the Marvel Versus games–lockdown, also known as trapping. This playstyle uses either extreme zoning or rushdown to keep to keep an opponent blocking, “trapping” them so to speak, while punishing any attempts to get out. This play style is something that can only really be considered fair in a tag-team game–being able to lock an opponent down would be too much in a one-on-one fighter. While UMvC3’s Morrigan/Dr. Doom core is the most recent example, it was in MvC2 that this style really shined with combinations such as Clockw0rk’s Strider/Dr. Doom, Duc Do’s Spiral/Sentinel, and even more that were capable of it.
One thing to note, however, is that lockdown tends to work only with a combination of two specific characters. Stealing momentum and control here then comes more near the start and middle of a match, where both characters are still alive. When left alone without their partners, said characters are usually still able to steal control and momentum on their own, but usually through other means.
Now, having these powerful characters representing the very best of their playstyles sounds like the recipe for a broken game. But, the tag-team nature of these games means that each player has 2 or 3 characters on hand. A player cannot simply steal momentum and control once, and win the match outright.
What’s more debatable is how to maintain that momentum and control once taken. Are we allowed to maintain them easily and kill a character outright, or do we need to take some risks and perform resets, which also gives the other player the opportunity to steal them back? Marvel vs. Capcom 3 clearly favored the former, and some do criticize the game for not allowing the player being comboed the chance to play. Games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Skullgirls however go for the latter, arguing that it allows for more interactivity, with the player being comboed still having to look for chances to get out.
Tag-Team Fighting For the Future
So, what does this all mean for us players? Well, by knowing this, we can all better come to grips with the design decisions seen not just in the Marvel Versus games, but in other tag-team games as well. It allows us to get a better understanding of what is truly fair or broken in these games.
More importantly, it also helps us in making better character and team selection decisions when approaching these games. Alongside the usual things we look for in a team, we need to look at whether the team or character we chose can allow us to steal momentum and control in those dire moments when we need to do so.
In addition to this, people working on their own tag-team fighting games can–and should–also take these concepts into account (and we as players should make sure they’re aware of it). By this, I’m not just referring to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, but to any team that’s working on or planning to work on a tag-team fighting game, or even just planning to add a tag-team mode to their fighter. It’s all too easy to just add in the superficial parts of a tag-team fighting game without understanding how they work on a deeper level. For the sub-genre to continue to thrive, these concepts of momentum and control–and stealing them–cannot be ignored.