Shoryuken review: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is still a true Marvel vs. Capcom game

By on September 22, 2017 at 11:00 am
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Despite the initial hype of its announcement, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite has raised many questions as more details about it were revealed. Whether it was the return to the 2v2 format, the new tag system, or Marvel’s heavy-handed involvement in the game and its cast, people found one reason or another to be wary of this erstwhile reboot of the franchise. Now that the game has come out and is actually in the hands of players, all of these concerns come together into that one all-important question: is Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite still a good, proper Marvel Vs. game, despite all the changes?

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Going back to the roots

With all the new things that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite brings to the table (new mechanics, new Marvel characters, etc.), Capcom’s development team has made the wise decision to base the game’s systems on those of the classic games in the series. Games such as Marvel vs. Capcom 2Marvel vs. CapcomMarvel Super Heroes, and the like.

The most obvious result is the return of separate punch and kick buttons, with a 4-attack control scheme reminiscent of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. However, the mechanics they borrow go way beyond that. Things like the rules of the combo system, as well as how certain mechanics work — such as guts scaling, proximity guard, and more — are all based on how these same mechanics worked in the classic games. The result is a game that feels familiar, despite all the new things that have been added — especially to veterans of those classic games. This, while also adding back some of the nuance that was lost when the series first transitioned into 3D.

The most obvious place to see this is in how combos work in the game. Their use harkens back to Marvel vs. Capcom 2, with a seemingly bigger emphasis on resets and vortex. It’s less focused on the one-touch kills that were so common in the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 series. Not to say that these don’t exist, but rather they tend to be the resource-heavy exception, rather than the rule. This move away from the latter also better fits the game’s 2v2 nature. Combine this with new or revised mechanics, such as a combo damage-based hit-stun scaling system, as well as the new Counter Switch mechanic (more on that later), you get a game where getting good damage is not just about pure combo optimization, but rather requires more knowledge of the system, in order to incorporate resets and switch baits. To use a musical analogy, the combo system feels more like freestyle jazz, compared to other games which are more progressive rock.

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Tag team that is as free as a bird

One of the new mechanics added to the game — indeed the one that helps make resets and mixups so deadly — is the new free-form tag system. In prior Marvel Vs. games, raw tag came with a number of drawbacks that kept it from being used as a mix-up tool. Not only did tagged in characters stop to pose (leaving them vulnerable for a few moments), players also couldn’t tag out of just any attack. All of that changes in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

In this game, players can tag in at almost any time during any attack (as well as in neutral). Meanwhile, tagged-in characters now come in from the ground, can actually hit an opponent just by moving, and can be made to move at almost any point during the animation. This is on top of “tag freeze,” during which only the tagged-in character is moving for around 25 or so frames. The result of this: it’s quite easy to to use tags to add on different layers to offense and mix-ups, all while keeping attacks safe. If its Capcom stablemate Street Fighter V is all about “commitment,” then Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is about the lack of it. Players don’t really have to “commit” to anything, not when they can simply hit the tag button to layer on something on top of it, and then continue to do so afterwards. The only limit to tagging is the amount of time it takes for a character that has tagged-out to leave the screen. This downtime extends after each successive tag in a combo, but not during neutral.

As mentioned earlier, tagging can also be used to save a character being pressured on block or taking damage in a combo. The Counter Switch mechanic means that a player can opt to spend two stocks of meter to bring in their secondary character and attempt to save their first. Meanwhile, tying it to 2 stocks makes for some interesting meter management choices; does a player spend their meter to try to get out, or do they save it for a comeback if they can get out of a reset?

In a way, this new tag system is a natural fit for the series. The Marvel Vs. games have always tried to make it so that characters on a team play more as a combined unit, instead of individual characters. Meanwhile, the series has been one where a certain kinds of fundamentals — especially in regards to learning frame data — mattered less, thanks to the core mechanics. It’s an inherent part of the series’ rule-breaking nature, and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite simply builds on that.

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Infinity Stones = infinite possibilities

If there’s anything in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite that continues the theme of rule-breaking, it’s the returning Infinity Gems… excuse me, Infinity Stones. Originally from Marvel Super Heroes, the Infinity Stones still provide some powerful activations — or installs, in fighting game parlance. What’s new is that these installs, called Infinity Storms, are now tied to a meter, and that the stones also have a secondary “Infinity Surge” ability that serves as one way to fill up that meter (taking damage being the other). The Infinity Storms for each stone are all designed to push the limit on some of the rules of the game. For example, the Power Stone’s Storm adds in a ton of hit-stun and damage to bypass the game’s hit-stun deterioration, while flat-out ignoring Advancing Guard; meanwhile Time makes characters basically ignore move recovery, and Soul lets both characters come into play — while also undoing a character’s death.

The Infinity Surges, however, possibly add so much more to each character and team. Time Stone’s Surge gives even the slowest characters much more mobility with a dash that moves through opponents, Mind gives every character a command grab that stuns on hit, Space just allows characters to pull in opponents they might have otherwise have trouble catching up to. These Infinity Surges also, in a way, help the Stones act as surrogates for the missing third character. In a way, they can cover things that assists were used for in the previous games.

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Improved online

All of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite‘s beautiful gameplay wouldn’t matter for much if players weren’t able to play each other online. Happily, the game ships with much better online play than its predecessor did back in 2010. Heck, the online as it is now feels better than that of Street Fighter V, which it shares its rollback-based Kagemusha netcode with.

Of course, the latter can be chalked up to multiple factors outside of the actual network code, such as most players with access to the game at the moment having better internet, or the game being less reliant on links. What can objectively be said to be a bigger improvement is the matchmaking. For Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite Capcom decided to forego using their Capcom Fighters Network and instead rely on the native matchmaking built into services such as PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Steam. The result seems to be much more reliable matchmaking, at the cost of not having cross-platform play.

Now, the latter may be a point of contention. While it was already assumed that there wouldn’t be cross-platform play between the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One regardless of the matchmaking infrastructure, there were some hopes that there would be with PC users. Sadly, the switch away from CFN means otherwise. This is somewhat of a disappointment, especially with the other improvements that game brings to online play. The biggest is the full-featured lobby system. Not only does the lobby system allow for multiple simultaneous matches (with their own spectators and queues) but it also allows two players to train online — a feature that’s quickly becoming a staple of the genre (and one that Street Fighter V still lacks).

In addition to all these, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite has a new “beginners league” feature. This means that anyone who’s relatively low-ranked have a safe space where they can be sure to not get matched up against higher-ranked players. This allows them to actually enjoy the game, and not just get beat up by more-experienced players. Once players go beyond the ranks allowed in beginners league, they cannot go back inside it.

As for ranked matches, the game has some of the quickest turnaround between matches, with players able to go straight back into a rematch, or search for a new opponent, without having to go through a plethora of menus. Simply hitting the rematch or new search options immediately does what it says, without so much as transitioning to a different screen.

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Playing with yourself

Fighting against other players isn’t the only way to enjoy Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. The game comes fully-featured with a load of single-player content. This includes both story and arcade modes. The latter is the standard ladder that has players fight 8 teams before coming up against a couple of boss characters. The first boss is Ultron Sigma, the big bad of the game (and an amalgamation of Ultron with Mega Man X baddie Sigma). Interestingly enough, players only need to beat him to unlock colors for their characters. The main boss is a powered up form of Ultron Sigma called Ultron Omega. As is tradition in the series, Ultron Omega is a giant screen-filling boss that tries its best to fill the whole screen with hitboxes.

What’s not traditional is the lack of individual arcade endings. Just like Tekken 7, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite eschews old school individual character endings and instead saves any form of narrative for story mode.

As for the story mode itself, well, anyone expecting the sort of serious story reminiscent of NetherRealm’s work on the Injustice and Mortal Kombat franchises will be gravely disappointed. While the story attempts to tell a serious tale of two worlds clashing, it spends a bit too much time trying to set up certain scenes and interactions with the characters, just for the sake of fan service. This makes the story feel, at times, like a bit of glorified fan-fiction. It’s not totally terrible mind you — and when combined with some of the awkward animations and ham-fisted dialogue, can spill over to “so-bad-it’s-good” territory — but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Aside from the story and arcade modes, there’s also the mission mode, which provides combo challenges for players to learn. These contain a tutorial section that teaches the mechanics of the game, starting with basics such as movement and blocking, to more specific things such as Advancing Guard and super jumps. The character-specific portion of the mission mode focuses on combos and shows players things that they can apply to create their bread-and-butter combos (it even demonstrates some practical loops). Take note that, for at least one mission (one of Chris Redfield’s), the listed order of moves for the combo was wrong. Additionally, some of the combos may no longer be usable in the main game after the version 1.01 patch, the most notable of which is Captain Marvel’s Blitz Blow loop.

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New faces — and missing ones

One of the biggest points of contention has been the game’s roster of characters. While neither company has stated anything about it, it’s no big secret that the game’s roster is meant to focus more on characters that Marvel retains the film rights too. This means that certain fan favorites from previous games aren’t returning. That said, the new faces try their best to fill the holes from the missing X-Men and Fantastic Four characters. For example, Captain Marvel feels familiar enough to anyone who’s played Storm or Magneto in previous games (in fact, some folks have already started to call her “Stormneto”), while adding her own quirks, such as the ability to gain temporary light armor, and having a command grab.

More disappointing is the Capcom side of things, which should have no reason for certain fan-favorites not to return. The most obvious omissions are characters from Clover Studio-developed games, such as Viewtiful Joe and Okami‘s Amaterasu. Additionally, some players may be disappointed that Nathan Spencer is once again his 2009 reboot version. While that version has become somewhat memetic (thanks to now Capcom assistant producer, Peter “ComboFiend” Rosas’s use of the character), the game from which that version comes from has never been well-received, and more than a few would have liked to see the original 1980s version of the character.

On the plus side, some of the returning characters have gotten better than their Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 incarnations. Arthur no longer puts himself in danger when his armor runs out, for one. Meanwhile, Zero can now do his infamous lightning loop from midscreen (albeit, heavily scaled). Rocket Raccoon, on the other hand, has been heavily reworked, and now comes with his Guardians of the Galaxy partner Groot.

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Presentation isn’t its strong suit

While on the topic of problematic things, there’s really no way to avoid the discussion regarding the game’s presentation. The biggest point of contention here is that the game drops the comic book-esque style of the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 series, and goes for a more cinematic style. This dramatic a change in style is pretty jarring, especially when looking at the older, less-polished builds of the game. For those who were worried based on those older builds, the release build does see a number of improvements in terms of the lighting and shading. Now, the look doesn’t have the same vibrance as its comic-styled predecessor, no doubt the released game can look nice when it wants too. This is most obvious in some of the later-revealed stages, such as the A.I.M.brella Laboratory.

One of the reasons behind the game’s lighting being this way is how the character models are lit. The characters are all lit from the front, separate from the stage. This may be to avoid the pitfall that befalls similarly-styled games, such as Injustice 2 where the stage lighting overpowers the characters and makes them harder to see. It seems that Capcom went out of their way to make sure that that doesn’t happen here — if at the cost of making the lighting look a bit awkward, at times.

The other big issue with the game’s graphics are the character models. Certain characters looked way off-model in the pre-release builds. Happily, a day 1 patch has addressed most of these — Chun-Li actually looks decent, now. That said, you can’t really hid the fact that the characters and animations were mostly made to be viewed from a 2D side-scrolling perspective, despite being 3D. There’s a sense that the models are rigged to fit certain fixed poses. However, this means that they do look awkward in certain close-ups.

Another point of contention is the interface. The game’s HUD and menus seem to be going for the modern, minimalist, flat design aesthetic that permeates modern UI design. Sadly, this is something that tends to be hard to pull off for fighting games, what with the genre’s more flashy arcade roots. Only a few fighting games so far have pulled the switch off, and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is sadly not one of them. Speaking of the UI, while this isn’t related to the presentation, the game still makes it so that only player 1 has access to the post-match menu. This was a glaring oversight in Street Fighter V and remains as such here.

Finally, there’s the sound. The score for the game is seemingly made to fit the mold set by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sadly, this means that the soundtrack feels somewhat generic, sounding like a by-the-numbers superhero movie score. This also applies to the voice acting, which is more subdued and lacks the energy and bombast of the earlier games.

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Unlockables? In a modern fighting game?

One thing that returns from older fighting games is a plethora of unlockable items. The unlockable items in this game range from media for the game’s gallery to character colors, and even stages.

The game’s collection mode — hosted by the holographic avatar of Dr. Light, as seen in the Mega Man X series — is where players can view various bits of unlockable media. This includes artwork, cut scenes, music, voices, and more. Similar to the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 games, the game also allows players to view the individual character models. More exciting, however, is the fact that players can unlock things for use in actual matches. Specifically, both alternate colors and actual stages can be unlocked in the game. This is a refreshing change when compared to Street Fighter V, where almost everything was tied to Fight Money or was sold as DLC. Additionally, unlike in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, alternate costumes also have alternate colors.

As for actually unlocking these, the colors are unlocked either by playing arcade mode up until the final boss fight (Ultron Omega does not need to be defeated to unlock the colors), or by playing online. The 8 unlockable stages, on the other hand, can all be unlocked by simply completing the game’s story mode.

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So, is it “Mahvel”?

For anyone who’s made it to the end this review, it’s pretty obvious that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is a mixed bag of both high points (the gameplay, online experience, etc.) and low points (presentation, roster). However, the question still remains: is it still a true Marvel Vs. game?

Now this question is one that can be quite subjective, depending on a what a player likes about the series. However, if there’s one thing that the series has traded on throughout the years, one thing that has kept iterations of the game alive for years, and even decades at a time: it’s the gameplay. That gameplay is what’s helped the series stay alive, and even thrive in the face of better-looking or more refined fighting games. And it’s that gameplay that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite has in spades.

The freedom and creativity that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite brings with its combination of classic systems and new mechanics allows for a true sandbox in terms of fighting games. This is a game that a player can lose hours upon hours on, just trying things out in training mode — let alone actually using them. Many players joke about Marvel being the fighting game equivalent of “crack cocaine,” and that applies to Infinite — the game is honestly addicting, and you can’t really ask anything more from a Marvel Vs. game.

Pros

  • Great gameplay that brings back classic systems, and combines them with new mechanics.
  • Active tag system allows more freedom than most previous incarnations of the series.
  • Good online, both in terms of features, and the actual netcode.
  • Has actual single-player content with both story, arcade, and mission modes.
  • Unlockables, in 2017.

Cons

  • Graphics are mostly passable, but nothing to brag about.
  • Lackluster soundtrack.
  • No Cable (nor other fan-favorite characters as well).
  • Actual story isn’t anything to write home about.

D3v has worn many hats within the general fighting game community. The self proclaimed "Asian white boy" from the Philippines has done everything from arcade stick modification to match commentary. When not writing for Shoryuken's front page, D3v spends part of his time running tournaments in the Philippines, including the country's biggest fighting game event, Manila Cup.