With the recent Playstation Experience 2016 announcement of the Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite–the highly-unexpected seventh installment in the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise of tag-team fighting games–I figured I would talk a second to drop some emotional avenues I’ve walked down with the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Marvel Comics and video game developer Capcom have a legendary shared history of characters, contracts, and collaborations together. Even global gamers utterly unenthused by both traditional and unorthodox fighting games have become familiar with Marvel vs. Capcom.
The aforementioned title is in regards to a two-dimensional fighting game consisting of fictional characters from two otherwise separate and unrelated corporations: comic book goliath Marvel (X-Men, Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Spider-Man, etc.), and video game developer Capcom (Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, MegaMan, etc.). Rock with me for a second and maybe, without getting too choked up, I can properly lay into print the very three simple reasons why this franchise, deserving no less of the utmost universal encomium, means the world to me.
One day, my father explained an artist’s mind to me this way–”We see something, and we want to map it out. That’s just how we think, and sometimes we never forget what we see. We have to get it out.” My father is one of the most challenging men I’ve ever known. Mid-sixties but as unwrinkled and strong-willed as a man only peaking his mid-forties. He is currently struggling with stage four lung cancer but refuses, at all costs, to put down the paintbrush in his work studio. He was never huge into my passion for video games, but some of my earliest memories are of him “rescuing” me from the dangerous seaweed from an underwater level in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
I will never forget his words to me, from one visual artist to another, about the way men like he and I were affected by what we saw in the world. Try spelling Earth–heck, try spelling heart–without “art”, and we left only have bitter, disappointing incompletion. Color, in its own very basic and very pure form as an element of visual art, enamors and fully arrests my eyes. And the first installment in the MvC series, entitled X-Men vs. Street Fighter (released on Arcades in 1996, Playstation in 1998), introduced to me one of the most colorful games I would ever experience. The little things matter.
As Capcom entered the fifth generation of home consoles (an epoch epitomized by the then-new standard of 32-bit gaming and a noticeable leap from chunky, game-standard ROM cartridges to sleeker, easily-scathed but massively powerful optical discs), they now had the access to enrich their games with deceptively smooth gameplay and high frame rates. The Street Fighter series specifically was renewed and accompanied by loudly-colored, anime-influenced character redesigns. XvSF’s engine was based on this model, with sprites taken directly from the first fifth-generation Street Fighter game, Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior’s Dreams.
For my older brother and I, playing this game together on our legendary Sony PlayStation (yes, that’s a “PSX” if you oldheads remember) was better than watching cartoons for the quality boasted if nothing else. The superhero outfits of X-Men leader Cyclops and fan favorite Wolverine rocked, respectively, strikingly deep blues, and impressively loud yellows, both exactly like the 90’s cartoon from whence their designs derived from. Street Fighters Ken and Ryu were thick red and white blurs of hot-tempered karate as their sky-blue fireballs flurried across the screen, their hyper-combo evolutions carrying the exciting visual even beyond that. As was and still is tradition in Street Fighter games, the screen stylistically explodes–visually and audibly– into a portal of energetic colors forming a gradient when the round ends with a character being defeated by their opponent’s hyper combo attack, almost as if the game itself is in celebration of the player obtaining such a dramatic victory.
Call me crazy, but the grim colors high-acclaimed series like Metal Gear Solid, Call of Duty and even Capcom’s own Resident Evil could never compare to the addictive, dizzying, invigorating kaleidoscopes of Dance Dance Revolution, Jet Set Radio, or Overwatch. Similarly, XvSF simply had an advantage over other incredible games at the time with me over, say the aforementioned Resident Evil, because every screen contained the colors that made up the most impressive sunsets for its primary palette! The second MvC installment, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, the third, Marvel vs. Capcom, and the ambitious fourth entry, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, only served to amplify the effects on my artist brain that XvSF seemed to catalyze. The seventh and most recent series update, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, is potentially the most wildly colorful game of the seventh generation of home console video games. The game case alone will keep you visually intrigued, especially the 360’s version, thanks to the additional mix of various soft and hard greens and clean whites of the Microsoft Xbox brand. It just gets me, y’all.
As mentioned earlier, the gameplay engine of Street Fighter Alpha was a direct influence on how XvSF operated. The X-Men characters in that game, however, were directly translated from an earlier fighting game Marvel had outsourced Capcom to develop, titled X-Men: Children of the Atom. It was the successes of both Children of the Atom and its direct sequel from 1995, Marvel Super Heroes, that gave birth to the very idea, and solidified the rationale of course, of having these two-seemingly unrelated worlds collide in one game–XvSF–that itself would eventually go on to spawn its own crossover franchise.
Like the future Marvel/Capcom crossover titles, Children of the Atom’s main characters would be voiced by the same actors and actresses who originally voiced those characters in the 1992 X-Men animated series. Like the Alpha characters, the X-Men’s voices would further be carried on into XvSF. It felt like the X-Men animated characters, personalities and all, had somehow leapt out of their own cartoon realm simply to pick an impossible fight with the Alpha Warriors of Capcom’s Street Fighter world. I was playing the cartoon, if that makes sense. Arc System Works seems to have executed this flawlessly with Guilty Gear Xrd, but back then, very few games adapted from cartoons or anime could pull this feeling off successfully back then. It was nostalgia squared.
While XvSF saw characters from strictly two of each company’s most popular franchises go at it, its 1997 sequel, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, upped the ante by injecting into the roster a more varied set of characters from the aforementioned game Marvel Super Heroes (i.e. Spider-Man, Captain America, etc.) to face off against old and then-new Street Fighters (including one of its more popular characters, Sakura). Its second sequel, however, tripled the ante by replacing Capcom’s solid Street Fighter cast with characters from across the entire company’s board, hence the title of the new 1999 crossover, Marvel vs. Capcom.
Among the game’s highlights was the newly-added Mega Man, Capcom’s iconic robot hero and one of the most recognizable characters in home console history. Dubbed the company’s unofficial mascot, some of my earliest memories of playing video games–right there alongside my dad saving me from that evil Ninja Turtles seaweed–is of the boss select screen from MegaMan 5 (1992). The game’s non-linear elements of gameplay, the gorgeous animation, and the impressive soundtrack, would keep fans of the classic side-scroller begging for more, and for a long stretch of time, we would not be disappointed. Mega Man’s abilities to carry the weapons of the bosses he’d defeated, as well as his newer sprite animations had all been translated to Marvel vs. Capcom from what was the then-most recent entry in the Mega Man series, MegaMan 8. Nostalgia officially cubed.
Future sequels to the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise, though enormously successful, would go on to often cause initial complaints from critics and fans alike in small part due to the mysterious absence of the hero. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, set to be released in 2017, guarantees to remedy this issue.
My aforementioned childhood memory of MegaMan 5’s boss select screen is composed of two portions: the brightly-colored visual of the heads of eight robotic boss-enemies locked in their respective selection boxes across a heavy hue of blue that mimicked Mega Man’s own battle armor, and the music accompanying the selection process. Though a complex song in it’s composition, Mari Yamaguchi’s score for the 1993 8-bit home run was annoyingly memorable. For years to come I would be humming this particular boss select song day in and day out, often not realizing that I was. The soundtrack to Street Fighter II, its soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura, only further confirmed something about Capcom that eventually factored into them becoming my favorite video game developer: they knew what they were doing when it came to composing the soundtracks to their games.
The Marvel vs. Capcom franchise is no exception, especially the first three games. Between composers Yuko Takehara and Yuki Iwai, all three games’ soundtracks were excellent, and many of their songs unforgettable. 2000’s Marvel vs. Capcom 2, however, changed the entire landscape of how a fighting game could sound…composers Mitsuhiko Takano and Tetsuya Shibuya threw out all of the old synthesizers and fake horns of the previous three games for real ones. This fourth installment saw the massive crossover infused with a fantastical jazz score. Real-life original vocals, soulful in all their belting and contextless crooning, accompanied many of these tracks, including the player select screen–not only one of Capcom’s finest fighting game visuals ever conceptualized (along with the game’s new, inventive “vs. screen”), but also one of the most immortal theme songs in their history of games. The opening theme song of MvC2 is intentionally celebratory on the franchise arriving at it’s unexpected fourth and then-presumably final entry, and it’s final note, as the bass swims up and down creating a deep pocket as the song nears its end, causes internal melting with nostalgia and joy during the contextually appropriate calm underwater scenery (the main character of the game, Ruby Heart, is a pirate) backing the gorgeous new logo lighting up.
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly seventeen years since I first popped this disc in my Sega Dreamcast and had my mind blown by it’s fresh take on the soundtrack. However, like the jazzy hip-hop score for Capcom’s Street Fighter III: Third Strike, many critics did not understand the off-kilter direction of the MvC2’s new score. Hideyuki Fukasawa, composer of the franchise’s revival piece Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (2011) and its update/sequel Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, gave the score a very generic, electronic feel. The songs were a very upbeat and colorful collection of forgettable but energetic pop-fun tracks. They might have been better additions to another franchise instead. Even the game’s narrator sounded like a high school dance deejay, and yet considering the roads where the franchise’s songs had previously gone, it felt like Fukasawa was willing to take zero risk on composing any type of memorable score, as though he had been hired to “remedy the problem” MvC2’s jazz score presented. MvC3 and Ultimate are two of the best fighting games of the eight generation of home console gaming. But it will be the soundtracks of MvC and MvC2 that i’ll be humming long into my old age, not its sequels.
All said and done however, the Marvel vs. Capcom games will always have a special place in my heart. There are many more reasons for my sentiment directed toward it, but these three aforementioned points generally simplify the actual list. And you know, crossover fighters simply aren’t the same anymore. Bringing in characters from other franchises into games seems like more of a gimmick to spend more than a genuine attempt to create quality products. We’ve seen Star Wars’Darth Vader and Yoda in SoulCalibur IV (2008); A Nightmare on Elm Street’s horrific antagonist Freddy Krueger in Mortal Kombat (2011); the Spartan supersoldier “458” from Halo in Dead or Alive 4 (2005); and Fatal Fury’s Mai Shiranui in Dead or Alive 5 (2012-2015) just to name a few! None of it feels as genuine as how Capcom and Marvel did it in their heyday. So all I can ask from Marvel vs Capcom Infinite is that do it the right way. I’d almost rather see Capcom leave a seventh entry alone if they can’t get the quality even remotely close to the first Marvel vs. Capcom, where they realized less truly is more.