Just a few short years ago, the future of the Marvel vs. Capcom series was in limbo. Capcom no longer had the license to the Marvel characters and previous versions, namely Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, were no longer being sold through digital media. It seemed as if we would not see another iteration of Marvel vs. Capcom for quite some time. Then to the surprise of everyone, following several rumors, a brand new game in the series was announced at the Playstation Experience conference in 2016. It was a rough road to the official launch for Capcom but Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is here and it provides the very best and very worst of what Capcom has come to offer in the fighting game genre these last few years.
Out of the box Marvel Infinite comes with a roster of 30 characters. The number is fine but who makes up the roster is less than desirable, as a vast majority are returning from Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 but with some noticeably missing faces. X-Men and Fantastic Four characters in particular make the roster feel empty. These are characters you don’t really miss until they are actually gone as it’s very weird not seeing Wolverine or Dr. Doom on the character select screen. The Capcom side also suffers from some questionable returning characters. Like how Spencer, Arthur, and Frank West got through instead of classics like Captain Commando or Jin Saotome. The other issue with the roster is that, out of the 30 characters, only 6 of them are brand new to the Vs. series. A disappointingly low number.
The game itself returns to a 2v2 format like the original Marvel vs. Capcom. Gone are assists but they are replaced with the brand new Infinity Stones. You select one of the six Infinity Stones and each one grants you an Infinity Surge and an Infinity Storm ability to utilize during a match. The Infinity Surge is the base attack of each Stone and can be used any number of times. Using the Surge builds up the Infinity Gauge (taking damage also builds it up) which then lets you unleash the Infinity Storm. The Storm is like the comeback mechanic of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite but not nearly as much of an “instant win” button that many argued X-Factor was in MvC 3. The Infinity Storm is still powerful and certainly has an air of being cheap. And it wouldn’t quite be a Marvel vs. Capcom game without something cheap.
The beauty of the Infinity Stones is how much each one can affect the team you’re playing. Each Surge grants a new option for each character that adds an extra layer to their tool kit. The Reality Stone Surge is a slow homing projectile that you can follow to gain position. The Time Stone is a dash that is great for escapes and adds movement for slower characters. Or you can play for a specific Infinity Storm like the Soul Stone which not only lets you control both characters from your team at the same time but can also revive a fallen teammate. The Infinity Storm for the Space Stone is also a strong option as it puts your opponent inside a box that limits where they can move on the screen. All of the Stones reward experimentation to find what works with different teams.
Where Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite also changes the formula for the better is the brand new Active Switch mechanic. Now you have the option to tag between teammates at any moment during combat. I need to emphasize any moment. This opens up an astronomical number of possibilities in creating combos. At any moment you can set up your team to continue combos that would normally have been impossible. Now you can tag in on moments where your character may have been punished for a risky move and keep applying pressure with your second character. Bad tags are still at play since your inactive character remains on screen for several seconds. Constant tags are encouraged but to keep control of a match you also need to attack smart and keep your opponent guessing and putting them in situations where it becomes extremely difficult to block. This gameplay hook is addicting and drives the fun in Marvel Infinite.
While gameplay has always remained king in the fighting game genre, I cannot deny the importance of good visuals, art direction, and presentation. These are the things that catch the eyes of spectators and drives interest so that they check out a new fighting game. First impressions will always be important. If you’ve seen how Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite looks then you can guess why I’m bringing this up. There’s no way around it: the art direction and visuals are so painfully average that it has completely turned off many from even giving the game a second look. The resemblance to the mobile game Contest of Champions is uncanny and furthers the average look of the visuals.
These visuals lead directly into the character designs, which feature way more misses than hits. You get some like Jedah or Strider who animate well and look very cool in motion. But you’ll find way more like Captain America who kinda looks like The Tick or Nemesis who looks like he’s made of plastic. It’s no surprise that the new characters of the roster (except for Strider who is returning) look the best. Some real effort was put forth bringing the new characters to life. Just a shame there aren’t more of them that animate that well.
Music has always been a strong point in Capcom fighting games but Marvel Infinite is one of their weaker entries. A lot of the tracks are simply forgettable and I can’t say I found one yet that I truly like beyond the main menu theme. Another weird quirk with the music is that during matches the themes are drowned out and you can’t really hear them that well. Maybe I just haven’t heard that one track I can get attached to, but overall I’m not particularly impressed by the music in Infinite. When it comes to voice acting, it’s a decent effort given by everybody. Lines are delivered as well as they can be, even if the writing itself is weak. Performances are passable except for Morrigan who can’t seem to remember if she should keep her Scottish accent or not.
For the first time in series history, Marvel vs. Capcom presents a full fledged Story Mode like many recent fighting games. And in Capcom learning from mistakes of the past, they have included Story Mode right out of the gate on day one. The plot features villains Ultron and Sigma from Marvel and Capcom respectively, fusing into one and bringing together their two worlds using the Reality and Space Infinity Stones to wipe out organic life. The newly made villain, dubbed Ultron Sigma, plans to rule over everything with all six Infinity Stones. The story is very in line with Capcom’s previous effort in Street Fighter V, which is to say very cheesy. As far as fighting game stories go, Neatherrealm is still at the top of the mountain with both Mortal Kombat and Injustice.
After Story Mode is done the single player offerings include Arcade, Mission Mode, Vs. AI, and Vs. 2-player. Arcade is a set of 7 fights including a boss, but no character specific endings are available. Certainly an odd choice. Mission Mode includes a basic set of tutorials introducing all of the game’s mechanics as well as 10 specific combo trials for each character. These combos get very challenging and require some strict timing to complete, so anyone looking to complete all of them will be occupied for a while. These missions also provide a great opportunity to see what kind of synergy each character is capable of as it also includes performing combos with Active Switch tags and the Infinity Stones. Also available is a robust Training Mode where you can really experiment with character and Stone combinations.
The online modes on tap include standard Ranked and Casual matches alongside a full Lobby mode with plenty of rules to tweak. A new addition to online this time around is the Beginner’s League. A place where only players under a certain rank are matched up with each other ensuring both players are ones who are still learning the game. This way both players can enjoy the game without getting completely destroyed by someone who has picked up the game at a faster rate and is already good. This isn’t the only way Capcom is helping new players either. Auto Combos lets players perform a basic sequence by only tapping a single button and Easy Hyper Combo sees players performing one of a characters super moves with a single button press. These things leave potential damage on the table as they are just simple combos, but they also give new players a taste of what Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is all about. They can also be turned off for anyone not interested in using them.
I am happy to report that the online netcode is fantastic and easily the best netcode for a Capcom game in years. Problems from previous titles are eliminated and wait times between matches are short. Connections feel almost like offline quality and make playing Marvel Infinite even more of a joy then it already is. It feels great to play a new Capcom fighting game with a really good online offering. It makes enjoying wins and tolerating losses that much easier.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite has found itself in a strange and unfortunate place. It’s one of the most fun fighting games of 2017. The gameplay offers so much creative freedom that new secrets will be discovered for years. But the lackluster visuals and uninspired roster create a barrier to entry that could’ve been easily avoided. These are problems that shouldn’t be problems, even if it meant getting Marvel Infinite closer to 2018 instead. While it’s not ideal and by no means a great solution, it does look like the six upcoming DLC characters will add much needed life to the roster. In the end, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is one of the best Capcom fighting games in years and is worth a look at some point in the future.