Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: July 29, 2009
Working in the games industry, you often hear references to games that "stand the test of time." These words are usually used to describe games that not only hit the magic sweet spot of fun, challenge and visual flair in their original release but also continued to be in demand well after their debut. Treasure's Radiant Silvergun for the Sega Saturn is one such title; Konami's Castlevania: Dracula-X for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM^2 is another. For fighting game fans, Capcom's Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has also been one of those hallowed selections.
Originally debuting on Sega's Naomi arcade hardware before making its way home on the Dreamcast in 2000, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is actually the fourth game in Capcom's inaugural versus series of fighting games. Continuing with the tweaks that began in X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 plays similarly to earlier Capcom fighters, though the character roster was upped considerably, the control system refined and the complexity of the fighting system ratcheted through the roof. In short, it was one of the best games around when it debuted, and nine years later, it is still one hell of a fighter.
Compared to the newest generations of today's 3-D fighting games, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is something of a throwback in terms of visuals, but not in depth of play. Although there is no Z-axis movement, the game weaves a tapestry of challenge with its multi-layered system of attacks and counterattacks. Nearly every move in the game can be blocked or countered, so the combat is as much about strategy as reaction time. Think of it as akin to chess … with the addition of superpowers, laser beams and a hyperkinetic pace.
Unlike previous releases of the game, the full roster of 56 characters is available from the outset. There is no need to spend time playing the game to unlock any fighters, so as soon as you fire up the download, you're ready to go. While there are a few characters who are similar in terms of looks/moves, most of the 56 stand out with their own style of play. Since it was originally an arcade game, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a bit light on the story side, but then again, you aren't buying this one because of the complex plot. Here, it's all about the fighting.
If there is anything to be aware of with Marvel vs. Capcom 2's gameplay, it is that the game skews heavily toward the experienced player. Most games are designed to be beginner-friendly in order to draw in new players. Not here. Even the AI, which tends to be somewhat forgiving across other Capcom fighters, is unabashedly brutal. Whereas an experienced player can take down an opponent's team in seconds, it's not unusual for a new player to have difficultly completing the task before time runs out — and that's assuming you haven't had your ass kicked in the process.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 may be challenging, but the game isn't unfair. Those who spend the time to learn the moves and the timing will find themselves quickly cutting apart the computerized opponents and mastering the single-player experience. Doing so will require time spent in the training arena, which allows you to stage matches against any opponent of your choice. While in the training arena, you can also set the level of your opponent's AI, which can be helpful if you're trying to perfect a specific move or combo chain.
Besting the computer is something of a reward in and of itself, but winning against the AI is still nothing when compared to fighting against a real, live opponent. This is where the big draw of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on XBLA comes in. For the first time outside Japan, the game supports online, competitive multiplayer so you're no longer restricted to local competitors and can take on anyone across the globe. For the old-school fans, it's a great excuse to dust off some long-dormant skills. For the new players, it's a great way to increase the challenge factor to 11.
Playing against others is a fairly straightforward affair; ranked matches pit you against anonymous opponents of somewhat similar skill levels, and player matches allow you to set up groups in order to play round-robin style. It is the latter that is most like playing at the arcade, as those who are waiting for a turn are able to watch the current match as spectators. When one player loses, he goes to the end of the line and the next person in the party automatically steps up to challenge. Parties can support up to six players.
Unfortunately, the ranked match competition is not nearly as polished as the custom player matches. The need to keep anonymity during matchmaking for a ranked fight is understood, but it's frustrating to be kicked back out to the multiplayer menu. After all, if you're sitting down for a bout of competition, you want to spend your time fighting. We would have much preferred an option that allowed you to automatically drop back into the matchmaking queue while you're playing a ranked match in order to keep the downtime between matches minimized.
The Xbox Live ranked matches are also where Marvel vs. Capcom 2's most annoying bug likes to rear its ugly head. If your opponent disconnects while in the ranked match lobby but before the fight actually starts, the game will not always fail gracefully. Sometimes it will return you to the multiplayer menu; other times, it fails to load the menu UI and simply shows an animated background and the A button icon. Pressing the button does nothing, though, as the game is locked up. From here, the only thing you can do is quit back to the dashboard and restart Marvel vs. Capcom 2. For a release in which online play has been promoted as a major feature, running into such a major bug is a disappointment. Hopefully, Capcom will get this patched up quickly.
Thankfully, the online play itself is smooth and solid once you get into a match. We tried playing at different times of the day and night in order to ensure a wide variety of opponents. There was the occasional wait for an opponent to pop into the game lobby, but once the match started, everything was quick, responsive and, most importantly, lag-free. The team at Backbone did an excellent job of disguising latency without any noticeably detrimental effects on gameplay.
With a retail price of $15, it's also something of a steal. As recently as six months ago, used copies of the game for Dreamcast, PS2 and Xbox were fetching prices in the $100 range on eBay. The average eBay price for those discs was hovering around $30 last week.
From a visual perspective, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 spot-on, in part because all of the art assets are pulled from the original game disc. The more inquisitive types will find that files from the original GD-ROM are included inside the download. In order to ensure that the somewhat aged graphics didn't suffer when presented on today's high-definition displays, Backbone included an optional filtering that is enabled by default on the new version of the game. The filter, which can be disabled at any time should you prefer the classic look, smoothes out the edges of the original sprites, removing the jagged edges. It's not a complete HD remix, but it is better than nothing. Stage displays have also been reworked in order to fill the screen on a 16:9 display; however, the actual fighting area is still a 4:3 square.
Aside from the aforementioned matchmaking bug, the only real downside to Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on the Xbox 360 is the 360 controller itself. The default d-pad and face buttons simply weren't designed for the type of precision pounding that an expert level player is going to perform when laying out a beatdown. It is fine for beginners, but anyone who wants to play the game as it was intended will need to pick up a proper arcade stick.
When paired with an arcade stick, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is an arcade perfect port that is sure to please fighting aficionados old and new. Aside from online play, there aren't any new features or upgrades, but to be honest, the game doesn't need them. It may not be quite as flashy as Street Fighter IV, but it plays just as well, and in the end, that's what really matters. This is one game that has most certainly stood the test of time.
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