Playing Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite reminded me of a scene from Star Trek I saw as a child. It involved Kirk and Spock playing an intense game of chess, but on seven boards of varying sizes, all floating over each other. It was still a game of kings, queens, knights, and pawns strategically moving between colored squares, but the multi-tiered playing field unraveled my understanding of its fundamentals. What was the purpose of the smaller boards hovering off to the sides? Do the rules of movement change? How do you even get a checkmate?
The latest iteration of Capcom’s star-studded crossover fighting game is much like Star Trek’s three-dimensional chess. It takes familiar gameplay systems and characters but presents them in an entirely new way, demanding players re-examine their understanding of it as a whole. Infinite represents the most significant change to the Marvel Vs. Capcom formula since its creation, and the result is a game that’s not only fun and rewarding to play, but also remedies some of the biggest issues with its predecessor. However, like Star Trek’s three-dimensional chess boards, it’s all held together by a functional but crude frame.
Let’s go crazy
It’s a phrase you hear all too often. Like Smash it’s worked its way into the vernacular of fighting game fanatics and has earned its place into the annals of FGC history. But it’s not just all memes and hype — one of the first games I ever watched grainy videos for and competed at regionally was Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
It’s always had an endearing, dedicated place in my heart, but I fear it’s been slowly losing favor for a while.
Years back, when Mega Man was more relevant, the idea of Sigma teaming up with a Marvel villain would have been pretty damn explosive. But with so many crossovers, a complete and utter lack of X-Men, and a basic story that mostly just involves a clash with a big bad isn’t as impressive.
It lasts a few hours, and will keep you engaged throughout, but there’s a few hangups I had with the campaign. For one, they should have gone a little harder on some of the Marvel characterizations if they so desperately wanted to incorporate MCU elements. They went full RDJ knockoff for Iron Man but many others are more forgettable, including meat-head Thor.
The art style is a crime against humanity. Capcom basically went “what if we took the Disney Infinity Marvel look, then made it more realistic, and didn’t make any adjustments beyond that?” Cartoony characters like the ones from the Mega Man stable, or robots like Ultron mostly look fine, but others, like Tony Stark with his helmet off, are garish.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 quickly became a game
Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 quickly became a game about finding the best teams and optimising their damage output, but this meant everyone largely played the same way. Infinite’s Infinity Stones, however, encourage players to make characters their own, and they offer the tools to forge distinct playstyles.
A Hulk player is now empowered to negate his slow movement speed by using the Time Stone’s teleport function, an aggressive Dante can use the Soul Stone’s health-sapping capabilities to mitigate damage from risky strategies, or a Thanos can cover his lumbering approach with the Reality Stone’s homing fireball. Despite the attributes the stones bestow, each character still retains what makes them distinct among the cast. So although Hulk might have a teleport, trying to play him like Strider won’t work.
The Infinity Stones also have a secondary ability called “Infinity Storm,” which is charged by taking damage. When unleashed, they unlock the full potential of the stone and give its user a big short-term advantage. In the Marvel Universe, the Stones grant immense power, and in the game each one bends a fundamental rule of fighting game design to the favor of its user.
Power boosts damage, Mind refills the Hyper Combo meter, Soul revives a fallen ally, Time eliminates recovery on moves so they can be chained together, Space restricts movement, and Reality gives elemental properties to attacks. The Infinity Storm is what replaces Marvel Vs. Capcom 3’s X-Factor, which, while an interesting mechanic on paper, often felt like an unfair two-button death sentence. Infinity Storm briefly changes the parameters of battle in favor of the user but still gives the other player the ability to fight on through smart play and strategy. It takes X-Factor’s comeback potential, but makes it a possibility instead of a foregone conclusion, and in turn the inherent tension and drama of the moment feels more authentic.
The rabbit hole goes deeper when you factor in the tagging system, and it’s here where the series’ other big changes lie. Capcom has simplified tagging, but done so without sacrificing depth. At the press of a button, a teammate will sprint into the fray to take over, allowing players to extend combos for greater damage or to set up tricky situations that can potentially penetrate defenses. Teammates will always enter on the ground, which means low-effort health-melting chained air combos are a thing of the past.
While it’s not impossible to make combos go on for absurdly long, it’s hard work since the character being tagged out is slow to leave. This places high-execution demands and strict timing requirements on players, who need to keep the combo going long enough to cover the tag cooldown. It might be frustrating to find yourself on the receiving end of one of these multi-tag combo strings, but you can be sure the player on the other side is putting in the work to make it happen.