Gonna take you for a ride. Dear God, that song. Some of us have had it stuck in our heads for nearly a decade now, and if you haven't, let us be the first to welcome you to our little club with the release of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on XBLA earlier this week. The Xbox 360's custom soundtrack feature has never been so appreciated.
After nine years of physical rarity and outlandishly high resale prices on eBay, Capcom's legendary fighter is back in the hands of the veteran brawlers who remember its heyday, and readily available for the first time to an eager new generation. But that song. Is it worth being subjected to that horrible song?
Perhaps more importantly, is it worth doing so again if you already have in the past? Topher Cantler and Jonathan Holmes will tackle that question after the jump with their full review of the game.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Xbox LIVE Arcade [Reviewed], PlayStation Network)
Developer: Capcom / Backbone Entertainment
Price: 1200 MS Points / $14.99
Released: July 28, 2009
My second-favorite fighter of all time returns. Here we are. Whether you last played MvC2 while gathered around the Dreamcast with friends or standing at a cabinet in an arcade with complete strangers, it's probably been a while. You're wondering what's new or not new with the port, and we'll get to you in a minute. First, however, we've got some out there who've never played it at all.
If you consider yourself a reasonably serious fan of fighting games, and have never played Marvel vs. Capcom 2, you owe this to yourself. It's already been established for years as one of the most fun and important titles to have under your belt, and there are some who might even revoke your right to talk shop about fighters at all if you haven't at least given it a shot. If you already dig 2D fighters, you will most likely love this. Go spend your 15 bucks and enjoy your awesome new game.
Now back to those of you who are already familiar with MvC2. You'll be happy to know that what you're getting here with the game itself is almost exactly what you remember; only now it's wider, considerably better-looking and connected to the internet. The character sprites, while unchanged, look as crisp and beautiful as they're going to get, and the new menus and interface are razor sharp. The original semi-polygonal stage backgrounds and anything that doesn't fall into the former categories is now in HD, not unlike what we saw with the Ikaruga port. The game has never looked better.
What's not looking so good is the prospect of an engaing single player mode. If you owned the Dreamcast version, you might have fond memories of the game's "Secret Factor" or character shop, where you could unlock new fighters and alternate costume colors with the points you'd acquired through Training Mode. This whole experience, for some reason, is gone.
From the moment you first boot up the game, every character in its vast roster is already unlocked. This is nice, because it allows you to jump right in with a friend and immediately start handing each other's asses back and forth on a silver platter with whoever your old mains happened to be. But at the same time, it's not so nice if you wanted to play alone. There's still a Training Mode, but gone is the points system that was once there to lure you into bothering with it.
The old trick was to enter Training Mode and leave the Dreamcast running overnight. You'd wake up a millionaire and then unlock a few characters at a time with all your ill-gotten points. It was fun. It was sneaky. It was the single player experience. All you've got in this port is Arcade Mode, and with only a few achievements relating to it, (beat the game with a Street Fighter-themed team, for instance), there isn't a lot of incentive to go solo. But I suppose you already went through all that unlocking once, right? And God knows you can't leave your 360 running overnight, unless you want to wake up to your house on fire.
What you're buying is effectively a multiplayer game, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Especially when the network performance has so far proven to be just about flawless. There's a bit of weird stuttering on the character selection screen that might give you some initial doubts, but once it's go time, there appears to be nothing but smooth sailing. After 20 or so matches online with friends near and far, and strangers from who knows where, I've experienced almost no lag whatsoever, aside from maybe a split-second framerate hiccup. I'm both surprised and impressed with how well it performs under pressure. It's a shame whatever new alien technology they've discovered didn't exist in time for Backbone to apply it to Super Puzzle Fighter's lousy netcode.
While I'm thrilled with the graphical update and the outstanding network performance, something I'm far less pleased with is the very limited options for controller layout. The game lets you map two punches, two kicks, and two assists. End of story. Regardless of what type of controller you plan to use, that leaves two buttons unemployed. It might not be as irritating if you're playing with a standard 360 controller, but if you're using a six-button fightpad like me or an arcade stick like most other people, those two buttons are right there. With nothing to do. Controllers have grown an extra pair of buttons in their evolution since the Dreamcast, and it would have been nice if we could map the oft-used "both kicks" or "both punches" command to them. Or taunts. Or, you know, anything.
This is especially disappointing after SFIV's controller options, which let you do pretty much whatever the hell you want. Sure, you can map a single command to two buttons, but that's ... well, dumb. And it's dumb that there are other perfectly available commands in the game that can't be mapped to anything when you've got two buttons out of a job. That was stupid, Capcom. And I'm mad at you.
That foolish oversight aside, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is still as fantastic as it's ever been -- more so now that you can beat up on your pals without leaving the house, and beat up on strangers without lugging around a pocket full of quarters.
Some might disagree, but 15 bucks to rock out online with a much prettier version of one of the greatest fighting games ever made sounds like a pretty good deal to me. And so far, that's exactly what it's been. Suck on it, eBay.
You know, it gives me chills to be involved with the review of a game this monumental. Nearly ten years after its release, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 retains the title of most large scale, hyper-kinetic game in the 2D fighting genre. When games like Tekken and Soulcalibur had all but taken over the arcade fighting game market, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 kept 2D fighters from becoming irrelevant. More importantly, it never gave in to predictability or cliches. This is the game where a cactus man can casually eat Captain America while Jill Valentine offers a mixed herb to Thanos; the death-crazed wielder of the infinity gauntlet. For fighting games, or videogames in general, this is as far from cliche as it gets.
A few points for people who've never played the game: Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is huge, insane, and almost universally appealing. The game features 52 playable characters, which provides more than enough choice for anybody. We're talking everything from the adorable, LEGO-looking Servbot, to a sex hungry succubus, to Marrow, a woman who rips bones out of her own body and then cuts your throat with them. There are a few characters here that are pretty much palette swaps, like Iron Mon and War Machine, or Wolverine and "totally 90s bone-claw" Wolverine, but for the most part, all the characters here look and play very differently. Perhaps more importantly, they play like should, given who these iconic characters are. Wolverine has his healing factor, Juggernaut really is unstoppable, Jill Valentine shows us the Tyrant, and Mega Man comes equipped with robotic dog and leaf shield. Love them or hate them, you can't deny that the game's roster is legit.
"Hate them, you say?" Yes friends, it's true, a lot of people think this game sucks. Some say it's too "scrubby", as the "dial-a-chain" combo system is extremely accessible (and for a lot of people, fighting games should be anything but accessible). Others say the game is too unbalanced, and really, what do you expect from a game with fifty-two characters? Fans of the fighting scene know that there are a five or six "top tier" characters in Marvel Vs Capcom 2 that almost everyone in serious tournament play uses, while the remaining forty-six are left to take the role of punching bag. Sadly, that's the way it is with most fighting games, but with this one, critics have been historically quite bitter.
Then there is the music. Um... Wow. Even fans of the game's soundtrack will tell you that it sounds positively satanic, but not in the metal sort of way. It's this soundtrack that really sets Marvel Vs Capcom 2 apart from Capcom's other "Superhero rave" titles. For instance, in Marvel Vs Capcom 1, when Strider jumps onto the scene, music from the Strider arcade game plays on cue. In Marvel Vs Capcom 2, it doesn't matter who's on screen, your going to get the same synth-jazz and/or a woman crooning about "your body". Its hard to fault the game for its wildly inappropriate soundtrack, because really, what is appropriate for a game where a semi-sexy monkey girl blows kisses-that-turn-into-monkeys in the general direction of a giant, tentacle-enriched eyeball from outer space? For an event like that, pop music from hell fits just as well as anything else.
All of these "faults" wont mean a thing to those who play fighting games for, you know, fun. Marvel Vs Capcom 2's beginner-friendly fighting system, familiar characters, and sheer eye candy make the game a worth while purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in the genre. As for depth, some still believe the game to be bottomless. Personally, I've been playing it off and on for nearly ten years, and I feel like I'm still getting better at it. Even if I weren't, I'd still ome back just to look at the thing. Marvel Vs Capcom 2 acts as sort of a "best of" collection of all of Capcom's CPS-2 era sprite work. The amount of individual frames of animation here is just staggering. There are a few weak links (Thanos in particular looks pretty under-cooked), but classic Capcom CPS-2 sprite-sets like Cyclops, Strider, Wolverine, and Captain Commando are all here, and are pretty much required study for anyone who wants to understand sprite animation.
I agree with Topher that the lack of unlockables make this port of Marvel Vs Capcom 2 feel a little flat in the single player department. Still, after all these years, I have more fun playing Marvel Vs Capcom 2 alone than I do with any other 2D fighter on the market today (as long as you don't consider the currently import-only Tatsunoko Vs Capcom to be 'on the market'). There are so many characters here that no two matches ever feel the same, so replayibility isn't really an issue. Also, credit must given to the game's final boss, who provides a battle that feels truly climactic every time you face him. It's sort of shameful to see Marvel Vs Capcom 2 outclass modern fighters like SF4, BlazBlue and KoF XII in the "unplayable last boss who truly blows your mind" department, but then again, times (and expectations) really have changed when it comes to 2D fighters.
I'd say that only one or two of today's 2D fighting games can hold a candle to the level of craftsmanship and content to be found in Marvel Vs Capcom 2. It's truly a product of a bygone era; and an era that I sorely miss. Now don't go thinking that it's retro-goggles that have me scoring Marvel Vs Capcom 2 so high. I'm not blind to the game's flaws. It's just that none of those flaws bothered me when the game first came out, and they still don't bother me now.
This is a must-own game for fans of Marvel, Capcom, or fighting games in general. I bought it on XBLA, and I plan to buy it again when it drops on PSN in a few weeks, and I'd buy the damn thing again if it ever came to the Wii. It's just that good.
Final Score: 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)