After a long absence…wait, I already used that joke once before. Eh, I’m sure it’s fine.
Luck hasn’t been on my side recently. Not in terms of my health or well-being, thankfully -- but it seems like I can’t turn around without a piece of technology spitting microchips and gigawatts into my face. It’s been one thing after another, to the point where I had one issue crop up while simultaneously dealing with a different issue. I think things have calmed down for now, but given that there have been instances where I’ve been crippled twenty minutes before attempting to upload a post…well, I hope you’ll understand if I vanish into the ether for seemingly no reason.
It doesn’t help that I’m trying to write about some of the latest games out there, and said latest games are not only dozens of hours long -- it took me a whopping 77 hours to clear Tales of Berseria, and that’s not even close to one of 2017’s high-profile releases -- but also coming in at a stupidly-fast clip. How am I supposed to speak with confidence and credibility about games if I have to stare monsters like Breath of the Wild, NieR Automata, AND Persona 5 in the face? I’ve been trying to work my way through each, but boy have I been forced to shackle myself to each one in turn.
So let me unchain myself for a bit. Let’s talk about something that won’t take nearly as long to play through…not accounting for the potential hundreds of hours spent in matches and training. But whatever. It’s Mahvel baybee. Or…something.
If you’ve been following fighting game news, then you probably know that there hasn’t been much of it -- at least on the MvCI front. That changed over the past few weeks, with the debut of a story trailer, gameplay footage, and a taste test of the roster. Granted a lot of the characters revealed so far were givens (as if Chun-Li would sit one out) and there are some omissions that’ll probably be tended to (Capcom, don’t be that guy and weasel out of including fellow Avenger Black Widow), but it’s hard to claim that the potential isn’t there.
Here’s the issue that’s popped up recently, though -- or at least the thing that irked me enough to make a big dumb post about it. There was an article up on EventHubs that came from a supposedly-reliable source -- someone who mentioned the presence of simplified inputs, so that Ryu could do his infamous Shoryuken with Down, Down, Punch instead of the standard DP motion. And sure enough, the crowd went wild…inasmuch as internet users can go wild via slotted-in text.
The details are coming in hot, and if nothing else? Infinite is set to be an entirely different beast from MvC3 and MvC2 alike. We’re going from 3v3 to 2v2 battles; assists (like calling in Doctor Doom to launch a barrage of missiles) have effectively been axed; Aerial Exchanges are gone; even beyond those changes, the nuances and under-the-hood changes are going to solidify Infinite as a stark departure. If my guess is right, it’s all for the sake of making the game less -- shall we say, frustrating.
I don’t mean that as a way to slam earlier Marvel games. But let’s be real here: the last installment was insanely hard to follow once it hit its top speed, and that’s true of people who’ve been playing fighting games for years. I’d imagine that brain tissue has leaked out of the ears of more than a few casual observers; given that I’ve gotten some massive headaches while playing the game, I’d say that every tweak from here on out is a safety measure.
In all seriousness, though? I get it. MvC3 was a complex game, and was (and still is) impenetrable for people on multiple levels. Even if you’re not risking a seizure or two per match, there’s still the fact that its mechanics and general flow aren’t 100% welcoming to newcomers or passing observers. It’s a game that’s won or lost at the character select screen; you choose your three heroes/villains, but you also choose which assists you want them to have (one out of three possible choices).
And of course you have to consider the order of your team so you can maximize meter gain, mobility, mixup potential, lockdown, combo extensions, and more. That’s setting aside the fact that you have to know how to use all three characters, and fairly competently. Speaking from experience? You’ll get wrecked if you decide to choose three random characters who strike your fancy one day.
Then you get to the actual match, and everything goes straight to hell. You’ve got two characters to keep track of by default -- yours and your opponents -- but it’s never long before the assists come out and you’re potentially attacked from two or three angles at once. Plus, MvC3 has a wealth of movement options -- depending on the character, sure, but chances are high that you’ll face them online or off of it. Wavedashes, triangle dashes, teleports, side switches, flight; coupled with the pressure you’ll either have to defend against or pile on, you’re looking at a game with a lot of information to process.
Imagine dealing with Wolverine’s side switching Berserker Slash while trying to defend against Hawkeye’s Triple Arrows; by the time you do, you’re already open and eating a combo. Or imagine Vergil using his teleport while worrying about Strider Hiryu teleporting to your location and dive-bombing while you’re busy blocking sword attacks. It helps turn Marvel into Which Way Do I Block? That’s not the most fun game to play, in my experience; the saving grace is that you have the chance to do the same to your opponents.
I’ve never actually gone out of my way to watch the hands of gamers who play fighting games at a high level (or my brother’s, or mine), but I’d like to think that the inputs are coming in at a clip just a pinch lower than the average Gatling gun barrage. MvC3 is a six-button fighter, after all, and you’ll need all of those buttons if you want to ravage your foes effectively -- to say nothing of the directional inputs you need to go along with them.
Based on the scant amount of tournament footage I’ve seen, it’s a wonder that normal humans can ever reach such a plateau. I honestly wonder if they should, because my greatest concern is that even moderate fighting game players might risk having their hand and wrist bones erode from the constant stress put upon them. And since we’re a ways away from widespread use of robot hands, I hope you’ll forgive my wariness.
To be clear, though, it’s not as if Marvel in any iteration (or any fighting game in general) has presented some impassable wall for mere mortals or the fighting game gods alike. I was never any good at MvC3, but I still became at least mildly respectable at it. I found a decent reset with Haggar and Super-Skrull. I made my share of comebacks with Ryu. I even managed to steal victory from the jaws of defeat with my boy Phoenix Wright…in the same game that introduced Vergil, a character who’s very close to being a one-man team.
I might be residually salty about him and his array of half-screen normals when (outside of Turnabout Mode) Mr. Wright has to basically stand on top of an opponent just to land one hit. But I digress.
My point is that Marvel has, in my eyes, always represented a slew of extremes. Its setup is simple, but the sheer number of variables makes it nightmarishly complex. Its controls are easy enough to learn and memorize, yet the issue lies with learning how to string them together to make good combos. The game’s flow is easy enough to describe on paper, but difficult to actually put into practice. I can’t even begin to imagine what would happen if I ever tried to make my mom sit down and play Marvel, given that she needed me to show her how to boot up and use Brain Age once upon a time.
For some people, Marvel is fun. I can see why; the extreme moments and the rush of battle are definitely addictive. For other people, Marvel isn’t fun. I can also see why; there’s frustration to be had just by trying to watch it, let alone deal with all of the shenanigans in-game. But to me? I’d bet that the ideal state -- the “win condition” for Capcom, in this case -- is for a game to be as fun as possible for as many people as possible. That translates to brand loyalty, better sales, justification for support (of current and upcoming projects), and more. Video games are part of the business world too, which is what Capcom is blindingly aware of by now.
So I understand what Capcom’s doing. If they want to simplify Infinite, then they have every reason and right to. Taken optimistically, it’s not just a way to make more money; it’s a way to make sure that the largest amount of people possible has the most fun possible with their game.
I wouldn’t mind living in an alternate reality where my mom could pelt out the DPs and OTGs like Justin Wong. But since I’m not in that reality, I’m wary of the fact that we’re effectively in the darkest timeline -- a world where people are still using the excuse of “I’m not good at fighting games” or “it’s too hard for me”. This is despite the fact that one company after another has gone to incredible lengths to simplify their output, and offer up teaching materials to get newcomers up to speed. (Remember, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger once launched with a full-on instructional DVD showing how to use each character.) Some people just aren’t willing or able to latch onto those efforts, though. After all, why bother with tutorials, manuals, and the like when there’s a game right there that needs playing? Nothing wrong with a little hands-on learning, right?
That’s the theory, at least. But how many fighting games have fallen by the wayside because of a lack of interest? How many people have bought into the latest installment in a franchise favorite -- or alternatively, stumbled upon a new, obscure challenger -- and gave up on it because it was too much to learn all at once? I know the feeling, to be honest. Setting aside the fact that there’s a difference between learning combos and learning how to actually use your character in practical situations? I’d love to play more King of Fighters XIV, but the fact that I not only have to commit every aspect of its system to memory, but also learn THREE characters instead of just one, means that I have to put in a lot of effort for a game I can’t even reliably convince my brother to touch. Which is a shame, because I freakin’ love Ralf Jones.
Fighting games are part of a niche genre that needs major support. Marvel, Infinite in particular, is a unique opportunity for Capcom, the genre, and gaming alike. With the Marvel movies in full swing (they’re already talking about Avengers 4 even though Avengers 3 isn’t even out yet), the brand awareness of one half of the MvC equation has never been stronger. People are going to want to get in on that, and if they can’t don costumes or battle aliens in New York, the next best thing is to play as their favorite heroes in video game form. All things considered, it’s a slightly safer alternative.
But nothing would stop them colder and turn them away from their fantasy than a game that would punish them for even picking up the controller. To me, the most frustrating part about fighting games is when I’m not allowed to actually use the characters I like or choose; on one hand, that comes from moments where I’m seemingly getting blasted from both ends by a flurry of attacks with no hope of (safe or reliable) escape. On the other hand, that comes from the sheer amount of complexity that makes a mission as direct as “Play as Ghost Rider” horribly impractical.
And I like fighting games. I’m not the best, but I can still get by. Imagine how it must feel for someone who hasn’t been following them since the pre-Street Fighter IV days. Oh wait, you don’t have to imagine; my brother once thrashed a friend of the family without remorse in SFIV, and pretty much made him swear off fighting games for the rest of his life. That’s not a good position to be in.
To be fair, that’s basically how it should be. A rookie shouldn’t be able to crush a veteran on Day One, because anything else would be a betrayal. Someone who works hard at the game, who has practiced for hours and learned all of the nuances, should have a natural advantage against rookies. But as I’ve said elsewhere, fighting games should be designed in such a way so that players can fight other players, not the game. The less they have to struggle to accomplish even basic tasks, the happier they’ll be. And after that, they’ll be more likely to play more fighting games, not just the ones dangling carrots on sticks with unbeatable cosmic lords like Hawkeye, the man who’s really good at wearing varying shades of purple.
I guess that what I’m getting at here is that I don’t follow the mindset that a simpler or more accessible game is inherently worse. Has some stuff been taken out for Infinite? It looks like it, even though accounts have varied (which just goes to show that you should probably wait until a game is finished to make judgment calls). Does that mean it’s ruined? No. It’s all for the sake of making a game that’s smoother to experience overall. The complex stuff is inevitably going to be in there, but there are options for multiple skill levels and investment.
I mean, as of writing we don’t even know if the Down, Down, Punch Shoryuken is there by default, or part of a Simple Mode selectable at the outset. But no, there’s no way that could happen; it’s not like any game would ever be so bold as to include alternate control styles.
It makes me wonder if this is really the hill that fighting game fans are willing to die on. Does making Infinite simpler and more accessible also make it worse? At this stage, there is nowhere near enough information to prove that widened appeal makes for a lesser game. But for right now, I’m leaning towards “no, it doesn’t make the game worse”; I don’t know why it would. Like I said, it’s a different beast from the other Vs games, but it’s not as if that’ll make it worse than its predecessors.
Let’s not forget games like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, which was plenty serviceable despite lacking the pure insanity of Marvel 2. Likewise, let’s not grind up the roots of the franchise -- sparked with Marvel 1, but built on the legacy of entries like X-Men vs. Street Fighter. I’d imagine that hardware limitations and dev inexperience (relative to the knowledge and resources of our modern era) forced those games to be simpler. So are we supposed to hate those now? Or are we just going to spit on any game that makes its players risk a psychotic breakdown?
I don’t know the exact numbers in the gaming world, like the number of copies sold or the amount of people who actually play (or even care about) fighting games. But if I had to make a generalized, blanket statement? Even if the FGC has done the lord’s work in keeping the genre alive, they shouldn’t have to bear the burden alone. More to the point, they can’t bear the burden alone. The story goes that Capcom geared Street Fighter V primarily towards the FGC, slashing out a fair bit of content so that it could get in players’ hands early with the promise of features added later. It turns out that that deal was one Little Jimmy Xbox wasn’t willing to buy into. Even if SFV found a home among the diehards -- in spite of hot debates that rage to this day -- there’s the undeniable fact that casual players and passive onlookers steered away. And Capcom took notice.
So given all of that? I get it. I get what Capcom is trying to do. I can see why they would want to get new players on the hook. I can see why they would try to accommodate players that are just in it for Captain America or Iron Man. I can see why they would want to convert newcomers, and do their best to avoid scaring them off with complexity, frustration, and enough variables to stop an avalanche cold. Is their approach cynical and selfish, and half-built on making money off of people who might not know better? Sure. But not entirely; as long as there is a pure-hearted desire deep down, then the end justifies the means.
Well, almost justifies.
My trust and faith in the Infinite team is built on idealistic hopes -- the belief that the devs know how to tweak the system without breaking it. If they can maintain the spirit of the game despite the changes, then that really is the optimal scenario. Because let’s face it: Marvel isn’t the perfect franchise, with its share of detractors and critics who would rather something like Street Fighter. Infinite is a way to make up for past mistakes, all while opening the door for new players -- a fresh injection of lifeblood into the franchise and community alike -- to venture into.
But can they make Infinite into a game that’s truly fun for everyone? Or will they go too far? Will the devs make some sort of miscalculation or add in some unforgiveable feature? Will they make a game that offers that complexity and freedom, so that even the most verdant of greenhorns can come back for more, match after match? I think that they can, especially if they split the control schemes between classic and simple styles. On the other hand, this is the same company that made SFV more beginner-friendly. From what I can gather, their attempts to please everyone pleased no one.
And beyond that? Even though I have high hopes for Infinite, I don’t think anyone is 100% wrong for giving Capcom the stink-eye at this early stage. “Early” being the operative word here; the fact that it’s due out in about four months makes me worried that it’s getting rushed out the gate and opting for the “we’ll patch it later” strategy (which worked so well with SFV). I think the new art style -- something more realistic and pushing towards the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s aesthetic -- is an interesting choice. But is there enough time for Capcom to make the finished product look good without a KoFXIV-style update months down the line?
Will all of the online features work? Will the online battles in general work? Will there be tutorials? Will there be an incentive to do the tutorials, especially for those who need them most? Will the extra modes, like Arcade and Survival, be good? Will the story be good? Will the music be good? And then you get to the business side of things, which opens up a lot of unfortunate questions. Such as: why is Capcom talking about DLC characters when we don’t know the full roster and they’re holding Sigma for ransom right out the gate? Will there be a smooth flow of in-game currency for players to earn, or are we headed to Microtransaction City, South Dakota? Why are we getting hammered with versions of the game that cost more than three times the normal price?
I feel like there’s a good answer out there, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
There are legitimate reasons to be wary of Capcom, and I get why people have concerns about accessibility and wider audience appeals harming the final product. (Remember when Capcom tried that with Resident Evil 6 and DmC? Feel free to shudder.) But you know what? I’m optimistic about the end result here. Am I naïve for thinking that? Probably. Still, I’d imagine that if this is how to keep the fighting game world alive and healthy, then we should at least consider giving it a warm welcome.
I mean, who knows? Simpler inputs and gameplay might bring people in, but what’s stopping them from pushing themselves even further once they become true fans? KoFXIV and the Persona 4 Arena games have easy combos you can access just by mashing one button -- something that works, yet won’t dish out the damage of a real combo. Maybe the easy stuff will be a catalyst; maybe it’ll make players want to strive for more combos, and a deeper understanding of the game. Maybe today’s greenhorn will be tomorrow’s EVO champ. But we’ll never reach that stage if we dump on anyone or anything that dares to try and broaden the scope.
Remember, it’s not about what a game should be. It’s about what a game can be. And if we let things change for the better, then there’s no doubt we’ll all be seeing a new age of heroes.
There we go. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grind out some semblance of competence in Injustice 2, because the alternative is to get cremated by my combo-happy brother for hours at a time. On the plus side, that means more time with Supergirl. She’s rad.