‘Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite’ review

‘Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite’ is crazy fun for esports pros and comic fans alike

Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite is a refreshing take on the classic mash-up fighter.
Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite is a refreshing take on the classic mash-up fighter.
Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite is a refreshing take on the classic mash-up fighter.

Highs

  • Balances accessibility with depth
  • New features should delight fans old and new
  • Campaign is packed with raucous fan service
  • Character designs offer great fan service and gameplay variety

Lows

  • Character roster feels a little light compared to past games
  • Story mode is a bit short

If you had a bunch of action figures growing up, you probably gathered a diverse set of characters from across all your favorite games, movies, and books with which to play. Human ingenuity being what it is, you rolled with it, pitting your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles against your Power Rangers, or admitting Bilbo Baggins into the very prestigious Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. That same universe-crossing mash-up fantasy lies at the heart of Marvel vs Capcom, a franchise built on the question: What if Spider-Man could beat the crap out of Devil May Cry‘s Dante? While we ponder the fineries of that scenario in our Marvel vs Capcom Infinite review, the impatient among you can rest assured that our extensive time with the game left us a bubbling pot of juvenile exuberance — with plenty of giggles and gasps of awe.

Juggling concepts and characters from two distinct fictional universes, the franchise has for better and worse garnered two broad categories of players. The first and largest group comprises passing fighting-game fans who enjoy a few rounds of Smash Bros. or Mortal Kombat with friends. The college friends that would play pick-up matches in the lobby of your dorm. They are content to pass on the arduous work of learning a billion and one combos or convoluted special attacks. The second is among esports experts, who care about the game’s every little detail. They memorize attack timings and have reaction times that are almost super-human.

Bringing the two together has, historically, been a challenge, with few games in the genre even coming close. It’s stunning, then, that Infinite succeeds where its compatriots haven’t. It does everything it can to welcome new players with advanced tutorials, newbie-friendly combos, and plenty more resources to avoid being completely stomped by top-end players, while also encouraging the truly gifted to flex their skills and unload with flashy, over-the-top techniques that are as technically impressive as they are wondrously animated.

Steeped in Chaos

Those not familiar with the game’s basic structure need not worry. It’s about as simple as it gets, in principle, anyway. You and opponent will pick teams of two fighters and then wail on each other with long, elaborate combos, tagging your fighters in and out when things to start to get dicey. Choosing two characters allows you to mix up your play style and account for your opponents’. Matching Iron Man and the Hulk, for example affords you both speed with bulk. The multiverse of possibilities that arise from these combinations forms the core of this trumped-up, but distinctive fantasy throwdown.

Decades of game-playing have conditioned most to stretch their legs in a campaign alone before dueling others. Where Street Fighter and even the most recent iteration of Smash Bros. railroad players through a short series of planned bouts without much context, Infinite takes a page from its more modern, narrative-focused peers, like Injustice 2, and opts to crank campy fan service to its max.

What if Spider-Man Could Beat the Crap out of Devil May Cry’s Dante?

The result is a goofy romp through the twin universe’s best set pieces. You square off against the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s big bad, Thanos, atop Stark tower, and sneak through the guts of what was once the Umbrella Corporation, where MODOK is creating zombified symbiotes. (It makes sense in context… sort of). Every premise in every scene comes from the child-like fantasy of jamming all the best of comics and video games together. There’s an undeniable glee that touched our jaded hearts when we first saw Mega Man X — the edgier 90s twist on the classic 80s icon — leaping into battle wielding Captain America’s shield.

As intense as it is, the campaign is a bit scant. Experienced fighting game players should be able to breeze through in under three hours. Even so, the set pieces are raucous fun, particularly if you’ve kept a toe in both the Marvel and Capcom fandoms over the years.

That said, it is still a fighting game at heart. You don’t need to be a pro to get your money’s worth, but if you’ve never enjoyed the odd Street Fighter or Soul Calibur match, this game isn’t going to change your mind. For new players willing to give Infinite a shot, though, the game excels at getting new players up to speed, fast, and offering a much friendlier introduction to a genre that can be brutal to crack into.

Come one, Come all

Returning Marvel vs Capcom fans, meanwhile, will immediately notice some major changes to game’s distinctive format. For one, each player brings two characters to a fight instead of three. At the same time, matches still run fewer than 100 seconds, though, and that means the pacing feels a bit slower. That might not sound like a big difference, but the change makes Infinite far easier to grasp than its predecessors. Learning how to play two characters is going to be easier than picking up a roster of three, and the slower pace gives players more time to space out their techniques and manage the chaos endemic to fighting games.

These concessions might turn off some pros, but they honestly shouldn’t. Yes, newbies will have access to easy combos and a bit more time to pull them off, but the deep knowledge that comes from concerted effort still yields a tremendous advantage. The changes just get folks over the learning hump and into the game much faster.

Marvel vs Capcom Infinite review

While it caters to new players, Infinite also ensures that there are layers of depth, and plenty of meat for an evolving metagame — the complex interplay between players’ choices and the ever-shifting, shared knowledge of what is possible within the game’s rules and boundaries. In modern professional gaming circles, the meta can be the barometer of a game’s potential.

As an unofficial movie universe tie-in, Infinite refocuses its narrative and its play around the Infinity Stones, McGuffins that contain the power of fundamental forces. They’re each named for something foundational — Space, Time, Reality, Soul, Mind, and Power.  Each has a light “attack” that can be easily slotted into almost any strategy. Space will pull a foe slightly closer, messing with a defensive tactician. Reality, though, launches a homing missile that’s slow, but nigh impossible to dodge. Together, they add reliable options, and help form the backbone of any broader strategies.

Every premise comes from the child-like fantasy of jamming all the best of comics and video games together.

The stones, while easy to use, can add entire new dimensions to play. Time, for instance, lets you teleport. That opens up whole new avenues for play. A hulking beast like… well, the Hulk, can zip about, flanking or ambushing here and there. With the right pairing, the stone can negate one of your characters’ core weaknesses, like the Hulk’s sluggish movement. You only select one stone per match, and they each charge up their powers in different ways. This keeps any one power from outshining the others, and allows you to be far more flexible in your broader approach to bouts.

In essence, the stones act as a proxy third character. They have a tremendous effect on play and represent a critical choice before you begin a match. The stone you pick will lock you into one of a few strategies during the match itself. The Space stone, for example, gives you control over how your opponent moves, so if you pick that one, it’s clear what field of tactics you’ll be using. The difference, however, is that each of these augment your established playstyle and are tuned so they can be incorporated with any of your characters. Plus, there’s only six to learn, so it’s a bit easier to manage that than a whole other fighter out of a list of 30 or more.

Marvel vs Capcom Infinite review

Experts will hardly be affected by this at all, as their skill ceilings are already so high as to make these changes irrelevant. To prevent players from abusing these powers, Infinite offers several different, simple techniques to help halt excessive combos, whether it’s interrupting an onslaught with a quick hit from the power stone, or tagging in your second for a bit of added support. So while pros may be able to wail on the new blood for a while, the latter will at least have a chance to play.

And for newbies, the stones are a boon. If your stone’s power is charged, you’ll be able to trigger a stone-specific super move called an “infinity storm,” which enables a much more powerful themed ability. In this mode, players will be able to strike back with terrible power. Even here, though, there’s choices for how to wield it. You can either lean on the time or reality-warping effects of the stone, or halt the infinity storm to unleash a single attack of ridiculous power. This gives the less experienced powerful moves that they don’t have to spend hours trying to memorize. The super-charged attacks that the stones enable only ask you to mash two buttons at once. These aren’t the most powerful moves available, meaning that pros will still want to memorize the overly long button combos for top-tier attacks, but it’s a nice consideration for more casual fans.

In essence, the stones act as a proxy third character.

Think of it as a Mario Kart-like strategy for leveling the playing field for new players and veterans. This lets everyone feel powerful, particularly because most stones can be charged up by taking hits. It’s never enough to offset a massive skill gap, but it can keep players who felt left behind otherwise a way to stay in the game. That philosophy — that everyone is welcome to play — runs throughout. Infinite is eager to welcome anyone into the fold. It’s not quite as open as Smash Bros., but there’s been plenty of tweaking under the hood to make sure novices don’t get locked into ridiculous, flashy combos — a perennially discouraging problem.

On top of that, each character evokes their namesake and source material, encouraging fans to pick the fighters they like, assured that they’ll be able to use a combat style that feels like a natural fit. Chris Redfield of Resident Evil fame has a simple resource-management system that hearkens back to the survival horror game’s inspirations. Dante, on the other hand, feels like the rowdy, out-of-control punk rock star wannabe that he is, with dozens more attacks than his comrades that make him fun to play as a button-masher. Every attack will combo into another thanks to odds alone, but more precise skill yields dividends and gives the sense that you’re guiding a violent twister of blades and guns.

Beyond the extensive combat options, there isn’t a lot to Infinite. You’ve got a few basic modes to try out, including a mission mode, which acts like an in-depth tutorial that doles out rewards for skill mastery, and some multiplayer modes that allow you to pick between joining a lobby game online or playing with a friend in the same room. Regardless, Infinite dodges the mistakes of Street Fighter V, the last mainstream fighting game from Capcom, by using the established network infrastructure of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. This should avoid some of the launch-day server issues that have plagued so many games recently, but we’ll update when we’ve had a chance to test the servers alongside the general public.

Our Take

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is already one of the most compelling fighters in quite some time, because it addresses the genre’s biggest problems in so many creative ways, while keeping play interesting for returning fans. The gulf between the skilled and the green, has been large enough that the fighting game community has become infamously insular. Infinite proves that basic accessibility need not come at the sacrifice of depth.

Is there a better alternative?

No. Super Smash Bros for Wii U also delivers zany, fan-service-fueled brawls, but pros tend to balk at Nintendo’s crossover fighter. Certainly no other game balances such two distinct audiences so well.

How long will it last?

Most should be able to clear the campaign in three to five hours, with more skilled players settling on the lower end. You can play matches against AI, or online against other players, until you lose interest.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’re at all interested in fighting games, this is one of the most exciting ones we’ve played in some time. Bonus points if you’re a massive fan of all things Marvel and Capcom.

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