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Game review: Marvel vs Capcom Infinite – a more beginner-friendly fighter, but at what cost?

From Iron Man and Captain America to Ryu and Rocket Raccoon, MvCI combines multiple franchises in another hyper-accelerated tag-team brawler that is easier to get into than before, but lacks the nuances of its predecessors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 7:13pm

Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite

Capcom

3 stars

Over the course of two decades, the Marvel vs Capcom franchise has mutated into a sprawling tapestry of exuberant brawling. Its unifying theme seems to be frantic excess, with overflowing character rosters, screen-filling hyper combos and mob-handed tag-team battles. “Gonna take you for a ride!” declared Marvel vs Capcom 2’sjazzy character selection screen, and while the shield-tossing, hellfire-dousing action could occasionally be chaotic to the point of confusion, it was certainly never dull.

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Now here comes a new challenger, six years on from previous instalment Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 (a buffed-up version of the third instalment that boosted its character count to an impressive 48). In Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite (available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC), the conflict implied in the title has become inextricable. The diabolical team-up of Marvel supervillain Ultron and Capcom’s Sigma, the lantern-jawed nemesis of Mega Man, has forcibly fused the two corporate universes together, creating an uncanny hybrid dimension.

In a story mode worthy of a Saturday morning cartoon, the combined Ultron-Sigma villain has also unleashed a cyborg virus to assimilate all organic life, forcing Captain America, Mega Man X, Chun-Li and a mixture of other pugilistic heroes to fight a desperate rearguard action. But the third game’s inky art style of thick black outlines has been replaced with more of a Toys ‘R’ Us aesthetic, resulting in the character select screen resembling a rubbery, wipe-clean action figure line.

There are 30 playable characters from which you select your two-person team. The revised Marvel roster mirrors the priorities of its cinematic universe, so the Infinite incarnation of Iron Man is now blatantly modelled on Robert Downey Jnr’s wise-cracking show-off. Pair him with Spider-Man and he tags his partner in with a cute callback to Captain America: Civil War.

The rising stars of the Guardians of the Galaxy are emphatically in – Gamora is a lithe, lethal multi-weapon specialist while Rocket Raccoon can request thumping help from Groot. But X-Men and Fantastic Four-related characters, their intellectual property licensed by rival studios, are demonstrably out.

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Previous Marvel vs Capcom games featured an easy input mode so beginners could leapfrog ahead to spectacular special moves and finishers without having to memorise every quarter-turn and double-button press. Infinite folds this training-wheels approach into the game proper. Batter the light-punch button and you automatically unleash an eight-hit combo, while one straightforward button-press triggers a hyper combo across the entire roster. Mastering this simple repertoire means new players can select any character confident that they can at least pull off the basics.

While this pivot toward accessibility does not automatically mean a lack of depth, it does inevitably flatten out the personality of Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. The new infinity-stone mechanic – six selectable cosmic gems that add additional special moves – means any character can be specced with a dash, a fireball or a paralysing throw. If Ultimate rejoiced in the eccentricities and mismatches of its sprawling roster, Infinite seems to want to turn everyone into an all-rounder.

More seriously, after creating such an inviting on-ramp for beginners, Infinite whiffs its advanced schooling. After the basic tutorial, character-specific training missions jump straight from simple special-move workouts to intimidatingly long input strings. For players not already fluent in the genre’s lingua franca of cross-ups and cancels, there is nothing to explain how to read or react to your opponent.

While this feels like a missed opportunity, what is actually unforgivable is that Infinite’smove lists are locked to characters facing right. This is irritating if you happen to jump over your opponent and want to quickly pause and check the input for a mighty finisher. It is actively excruciating if you are locally playing as the left-facing player two.

The wacky story mode is a welcome short-term diversion but where Infinite really comes to life is in the wild. For those rightly intimidated by online play, there is a dedicated and so far seemingly robust Beginners League to help players begin their ascent from 15th to 1st rank. But even in this nominal shallow end, ingenious beat down specialists are already combining disparate characters and their signature movies into elaborate punishments.

Jedah, the regal vampire from the Darkstalkers series with a diabolical arsenal of jagged projectile attacks, is clearly an early favourite, while the option to tag in Ryu for a jumbo-sized vertical fireball seems to be a popular grace note on which to end extended combos.

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These dedicated players who have already pushed past Infinite’smuddled orientation will likely elevate the game to new heights, while the emphasis on pick-up-and-play means it is also possible for dabblers to extract a lot of fun from the giddy free-for-all. But it does feel like something has been lost along the way in the push for slimmed-down accessibility. Smashing two dimensions together should be the stuff of ambitious prog-rock albums, but Infinite seems determined to steer towards the middle of the road.