After seeing the overwhelming success of both Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, it was only a matter of time before Capcom decided to port more of their popular 2D fighting games to the Xbox Live Arcade. With so many classic fighting games to choose from, Capcom could have gone a number of directions. They could have given us an underrated classic like Street Fighter III, or perhaps tried to reboot a franchise like Darkstalkers, or even offered up something obscure like Red Earth. But instead they went with a fan favorite, none other than Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
Originally an arcade release, this nine year old game is best known for its stellar Dreamcast port. While it was also released on the Xbox and PlayStation 2, but versions were fairly rare and something of a disappointment for those of us looking for added content. This Xbox 360 port plays it safe, denying us any new characters or single-player game modes. What it does offer is an online mode that may just be worth the $15 asking price.
As the name suggests, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a 2D fighting game that pits some of your favorite comic book superheroes (and super villains) against some of the greatest video game characters of all time. This is more than just a game with Street Fighter and X-Men characters, it manages to pull in dozens of characters you would never have imagined fitting in a fighting game. There are a whopping 56 characters, a staggering amount for any fighting game, especially one from Capcom. While not every character is balanced, the sheer variety should attract just about anybody that is even remotely interested in fighting games.
Each side is predictably split into two sets of 28, which by itself is more than most modern fighting games (in contrast, SNK's recent The King of Fighters XII only has 22 playable characters). On the Marvel side you get some of the biggest comic book characters of all time, including Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Doctor Doom, the Incredible Hulk, Storm, Iron Man, Gambit and Magneto. You also get a good helping of comic book characters I'm only vaguely familiar with, such as Cable, Thanos and Shuma-Gorath.
As a fan of Capcom since the early 8-bit days, it's the Capcom side that makes my heart start palpitating in weird patterns. Yes, you get many of the classic Street Fighter characters, including Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, Cammy, M. Bison and so on. But what's exciting about this game is that you also get other classic characters, such as Jill from Resident Evil, Mega Man, Strider Hiryu, Servbot from Mega Man Legends, Captain Commando and Hayato from the little played Star Gladiator. There's also a nice selection of characters from the Darkstalkers games, which overwhelms this Morrigan fanboy with excitement.
I promised myself I wouldn't just spout out lists, but frankly with 56 characters it's easy to fall into that trap. Needless to say, there is a character for just about everyone, be it a Tron Bonne, Doctor Doom, or just plain old Dan. Any way you slice it; there are a lot of characters to take into this intense three-on-three battle royale.
In an interesting move (that doesn't feel as novel as it did nine years ago), Marvel vs. Capcom employs a three-on-three fighting style. This means that you select a three-person team, similar to how you play most of the classic King of Fighters games. However, unlike SNK's long-running series, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 allows you to cycle through characters on the fly, allowing you to not only give your fighters some much needed rest, but also create multi-character combos. It's an interesting style that can feel a little jarring at first; you can either tag out or simply bring one of your sideline characters in for a brief attack. What's more, you can also bring all three characters in for a massive special attack that literally fills up the entire screen.
Breaking from a decade old tradition, Capcom has decided to only use four attack buttons instead of six. The moves haven't been changed, so you will have no excuses this time. The game plays just like all the classic games this title is derived from, and feels even better with the PlayStation 2 control. This fighter has been optimized for the layout of the control, which has never felt more natural.
The game lacks any real story, which is probably a good thing, since I really don't want to know why Felicia, the cat-woman from the Darkstalkers series, is fighting Iron Man. What surprises me, though, is the general lack of one player modes. Besides the arcade mode and a score attack mode, which is basically exactly the same as the arcade mode, this game has nothing else for you to do. It would have been nice if Capcom had included a Survival mode or something, but I guess Capcom didn't feel like adding much to the original Dreamcast release.
The game is starting to show its age a little. Some of the characters look a tad rough, especially when put up against the beautifully 3D rendered backgrounds. The graphics don't look bad, but they certainly could use some polishing. This is especially true when you play the game on a high definition television. There are definitely things about the game that pop out, but there's also a fair amount of pixelization that can really damper the overall experience. The good news is that you can test out a couple of different filters that smooth out the graphics, but neither of them is ideal. It would have been nice to see a true HD update to this game, but that's probably asking a bit too much.
Oddly enough I do have what sounds like a very minor complaint about this game. You see, in all of the other versions of the game you started with only a handful of characters, making you earn the rest of them. Each time you played a match (no matter if you won or lost) you would earn tokens that you could use to buy new characters, costumes and stages. This kept me playing both the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 versions of the game long past the time I got bored simply fighting. It kept me engaged and coming back for more, even if it was only one or two matches a day. For whatever reason, all of that was stripped out in this Xbox Live Arcade version. Instead you get all of the characters unlocked from the get-go. While this is fine for the multiplayer mode, I miss having an incentive (other than achievement points) to keep coming back. In a lot of ways it makes this release feel like a bare bones package, even though it offers several dozen characters to choose from. It's funny how something so small can make me view it in a negative way.
While I'm complaining, I would also like to spend a few seconds griping about the Xbox 360's horrible D-pad. Yes, I know I mention it every time I review a game like this, but there's really no excuse for how shoddy a product the Xbox 360 D-pad is. You can play the game with the analog stick, but it doesn't feel right. Obviously the best way to play the game is with an arcade stick, so hopefully you already picked one of those up for Street Fighter IV. If not, maybe now is the time to do so.
The game more than makes up for these two problems with a solid online mode. Like Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 manages to give you exciting battles with a minimum amount of lag. That's not to say that you won't run into it from time to time, but my experience with the online mode was mostly positive. There aren't a ton of online modes to choose from, but at the end of the day all you really need is a second player to fight.
While it may not wow the crowds like Street Fighter IV or BlazBlue, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is absolutely one of the best fighting games on the Xbox Live Arcade. It's different enough from all of the other releases on the platform to warrant the price, and I guarantee that you'll get your $15 worth out of just trying out all 56 characters. Now that we have one of Capcom's most successful fighters out of the way, it's time to bring on Street Fighter III or Darkstalkers.