Franchise Festival #51: Marvel vs. Capcom

In the mid-90’s Capcom’s arcade division developed many popular fighting games and brawlers. Super Street Fighter II was the flagship title for the powerful CPSII hardware. Darkstalkers, Dungeons & Dragons and Street Fighter Alpha were among the games that utilized the hardware’s impressive 2D capabilities. This would culminate in a partnership with Marvel Comics that would eventually produce one of the most beloved crossovers in gaming history.

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X-Men: Children of the Atom (1995)

New fighters: Storm, Cyclops, Wolverine, Iceman, Colossus, Psylocke, Sentinel, Omega Red, Silver Samurai, Spiral, Akuma (hidden)
Unplayable: Juggernaut, Magneto

The first game in the series pulled a selection of heroes and villains from Marvel’s popular X-Men comic book and cartoon. Matches followed the usual best-of-three format from the Street Fighter series. A single-player playthrough consisted of a series of matches against AI opponents, culminating in fights against Juggernaut and Magneto. Special moves are performed by inputting specific button combinations. Players can fill the hyper meter by attacking their opponent and taking damage. Once the gauge was filled a hyper combo (or Hyper X) could be executed.

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Large sprites showcased the capabilities of the CPS2 arcade machine

The game put an aggressive, hyperactive spin on the classic fighting game formula. Fighters could move around before each round began. Every character could do a super jump, leaping two screens high. It used a chain combo system, in which attacks could be canceled into each other as long as they went from light-medium-heavy. Most notably, each character had “X abilities” that granted power buffs or special attacks at the cost of a small portion of the hyper gauge. For instance, Wolverine could activate his healing factor or give himself a speed boost.

The end result was a symphony of frenetic action. X-Men heroes and villains alike could unleash massive eye blasts, rain down hail, teleport around the room or slice their opponent to bits. One stage’s floor would even collapse, causing fighters to battle in the air before landing on another platform. The most skilled players could KO their opponent in a single combo, which turned out to be true for nearly every game in the series.

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Endings typically used in-game sprites with a few special backgrounds

X-Men: CotA proved to be a hit in arcades and at home. No game had animated the mutant heroes in such vibrant detail. The screen-filling super combos caught the eye of passersby and fans appreciated that many voice actors from the Saturday morning cartoon returned for the game. A fairly faithful arcade port later came to the Sega Saturn, but a widely-panned Playstation port arrived much later.

Hyper most likely to wreck your Playstation’s performance:

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Marvel Super Heroes (1995)

New fighters: Captain America, Blackheart, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Shuma Gorath, Spider-Man, Anita (hidden)
Returning: Wolverine, Psylocke, Juggernaut, Magneto
Unplayable (without code): Doctor Doom, Thanos

Arriving less than a year after its predecessor, Marvel Super Heroes pulled more iconic heroes into the fray. Once again the single-player mode consisted of a series of best-of-three matches, with Doctor Doom and Thanos taking over as boss fighters. Based on the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, it allowed the players to acquire Infinity Gems during matches when certain conditions were met. Activating a gem bestowed temporary boosts upon the fighter. For instance, the Power gem increased damage output and the Time gem increased speed. Each fighter had an affinity for a particular gem, resulting in new twists upon activation. 

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The Reality Gem would activate Psylocke’s Body Quintuple ability.

The new fighters stayed true to their comic book origins. Captain America tossed his shield around and used it plow through projectiles. Hulk could absorb hits with super armor and smash his opponents. Iron Man had an array of beams and bombs for zoning. Spider-Man’s webs could capture fighters and let him throw them around.

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Marvel Super Heroes was another hit for Capcom in arcades and at home. The faithful translation of Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man pleased comic book fans. It was later ported to the Saturn and Playstation, with the Saturn boasting the superior version once again. In 2012 MSH was included in the Marvel vs Capcom Origins collection for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, which added online play and challenges.

A sign Iron Man took that whole “Size matters” thing to heart:

Spoiler

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X-Men vs Street Fighter (1996)

X-Men: Cyclops, Gambit, Magneto, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Sabretooth, Juggernaut
Street Fighter: Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Charlie, M. Bison, Dhalsim, Zangief, Cammy, Akuma (hidden)
Unplayable (without code): Apocalypse

The next entry upped the ante by turning matches into a two-on-two, tag-team frenzy. At any time teammates could swap instantly. The incoming teammate would come in attacking, but would taunt after landing, leaving themselves briefly vulnerable. Players had to time their tags carefully or risk the incoming fighter taking heavy damage. The swapped out fighter would slowly recover a portion of their health while on the bench. They could also perform a team hyper combo, in which both fighters would perform their super moves simultaneously.

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The Street Fighter sprites were pulled from Street Fighter Alpha 2, except for Cammy, who was animated for this game then included in later Alpha games. The SF characters could super jump and dash like the rest of the cast, but otherwise retained their previous movesets, with many moves buffed in power and range.

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Screen filling bosses became a staple of the series

The new X-Men heroes and villain pleased fans of the cartoon. Rogue could absorb her opponent’s powers, temporarily giving her a related new special move, including Akuma’s Raging Demon. Gambit’s wall jumping abilities were reminiscent of Vega from Street Fighter. Sabretooth played similar to Wolverine, but matched the unhinged brutality of the villain. The final boss of the game was Apocalypse, who grew so large he took up the entire right half of the screen.

X-Men vs Street Fighter embarked on a new era for the series. Fans were overjoyed to see the two properties face off, although X-Men characters seemed to have an edge overall. The tag team dynamic gave a fresh spin to fighting game conventions. Unfortunately, the Playstation hardware couldn’t handle the frenetic 2D action, turning the home version into a one-on-one brawler. A special code allowed tag team fighting but required players to use the same team. The Saturn did receive a faithful port of the game, but it was never released outside of Japan. To date, that’s the only way to play a faithful port of X-Men vs Street Fighter. Nevertheless, the game retains a special place heart of fans.

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Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter (1997)

Marvel: Blackheart, Captain America, Cyclops, Hulk, Omega Red, Shuma-Gorath, Spider-Man, Wolverine
Capcom: Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Sakura, Zangief, M. Bison, Dhalsim, Dan, Akuma, Norimaro (Japan only)
Hidden characters: Armor Spider-Man, Sunburned Sakura, Mech Zangief, Cyber Akuma, Mephisto, Shadow, U.S. Agent

Arriving less than a year after its predecessor, Marvel Super Heroes Vs Street Fighter didn’t shake up the formula too much. Fighters could now summon their partner for an assist attack, a feature that would become a mainstay for the series. This further complicated the team dynamic; the partner’s assist needed to complement the point character’s playstyle.

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Cyber Akuma’s high damage and speed makes him arguably the hardest boss in the series

The game boasted a new final boss, Cyber Akuma, who was playable on home versions. It also had a number of other hidden characters, although most were slightly altered copies of existing fighters. Perhaps the most interesting new fighter was one never seen outside of Japan. Norimaro was a character created by Japanese comedian Noritake Kinashi. Small in stature, his attacks were more humorous and goofy than damaging. Unfortunately American and European audiences never had a chance to use him.

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Picking Norimaro was a great way to troll opponents.

Capcom intended MSHvsSF to be more balanced and subdued than previous games, but fans preferred the manic action of its predecessor. Worse, there were no new fighters for the Marvel side. The decision to bring Sakura and Dan from Street Fighter Alpha 2 instead of non-Shoto fighters like Guy, Gen, or Rose was also questionable. Consequently, this entry has been largely forgotten.

Once again the Playstation version restricted the tag team function, requiring both players to use the same team, while the Saturn port was faithful to the arcade, but only available in Japan.

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Marvel vs Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes (1998)

Marvel: Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Venom, War Machine, Gambit, Hulk
Capcom: Mega Man, Jin, Chun-Li, Ryu, Captain Commando, Morrigan, Strider Hiryu, Zangief, Roll (hidden)

To separate itself from the previous entry, Marvel vs Capcom’s announcer exclaims “Let’s go crazy!” as players insert quarters into the machine. From the attract mode to the character select screen, this game wants you to know that it’s about to unleash an all-out assault on your eyes and ears. The partner assist system of MvsSF was abandoned in favor of a guest character that would be selected after the player has chosen their team. This allowed cameos from many other franchises, including Thor of the eponymous Marvel comic and Arthur of Ghosts ‘n Golbins.

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The Variable Cross in action. Cap can fight his way out of a crowded elevator but not this.

Nothing embodied the game’s manic mantra more than performing the Variable Cross, in which both members of a team would appear on the field for the short time. The team benefited from unlimited hyper gauge for the duration of the event. The aging CPS2 hardware would struggle to render the chaos that ensued.

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The guest assists had limited uses (screenshots taken from Origins)

Capcom received the bulk of the new fighters. Mega Man could fire weapons from his classic games and charge his arm cannon. Strider Hiryu had a bevy of gadgets and teleportation moves to complement his ninja abilities. Captain Commando called upon his team members for his hard hitting attacks. American players weren’t familiar with Jin Saotome of Cyberbots, but he made a strong impression with his over-the-top voice actor and giant robot. Morrigan of Dalkstalkers fame also joined the fight. On the Marvel side, Venom was the sole newcomer, but was a welcome addition to the cast. (War Machine was essentially a palette-swapped Iron Man)

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The final boss was Onslaught. Remember him?

Like its predecessor, MvC had a selection of hidden characters, mostly of whom were palette swaps of existing fighters. The sole exception was Roll, who was an original sprite but otherwise played similar to her brother Mega Man. Capcom made an effort to further distinguish the other hidden characters by altering their attacks and abilities, in some cases making them more powerful than the originals.

Marvel vs Capcom was a welcome evolution of the series and well-received by critics and fans alike. Once again, the Playstation version severely limited the tag team option, but American players finally enjoyed a faithful port of the arcade game via the Sega Dreamcast. Later MvC would be included in Marvel vs Capcom Origins on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, adding online gameplay.

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Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (2000)

New Capcom fighters: Ruby Heart, Amingo, Sonson, Tron Bonne, Hayato, Jill Valentine, Servbot
New Marvel fighters: Cable, Marrow
Newcomers from other Capcom fighters: Anakaris, B.B. Hood, Felicia (Darkstalkers), Guile (Street Fighter)
Returning: Everyone else

Running on the NAOMI arcade board, MvC2 upped the ante once again, letting players square off in three-on-three battles. For the first time in series’ history, the standard six-button, light/medium/heavy punch and kick layout was abandoned. Instead the medium attacks were removed and two ‘partner’ buttons were added, one for each teammate. Players could raise their hyper gauge to five levels, whereas the previous limit had been three.

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The tag mechanics received a few substantial changes. Players could perform a snapback which would force an opponent’s teammate back onto the field, causing them to permanently lose any unrecovered health. One teammate’s hyper combo could be canceled into the next’s, allowing players to tack on extra damage while tagging out a weakened fighter.

The assist system of MvSF returned with major enhancements. Now each fighter had three assists to choose from. Assists could be called as often and as many times as the player wanted. By pressing both assist buttons at once players could summon their entire team onto the field to perform a hyper combo, provided they had sufficient hyper meter.

Most of the newcomers came from Capcom. Players were baffled by Ruby Heart and Amingo, who’d never appeared in any previous Capcom game (according to one source, they were Darkstalkers rejects). However, Tron Bonne and Jill Valentine were well-known to fans, hailing from the Mega Man Legends and Resident Evil franchises, respectively. Hayato of Star Gladiator fame and Sonson from the obscure arcade game of the same name rounded out the rest of new Capcom fighters. Only two new Marvel characters entered the fray. Cable’s array of projectile attacks made him one of the scariest fighters in the game, but Marrow proved to be far less memorable.

All these elements gave players the most chaotic battles yet. Having two assists at the ready allowed fighters to use a wide variety of tactics. From a competitive standpoint, the game was far from balanced, about nine fighters were likely to be seen in a tournament’s grand finals. However this didn’t prevent casual players from having a blast mashing buttons and experimenting with the rest of the roster.

Click the spoiler to see how insane matches could become:

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In many ways, MvC2 was a dream come true for fans, but it also boasts some of the strangest artistic decisions of the series. Rather than the conventional video game soundtrack of previous entries, jazz music plays in each stage. None of the backgrounds make reference to any property from either Marvel or Capcom. Even the single player final boss, Abyss, is an original creation.

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Released as broadband Internet slowly spread across the US, MvC2 enjoyed an active and dedicated online community. New ‘tech’ (combos and game engine idiosyncrasies) spread quickly as players uploaded game footage to dedicated fan sites, long before the days of YouTube and Twitch. Elaborate videos showcasing combos and bugs wowed players, most notably the Meikyousisui series.

MvC2 remains one of most popular fighting games of all time, thanks to its large roster and chaotic battles. The Dreamcast port is the rare ‘arcade perfect’ home conversion, thanks to having nearly identical hardware to the NAOMI. Later it was released on the Playstation 2 and Xbox. In 2009, a downloadable, online-enabled HD port was released on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, where it set new sales records in its first month.

This is one Red Riding Hood you DO NOT want to fuck with:

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Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (2011)

Marvel newcomers: MODOK, Phoenix, Taskmaster, Thor, Dormammu, Super Skrull, X-23, She-Hulk, Deadpool
Capcom newcomers: Wesker, Amaterasu, Viewtiful Joe, Spencer, Crimson Viper, Chris Redfield, Arthur, Zero, Trish, Dante, Hsien-Ko, Haggar
Returning: Storm, Magneto, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Doctor Doom, Tron Bonne, Akuma, Ryu, Chun Li, Captain America, Morrigan, Felicia, Shuma Gorath*, Jill Valentine*
*DLC

Coming after a lengthy hiatus and months of hype, MvC3 brought the series into the HD era. It abandoned the two-dimensional sprites of earlier titles,  using toon-shaded, three-dimensional models. The basics of the fighting engine didn’t change much from its predecessor. Players still fought three-on-three battles with selectable assists for each team member.

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The 3D engine allowed for dynamic angles on cinematic hyper combos.

There were a few changes under the hood though. Punch and kick buttons were eliminated entirely for light, medium, heavy buttons with a ‘special’ button functioning as a universal launcher. Now fighters could tag out in the middle of air combos, although their opponent could counter them. Certain attacks caused opponents to bounce off the wall or ground, allowing for an easy followup.

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Galactus was the final boss of MvC3 and UMvC3.

But the game’s  biggest change was also its most controversial. Usable once per fight, X-Factor bestowed a temporary boost in power and speed. It grew in strength and lasted longer when a team had fewer members, so players typically saved it for their last fighter. This changed the team dynamics dramatically, as certain fighters (dubbed ‘anchors’) were well-suited for using X-Factor at its full strength. These anchors were so effective that the rest of the match sometimes felt irrelevant.

Move that prompted someone to ask “Did he just hit him with a missile?”:

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With an impressive 21 new fighters, MvC3 gave veterans lots of fodder for experimentation. The dev team showed a willingness to break conventional rules. For instance, MODOK lacked a normal jump and could fly up to the top of the screen for an extended period. Arthur couldn’t dash, relying on his many projectile attacks to keep out opponents. Amaterasu used three different weapons, which she could switch between at will. But Phoenix was the most unique and feared fighter. Normally Phoenix was a capable fighter, but her low health limited her usefulness. However, if she was defeated while the hyper gauge was maxed out she would revive as Dark Phoenix, gaining an immense power boost for all her attacks. Dark Phoenix with X-Factor activated was a terror to behold, overwhelming her opponent with powerful projectiles and traps.

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Seeing this image meant someone just got fucked up.

The first game in the series to not appear in arcades, MvC3 was released on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 to positive reviews. Players enjoyed seeing newer Capcom heroes like Dante and Viewtiful Joe duke it out with Deadpool and Dormammu. However many were disappointed that fan favorites like Cyclops, Psylocke, and Gambit didn’t return. Others noted a lack of gameplay modes in comparison to series like Tekken and Soul Calibur. The game’s online features were severely lacking in particular. Matchmaking was inconsistent at best and there was no way to spectate matches or watch replays. Still, it sold exceedingly well, moving over 2 million copies.

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Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 (2011)

Marvel newcomers: Nova, Rocket Raccoon, Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, Hawkeye, Ghost Rider
Capcom newcomers: Firebrand, Nemesis, Phoenix Wright, Frank West, Vergil
Returning: Strider Hiryu, Everyone in MvC3

Arriving only eight months after MvC3, Ultimate added twelve new fighters to its predecessor’s roster. Otherwise, it made only minor changes to the game’s mechanics.

The newcomers were a varied bunch. Marvel fans probably didn’t expect to see Rocket Raccoon and Iron Fist included years before their respective movies and series, but Rocket’s array of traps kept out aggressive players and Iron Fist’s variety of special moves allowed him to dominate on the ground. Long requested by comic book readers, Doctor Strange zoned out opponents with powerful spells.

Frank West and Phoenix Wright brought interesting subsystems into their matches. Normally a mediocre fighter, Phoenix could temporarily gain immense power by gathering evidence via a special command then nailing his opponent with his Objection! attack. Frank West can obtain new attacks and damage buffs by taking a photo at the end of lengthy combos. Similar to Dark Phoenix, players had to design their teams around these two to get the most out of their abilities.

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Phoenix Wright proved to be a crowd-pleaser when used effectively.

Shortly after its release, an update added a new “Heroes and Heralds” mode to UMvC3. In this mode players could earn cards featuring characters from both companies. Each card gave a specific buff or ability when equipped. Players could equip three cards to their team which they could then take online for battle.

Ultimate was planned as downloadable content for the original MvC3, but an earthquake in March 2011 caused delays. Capcom switched to a physical release at the budget price of $40. Players felt burnt by seeing a followup so soon after the original, especially when they found so many features lacking in MvC3. Released on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 during the crowded holiday season, Ultimate underperformed in sales. After a few patches Capcom didn’t release any additional updates for the game. It was later ported to Playstation Vita, PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

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Some changes to the UI could be confusing for new players.

Despite the controversy, hardcore fans dived into the game. The online code, while far from ideal, improved enough that players were able to find matches with ease. UMvC3 tournament matches consistently drew a large crowd on Twitch streams. The game enjoyed an active, dedicated community of players right up to the release of Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite.

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Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite (2017)

Marvel newcomers: Gamora, Captain Marvel, Ultron, Black Panther*, Black Widow*, Winter Soldier*
Capcom newcomers: Jedah, X, Monster Hunter*, Sigma*
Returning (Marvel): Captain America, Doctor Strange, Dormammu, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man, Nova, Rocket Raccoon, Spider-Man, Thanos, Thor, Venom*
Returning (Capcom): Arthur, Chris Redfield, Chun-Li, Ryu, Dante, Firebrand, Frank West, Haggar, Morrigan, Spencer, Nemesis, Strider Hiryu, Zero
*DLC

MvCI was a major shake-up for the series, going back to two-on-two matches and ditching the tag system of previous games. Now fighters could tag out at any time, even while performing special moves or hyper combos. Players would assume control of the incoming fighter immediately while the outgoing teammate remained on the field for a short time. A player could even tag in a team member while the other is taking damage at the cost of a portion of the hyper gauge. The days of helplessly watching an opponent pummel you with lengthy combos was (mostly) over.

The Infinity Stones returned for the first time since Marvel Super Heroes. Each player chose one stone for their team, giving them two unique abilities. The first of those was the Infinity Surge, a unique action that could be performed as often as they liked. Once a gauge was sufficiently filled, the team could activate the Infinity Storm, a powerful ability that changed the match conditions temporarily. These powers added another layer of strategy. Players might choose the Power Stone for its high-priority surge attack or opt for the Space Stone’s for its storm ability, which traps the opponent in a small area.

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Space Stone Infinity Storm severely restricts opponents’ movements.

MvCI included the standard arcade, training, versus, and mission modes of previous entries, but for the first time in series’ history players could experience story mode. The storyline mashed together the Infinity Gauntlet storyline in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Capcom’s characters. If you’re wondering how that could make sense, well, it didn’t really.

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The character models looked… awkward in cinema scenes

The new fighters on the Marvel side exclusively pulled from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gamora’s run and gun playstyle made her a potent threat at any distance. Black Panther, the sole fighter of African descent, required precise inputs to make good use of his wall-jumping abilities. Capcom’s side welcomed the arrival of X, hero of the Mega Man X series, and Jedah of Darkstalkers.

From the moment early footage leaked, skepticism abounded concerning MvCI. Fans noted that the visuals and presentation lacked the finesse of earlier games. A weak pre-release demo did it no favors, limiting players to matches against brain-dead CPU opponents. Even the voice acting seemed stiff compared to its predecessor. Capcom itself didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about the game. The company announced Ghost Rider’s inclusion via a tweet, with no trailers or screenshots. Worst of all, it increasingly became apparent that no X-Men characters would be appearing in the game, thanks to Marvel’s dispute with Fox over the movie rights to the property. Some stunningly tone-deaf public relations comments only exacerbated fans’ ire.

Although it enjoyed a mostly positive reception among critics, MvCI received a cold reception among the gaming public. With only five new characters (six if you count the redesigned Thanos), the roster didn’t generate much excitement and the absence of X-Men characters provoked a strong backlash. Released on the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC, the game fell short of Capcom’s sales expectations and the company dropped all future content development after the release of the initially announced DLC.

Nonetheless, the game enjoys a small, dedicated group of players who enjoy the fighting engine’s potential for improvisation and wild scenarios. In an ironic twist, the game’s netcode turned out to be robust, something that can’t be said for Street Fighter V or most of Capcom’s other fighters.

Spinoffs and related projects

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The Super Nintendo lacked the processing power for Marvel fighting games, but Capcom did release the side-scrolling, action game X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse in 1994. In the game players could select from Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit, Psylocke, and Beast. Critics praised the vibrant visuals and presentation in the fun, although brief, title.

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Tatsunoko vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars shares many similarities with MvC3, as both games were developed by Eighting. The two-on-two tag team fighter allows players for forfeit a fighter’s recoverable health in exchange for extra damage. It was assumed the title would be exclusive to Japan, but Capcom secured the rights to bring it overseas, even adding more fighters and modes. Release only on the Wii and in Japanese arcades, TvC was well-received but didn’t attract the dedicated fanbase of other fighters.

Conclusion

With a history going back 25 years, the Marvel vs Capcom series has been become a beloved fighting game series across generations. After the disappointing release of Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite, it’s hard to say when the series will return. The series continues delight even when it stumbles and it’ll be exciting to see what direction Capcom takes the next entry.

So have you played any of the games? If so, what fighters did you use? What characters have been overlooked? Why does Shuma Gorath, a relatively obscure character, keep showing up?

Be sure to join us next week as SingingBrakeMan dives into the history of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series!

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Thanks for reading!