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September 18, 2017

RE: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite

Hey, welcome back to Cross-Up.  Glad you’re here.  I’ve been putting some more time into the latest version of BlazBlue, and I’m dying to talk about my findings.  Even if that franchise’s future is up in the air, I’ll gladly admit that --

Wait, hold on a second.  Isn’t there another fighting game coming out this week?

*checks release schedule*

*sighs heavily*

All right.  I guess I’d better get ahead of this.

Full disclosure: I’m writing this post before I get hands-on time with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.  Why?  Well, I’d like to commit some thoughts to virtual paper before the game comes out in its final, perfect (?) form.  Plus, it’s not as if this is the only time I’ll ever write about the game, so consider this a lead-in to the main event.  It’s just that I’ve had some things on my mind for a while now, and the sooner I get them out of me, the better.

So here’s an important point I want to make right off the bat: I think that MvCI is going to be good.  I could be wrong.  I could be proven wrong.  But I played through the demo -- and certainly, I think that the gameplay is there.  That’ll be the case more than ever, once I actually learn how to play and/or get to play with characters I actually care about.  It’s utterly presumptuous for anyone to decisively, unrepentantly slam this game before most average gamers get a chance to even try it.  Now, does that mean they’re wrong for having concerns?  Of course not.  I have them too.  And as always, it’s a damning situation for normal folks: in order to judge whether or not a product is good, we have to buy in first.  Capcom wins as long as people slap down cash at the outset.

But do they care about whether or not people like the game?  That’s the question of the day.

If my guess is correct, the devs at Capcom Keep want MvCI to live a long, healthy life.  The more players stick with it -- which they’ll do if they enjoy it -- the more they’ll want to support the game and the company in whatever way they can.  So if the idea is to keep the “games as a service” mentality in full force, then Capcom has to provide a good service to begin with.  I’d imagine that diehard fans would be more likely to buy new costumes for Morrigan or Iron Man than vicious detractors -- which means, at least in some form, more money for Capcom.  They kind of need it, I bet.

But at this stage?  It’s hard to overlook the fact that MvCI has been drowning in controversy for months.  A leaked, underwhelming, mostly-old roster; DLC peddling almost right out of the gate; missing X-Men (and to a lesser extent Fantastic Four) characters, which implies meddling by Marvel execs; PR that arguably misses the whole point of the franchise by espousing beloved characters as mere functions; a terrible impression on the main stage of E3 thanks to some horrific faces; awkward-looking models and animations in the surprise demo; now it turns out that one of the bonuses in the collector’s edition is…less than ideal.  I’m not 100% sure that’s everything, but I hope it is because that’s a scarily-long list.  It’s like the game is cursed or something.

The full game can’t just settle with knocking it out of the park.  It needs to hit a home run that reaches escape velocity.  Are we going to get that?  Possibly, but I’ll go ahead and assume that it’ll take some time to reach that point, given A) people need time to practice and play before coming to a conclusion, and B) there is a ton of negative press to overcome.   I do hope that the game does well, because I want to believe in Capcom.  The company that brought us hits in the past -- that could make a Vs game with nothing but its stable of eclectic characters -- deserves at least a little respect.  I just wish that they’d stop doing such stupid, stupid things.

See, the impending release of MvCI has managed to tick me off in a way that I…well, kind of expected, but hoped against hope wouldn’t come to pass.  Bits and pieces of the soundtrack are popping up on YouTube, and for the most part I’m completely unimpressed.  I actually resent it.  For all the problems Street Fighter V has, I’ll argue until my lungs turn to dust that its soundtrack is top notch -- so how do you go from that to this?  A huge swath of the Capcom characters’ tracks are tinny, distant, techno-ish remixes of their older themes -- so lacking in power or presence that I feel like I have to crank up the volume just to hear them.

But as bad as they are (or maybe a begrudging “passable” is the word I’m looking for), the Marvel themes are, on average, the real victims here.  A huge chunk of them -- like Hulk’s, and Captain Marvel’s, and Iron Man’s, and more -- are generic orchestral pieces that try to sound epic and big and important, but they all blend into each other in the worst possible way.  Like, I just listened to Iron Man’s new theme an hour ago, yet for the life of me I can’t remember a single note from it.  People in comments sections across the net have argued that they sound like the fluff from the MCU, and I’m inclined to agree.  Even so, let’s not forget that the MCU has given us some strong, memorable pieces in its credits sequences (and the occasional standout during the runtime).  I dare you to call “Captain America March” generic.  I dare you.

I can’t begin to imagine how Capcom dropped the ball on this.  And part of the reason I can’t is because, bafflingly, Capcom didn’t drop the ball.  Not entirely.  But first, let’s back up a bit.

This is Cap’s theme from Marvel 1, and a track I’ll load up to this day.  Even if the tech and instruments used to craft it are outdated, you can feel the power behind it -- the force that demands justice, and upholds ideals no matter the foe.

Then you get to Cap’s theme from Marvel 3.  I remember when I first heard it -- the first four seconds of it, literally -- and I thought, “This is exactly what I wanted.  THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED!”  Then the bombastic orchestra (one with a well-defined melody, I should add) gives way on second five to…a synth-heavy remix of his theme.  Great.  Well, I think it’s sub-optimal in terms of expressing the character, but it’s still something, and it gets in a few high points.  There’s something there.

Then you get to Cap’s theme from Marvel Infinite.  As of writing there’s no video featuring the track, but it’s there in his tutorial video.  And…well…just listen.

I mean, sure.  It sounds noble.  It sounds heroic.  But there’s no pizazz behind it -- nothing that truly makes it stand out, particularly when pitted against the other songs in the soundtrack.  No fervor, patriotic or otherwise.  No passion to energize and emphasize every Shield Slash or Charging Star.  It’s just there.  Just like a distressing amount of the other themes.  I will admit, though, that of those themes the real standout is -- curiously -- Gamora’s.  I’ve actually been trying to find it amidst the OST for days, having heard it first in a recent trailer. 

But that just highlights the absurdity here.  Why does Gamora, of all characters, have a theme song like that?  The comics -- based on her description in that video, at least -- would have you think she’s a silent but deadly assassin.  Even if that’s incorrect, most people will know her from the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, where her presence and affect was muted compared to her comrades.  Why does she get the most energetic and forceful tune of the bunch?  And even if you overlook that, there’s Rocket Raccoon’s theme.  You could argue that it fits his character more, what with its techno beats symbolizing his reliance on machines and weapons.  And to be fair, it’s not as if his MvC3 theme was one-to-one with his character, either.

Here’s the thing, though: when Rocket showed up in playable form, it was 2011.  Not only was that before The Avengers dropped and changed the movie game for years to come, but it was also well before his origin movie.  Both GotG installments banked hard on a collection of groovy, classic tracks, in-universe and out of it.  Now we all know who the woodland warrior and the green-skinned space brawler are, with expectations half-built on the movies that housed them.  Given that, why don’t their MvCI themes reflect it?  If the idea was to recreate the feel of the MCU’s soundtrack (for good or ill), then why didn’t they do that in one of the ways and instances where it mattered most?  What is so damn hard about including music that’s strong, memorable, and iconic?

And I ask this because, bafflingly, Capcom actually did that…quite possibly IN THE WRONG PLACE.

Apparently, this version of Cap’s theme plays if you beat Arcade Mode.  And you know what?  This track is actually pretty good.  It’s not mind-blowing or pants-ruining, but it’s definitely closer to what I and no doubt thousands of other fans want.  It’s not just about tickling the pleasure centers of the brain by catering to nostalgia; it’s about giving a character a theme song that’s actually a theme song.  Guilty Gear and BlazBlue have this down PERFECTLY.  Every single theme, in every single game, tells you what this character is about as you’re playing, building up the excitement in the middle of a fight as you slug it out.  Why Capcom would hold back something so vital is a baffling choice I’ll never, ever understand.

Except…now that I think about it, I do understand it.  I have fond memories of Capcom games, and characters, and songs, and all of that good stuff.  But the more I reflect, the more I realize that this company has been hit-or-miss for years now.  It’s like you constantly have to flip a coin with these guys.  Heads, and they put out an awesome title.  Tails, and you’re inundated with trash in-game and/or out of it.  How is it that the same company that just put out Resident Evil 7 to glowing reviews and fan approval (even if it missed sales targets) can push MvCI as hard as it did despite the glaring issues the company had to know people would point out?

We’ll be wondering that for a while, probably.  For now, though, I’d like to make an assertion -- one that goes toward MvCI and the company as a whole.

It needs more polish.

I really do think it was too early for them to release this game.  The turnaround time from announcement to the due date has been, shall we say, abbreviated.  And for what reason?  Okay, sure, fiscal goals and pleasing shareholders had to have figured in.  I’ll grant them that.  But how far are they willing to go for the sake of an early deadline if they’ve stepped onto every bear trap on the road to September 19th?  The PR’s been a disaster, the fans are miffed before the game even drops, game journalists are (rightfully) skeptical, and even fighting game fanatics have expressed their concerns.  On top of that, now MvCI has to play catch-up unless it wants to languish in the shadow of Dragonball FighterZ (and it’s probably no coincidence that its beta started up the weekend before the new Marvel’s release, alongside three more announced characters).

Too much damage has been done to ignore, and it’s damage grounded in reality.  How much of it could have been avoided if Capcom kept the game in the oven for a bit longer?  How many people would be willing to give it a chance if they hadn’t shown off Ugly Chun-Li at E3, a place where she would be impossible to avoid even for non-fighting game fans?  More time might have cost more money, but at least then they would have hopefully bolstered the presentation, maybe remixed more characters (or added new ones), and overall provided insurance that this would be a quality product.  Based purely on the demo, I have zero faith in the quality of the story, which means that the gameplay is going to have to hold it down.  I’d say that’s enough, but once upon a time we were led to believe that SFV could get away with focusing on nothing but gameplay.  Now we all know better.  Except Capcom, potentially.

I want this game to be good.  I want this company to be good.  If we lose them in the industry, then despite all of the shenanigans and get-rich-quick schemes they’ve pulled over the years, it’ll still be a devastating blow.  But it seems like Capcom has continuously made a fundamental error here.  They can’t just say “we’re going to make money because we want to make money”; they have to put out something that convinces people, conclusively, that they have to have it.  They could’ve done that with MvCI, but they didn’t.  Not with so much controversy surrounding it.

It remains to be seen what the legacy and reception of the game will be -- whether it’ll have a long life like SFIV or wither on the vine like Street Fighter X Tekken.  If nothing else?  They’ve got a captive audience; the pros and aficionados have no choice but to buy into the game, because…hey, it’s Mahvel, and it’s basically going to be a tournament standard.  But banking on that captive audience isn’t enough anymore.  Banking on brand recognition isn’t enough anymore.  SFV proved that.  So in turn, I hope that -- no matter the scorn, and no matter how much of a punching bag it’s become -- MvCI proves that it has what it takes to earn its love, not just scrape up whatever blithe, begrudging tolerance it can.

We're counting on you, Capcom.  Don’t let us down.


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