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October 5, 2017

Let’s discuss Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (Part 2).

I feel like I can start and end this post with a picture of Chun-Li’s face.

Okay, sure, I know that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite released a patch on day one that saved her and others from looking the way they did during their E3 debut.  But the damage has been done.  For starters, it’s not hard to find images that show how they used to look -- what Capcom was willing to think of as acceptable to put on store shelves, if not for a maelstrom of complaints.  More importantly?  Not everybody is entrenched in fighting game news, which means that plenty of people probably never heard or saw that Chun got some emergency repairs.  So the assumption, then, is likely that Infinite was and still is an ugly game.

I said a long time ago that I’m mostly all right with the aesthetic of the game.  I’d like a more stylish and colorful look, but I assumed that it was a creative choice to have Infinite look the way it does.  I supported it, on the condition that Capcom tweaked and polished it.  The condition has not been met.  Chun and Dante look better than they did, sure, but neither of them are what I’d call good-looking.  And as a friendly reminder: I’m a guy that doesn’t care about sheer graphical power.  One of my favorite gaming peripherals ever is the original DS, and at best it was only a step or two above the N64.  But the DS compensated not only with strong gameplay, but also fine-tuned art direction and style.  There are ways to get around a lack of power, which helps explain how and why it trounced the PSP.

To be clear: Infinite has other problems besides visuals.  But we have to start somewhere (again), so we might as well focus on that.

So when my brother and I were playing the other week, I noticed something odd.  I’d managed to win a match with my Captain America/Doctor Strange team, with the Sorcerer Supreme clutching it out and earning the right to spew his victory quote.  In the resulting splash page, he stuck out one of his hands, positioned as such to look like he was throwing up the metal horns (or try and shoot webs Spidey-style).  Now, I didn’t mention this to my brother because I doubted he cared, but it stuck out to me for obvious reasons.

Doctor Strange doesn’t wear gloves in this game.

It’s unusual to me.  True, I’m not the biggest expert when it comes to the comics, but I do remember using Strange in Ultimate Marvel 3.  He had gloves there.  Moreover, I remember how in video footage and rundowns of the character/game, there was talk on how much input Marvel had on the character’s implementation -- how they wanted his hands to be positioned during his attacks.  It seems like an odd omission and an odder change if we’re following the meme that “they just ripped these characters from the last game”.  But out of curiosity, I decided to look up the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the character.  And guess what?

Yep.  No gloves.  A Google search implies that there are times when the good doctor does wear gloves, but there are times when he goes without.  I guess that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with a character that’s been around for 50 or 60 years in the comics, as well as passed around between writers and artists for decades.  Still, I’m confused.  The general consensus is that Infinite’s roster is supposed to reflect the whims of Marvel Studios and shill the MCU, which to be fair is hard to deny.  But if that’s the case, then why the inconsistency?  Why don’t the characters in the game look the way they do in the movies?  Doctor Strange in Infinite looks different from the way he looked in UMvC3; no gloves, a cape without the massive collar, a leather belt instead of a sash, and actual pants and shoes instead of tights.  Conceptually, I guess both versions of the character look fine, buuuuuuuuuuuut…to be honest, I actually think the movie version of Strange looks the coolest. 

Okay, let’s assume the worst of Capcom (and meddling from Disney and Marvel) and say that Infinite came out the way it did to shill the movies.  That’s not great.  But let’s not pretend like it’s pure blasphemy here; not every element of the MCU is a winner, but it’s not as if we’re talking Transformers levels of eye torture.  Strange in his recent movie looks like a warrior monk (because he is now, essentially); his color palette may be more muted, but it’s because he’s only just gotten over ruining his life in search of a cure for his messed-up hands.  He’s going to look a little haggard.  So why not play to the MCU in the best way possible?  Why not take the good elements from it when you’ve been given carte blanche to work with a billion-dollar franchise?  And you can’t even say “because it’s bland”; there are images of the Disney Infinite version of Doctor Strange floating around, so it’s possible to tweak the style for different purposes and mediums.  What’s the excuse?

Alternatively, here’s another question: what’s Capcom’s excuse for mucking up the Capcom side of the roster?

I know Morrigan from the Vs games more than from her franchise of origin (which might signal how desperately we need a new entry).  But what I do know about her is that she’s a succubus, a demon that personifies lust and feeds off of men.  Contextually, you’d think that that would mean she’s pretty attractive -- as she and other succubi have been in various media.  And yeah, she’s quite the looker in official art.  It’s…hit or miss in the games, mostly miss; Capcom reused the same sprite from the 90s well after the expiration date, and it’s not as if she’s had too many ventures into the 3D realm.  But Marvel 3 did its best on that front so players and fans could see the demonic debutante the way she was meant to be seen.  

Now here comes Infinite to trash that effort and goodwill.

I’ll grant them that, presumably, all of her classic moves are intact.  But her face is…not great.  That’s true of everyone post-release and post-patch, but remember: this is a character who, by definition, is built around being able to seduce men and lure them to their doom.  I’d imagine that’s hard to do when you look janky as shit.  And while you may not notice when you’re in the middle of a fight, you’re not always going ham with the inputs in Infinite; there are still menus to navigate and art that pops up before you start a match.  But even if we agree or disagree about aesthetics, there’s another important detail here: Morrigan’s eyes are the wrong color now.  It’s a minor detail -- basically nitpicking at this point -- but it’s important, damn it.  How do you botch a character facet like that when matching green hair and eyes has been a de facto element for decades?  How do you let artists move ahead without proper reference materials?  How is it that the company that created the character got it wrong, but the animated series got it right?

I know I shouldn’t be mad about this, but I’m mad about this.  Yes, I recognize that it’s not something I should worry about, but the fact that it’s a problem when it shouldn’t have to be is aggravating.  How hard is it to make sure that the colors are right for a character that, in general, only has a few colors going for her?  Why go with such a heavily-contrasting, borderline-ugly shade of green when the palette allows for a better-fitting shade a few inches up her head?  Why’s it gotta be like this?

It’s like Capcom only did the bare minimum in order to try and placate the fans.  “There we go!  We fixed Chun-Li and Dante.  Now no one will ever complain again!”  It still doesn’t change the fact that Chris looks like an overweight rodent with bright pink lipstick.  It doesn’t change the fact that the unmasked Iron Man looks like his face got run through a Snapchat anime filter.  It doesn’t change the fact that Haggar is so veiny he looks like he got whatever Nemesis is pumping through his heart.  It doesn’t change the fact that every single conceivable thing about Hawkeye looks terrible.  

And I just don’t get it.  It’s as if they couldn’t decide whether to be stylish or realistic, and got caught in the null-space between (or better yet, the sweet spot between the two).  I would ABSOLUTELY be okay with Hawkeye if they just digitized Jeremy Renner.  As it stands?  The best-looking character in the game, in my opinion, is Hulk -- because if they wanted to make someone look monstrous, they nailed it.

This game needed to spend more time in development.  That much is obvious.  Okay, sure, let’s assume the worst again -- that this really is a vehicle to promote the MCU.  If that’s the case, then why did they do it like this, and at this time?  The timeline’s been updated; we’re still months out from Thor: Ragnarok.  Black Panther’s in February.  The next Avengers movie isn’t out until May 2018.  Why not wait until closer to the main event’s big release?  And beyond that?  Why use this game to promote the MCU?  IT’S THE FUCKING MCU.  IT’S A MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR FRANCHISE THAT PROMOTES ITSELF. 

The viable explanation is that the MCU is being used to net a wider audience -- that because of the movies, the games have to be distorted to match.  But if that’s true, then why doesn’t Doctor Strange look like his Benedict Cumberbatch counterpart?  Why not use the Chris Hemsworth version of Thor (setting aside the DLC)?  Why is the game like the movies, but not like the movies, but being used to promote the movies, but not being used to promote the movies? 

The more pressing question -- if we assume the best and say Capcom had complete control over the release date -- is why Infinite had to come out at this exact moment.  I guess they wanted to beef up their fiscal report, which is understandable for a company whose dire straits have made headlines.  But at what cost?  Reports have come in on the sales figures so far in the UK and Japan, and they’re distressing, to put it mildly.

In Japan, Infinite sold about 8.3K units in its debut week (while vanilla Marvel 3 hit 67K in the same time frame…on one console).  In the UK, it ranked in at #12 in the charts for all formats, with the PS4 version at #16.  In both regions, it lost handily to Pokken Tournament DX.  It’s hard to know what the numbers look like in the States, but apparently it hasn’t even broken the top 100 list of best-selling games on Amazon -- which means it’s losing to niche titles like Danganronpa V3 and Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash.

So like…I guess Capcom wanted to save money with Infinite, but by the looks of things?  They’re in prime position to lose money.  And I can pretty confidently say that they wanted to save money, because the cost-cutting measures here are as extreme as they are obvious.  As soon as you turn on the game -- once you access the network and get past logos and disclaimers -- you’re treated to a hard cut to the logo after a black screen, itself superimposed atop a black screen.  The UI in-game and out of it is incredibly basic, especially after the main menu -- the background of which, while customizable, is just based on whatever you choose as your “Fight Card” (i.e. your two characters’ “art” atop a picture of your favorite stage).

Everybody gave Street Fighter V trouble for having no Arcade Mode, so Infinite provided…a half-assed version of one.  (And at the cost of a Survival Mode, incidentally.)  The final boss of the mode is Ultron Omega, who’s basically just the Devil Gundam -- and his challenge level is negligible.  When you beat him, you don’t even get to see him explode or anything.  The screen just turns white, only to slap a big “CONGRATULATIONS!” over your TV, complete with your characters’ “art”.  You do get to unlock colors this way -- so you can have 4 instead of 2 -- but there are no character-specific endings like there were in Marvel 3.  As you may recall, those were only a few comic-style panels and boxes of text.  I guess that was too much for Capcom to spend money on. 

But not King of Fighters XIV.  SNK is pretty loose with the purse strings, you know.

There is a tutorial that helps you learn how to play, but there are still key components missing -- like how to wave dash, how to short hop instead of jump/super jump, that normal throws erase recoverable red life, that there’s chip damage on normals (and chip damage in general), and how to keep your tagged-in partner from landing an automatic hit.  I played through every last lesson in the tutorial because I wanted to learn how to break combos with the tag mechanic.  Guess what?  It’s not in there, even though it can potentially save you from losing a character or match.  Also, there are no more snapbacks -- the exclusion of which I can sort of get, but it’d be nice to have a mechanic that could, say, keep a hindrance like Dante or Gamora from living to fight another day.

But the real issue, and one that’s ultimately insurmountable, is with the presentation.  The voice acting is uneven, to put it mildly (which is a shame for X, given who he used to be voiced by).  I’d bet that the only reason the character select and victory themes will be memorable is because of the sheer number of times you’ll hear them in a single session.  To the game’s credit, the X vs. Zero theme is back and pretty strong, but it sucks all the quality from the rest of the soundtrack for sustenance.  The differentiation of punch and kick buttons give each character more distinct attacks, but it’s impossible to shake the sense that you’ve seen a lot of this stuff before.  Likely because, if you played Marvel 3, you already have.  There’s not enough newness to the roster, which wouldn’t be so bad if these guys weren’t still fresh on our minds.  But they’re fresh enough.  That’s a problem.

Again, they should’ve just kept the game in the oven.  Maybe then, they could release the DLC characters on day one without needing to drop more cash.  Also?  Capcom, do you want to know why people call you Crapcom?  It’s because you think it’s a good idea to hold Sigma, a fellow Mega Man character and one of the main villains in the plot, hostage until players cough up the extra dough.

How many of these problems could have been avoided?  How many?  I don’t know.  Maybe all of them.  Maybe some.  Maybe none.  But if nothing else, we have to acknowledge that there are problems.  Infinite has good gameplay (assuming you’re into its style and penchant for salt distribution), but at this stage, I’m about ready to say that that’s all it has going for it right now.  And in a normal, sane world, maybe that would be enough.  But look at the competition right now.  If I wanted to, then I could get up from my keyboard, walk a few paces, and play one of five different, semi-recently-released fighting games.  Capcom doesn’t exist in a vacuum vis a vis the genre; now it has competition, and guys and games that are gunning for the crown.

It’s no coincidence that I brought up KoFXIV and SNK earlier.  Yes, that game also had less-than-stellar visuals and presentation (though its music, as is the standard, can blow your socks off).  But I was, and still am, under the impression that SNK lives in Dire Straits City.  Do they even have money?  Do they even have employees?  Good question.  So when they try to make a current-gen offering, I have to applaud them for the effort and hustle.  When Capcom tries to make a current-gen offering and this is what they give us?  They deserve every ounce of scorn they can get.

So there’s still one question that remains: how good is the story mode?

I guess we’ll find out soon.

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