The Marvel vs. Capcom games didnít accomplish much

September 7, 2012

By Avi Green

Back in the 1990s, the Japanese game designer Capcom, producer of the famous Street Fighter series that began in 1987, expanded upon the ideas within the 1-on-1 fighting genre with a series of games based on Marvel universe citizens, heroes and villains alike. The first official game they made based on Marvelís characters was a side-scroller based on the Punisher in 1993, and the following year came the fighting games, starting with X-Men: Children of the Atom. It would soon be followed by Marvel Super Heroes, and then along came tag-team setups like X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom 1, 2 and most recently 3.

Iíll be fair and say that program-wise, they had a lot going for them in terms of graphics and animation frame rates. They were also the very games where ďcombo attacksĒ were taken to a serious level, following Super Street Fighter 2ís introduction of some of those ideas. And guilty confession time: yes, I played them to some extent years ago too, though honestly I was lousy at them, and didnít commonly manage to complete all the battles to see the various epilogues for the characters (MvsC 2, it should be noted, didnít have any). And for anyone who likes this form of entertainment, Iíll be willing to admit that they can make for some good pastime. But in retrospect, I donít think they helped the cause of comics, Marvelís or anybody elseís, in the long term, and Iíll try to explain why.

If comics were being banished from mainstream bookstores at the time, and the only real exposure one could expect to get to them was in all the licensed merchandise adapted from them, then what good does it do to have video games based on comics when nobody can find the comics and may not even care? I must admit that all this licensed merchandise has since come to irritate me because of how itís dwarfed the original comics since no one seems to care about it or is even asked to.

And even the games themselves were underwhelming in a sense: the developers did not make a serious effort to find and use many female cast members of the MCU outside of the X-Women. In X-Men: COTA, you had Storm, Psylocke, and even Spiral as playable characters (incidentally, save for Magneto, none of the other villains are actually mutants). And in XvsSF, there was Rogue. But in MSH, they only used Psylocke as a playable female character, not counting the secret character named Anita whoís supposed to be from the Darkstalkers games. And in MSHvsSF, guess how many female fighters appeared? NONE. They didnít even try going for potential choices like Medusa from the Inhumans or Firebird of the New Warriors/Avengers. Not even Ms. Marvel was ever considered. This was the same case in MvsC. I gotta say, unless Marvel didnít give Capcom permission to use any non-X-babes in their productions (which mightíve been the case with Iron Man at the time, explaining in part why they opted for War Machine in his stead), they did a very poor job of balancing out the male-female cast of Marvel characters. In the second MvsC game, they did bring back the X-Women theyíd used earlier, but any new women I can recall only included more from the same team, such as Marrow. Again, they took the easy route. It wasnít until the third MvsC game just last year that they finally had the audacity to bring in at least one non-X-Woman, the She-Hulk, and even then it was almost token at best.

Maybe what else annoys me about these games is that they represent a sellout to a bad form of consumerism, relying more on licensed products than on sales of the real deal. In fact, maybe the best argument could be made by this LA Times article that was written at the time the game was about to be released:

ďThese games have defined him more than the comics have,Ē says Chris Baker, manager of licensed games at Marvel Entertainment, of the seemingly omnipotent entity who has appeared in roughly a dozen comics in nearly four decades. ďThere were 12 characters in Marvel Super Heroes and, for whatever reason, Capcom chose to include Shuma-Gorath.Ē

Iíll say theyíve defined that cyclopian octopus alright! That puny looking creature featured in the games is Shuma-Gorath? No, this is Shuma-Gorath:

Inspired by a character featured in a Robert E. Howard story of Kull the Conqueror published years after his death, he first appeared in the Marvel universe as a foe to Dr. Strange in Marvel Premiere #10 in about 1973. Unlike his game counterpart, who looks little more than 5 or 6 feet tall at most, he was a tower of power, reaching nearly 20 feet in length or height. Heís certainly larger than Juggernaut. But would anyone whoíd played the games know this if they didnít think to research his backstory? The sad part is that a lot of gamers probably never even bothered to do so. In the end, all the games really accomplished was giving Shuma-Gorath an amusing ďdouble-expressionĒ where the character in a victory pose looks like heís grinning diagonally with the eyelid if you squint right.

What really annoys me today about the Marvel vs. Capcom series is that IMO, they represent a sellout to a bad form of consumerism, especially when viewed in light of todayís near complete reliance of the companies making these games on licensed merchandise rather than the comics themselves. And I canít help but wonder if Onslaught, the villain created out of parts of Magneto and Xavierís souls in the comics prior to the Heroes Reborn embarrassment, was really created to serve as an idea for a boss villain to defeat in the games. If my estimations prove correct, that makes Onslaught even more of a bad aftertaste from a comic readerís perspective.

Iím not happy to opine so negatively on such a subject, and there are some video games that I did enjoy when I was a youngster, including Space Invaders. But thatís still not saying the Marvel vs. Capcom series was really worth making, and given how it did nothing to help the comics it drew from, and had plenty of missed opportunities to boot, thatís why in retrospect, I really donít think much of it.

Besides, as of today, Iíve been trying to go by the belief that reading is better than gaming. I do highly prefer puzzle games like Tetris, and found that they constitute much better challenges without too much stress like a fighting game can give, and thatís why Iíd rather play with those instead.

Copyright 2012 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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