Member Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes?

Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.

Ryu might be one of the best Shotokan karate fighters in gaming, but despite the fact he can do physics-defying helicopter kicks and throw fireballs from his hands, I would still bet my life savings on the Incredible Hulk in a fist fight between the two. The concept of putting Street Fighter characters against Marvel superheroes seems ludicrous, but Capcom has made an entire series of games based on this premise. The formula works well in taking assorted characters from Capcom games and pitting them against characters from the pages of Marvel Comics, but many would argue that the series peaked with Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes.

The story of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (yes, there’s a story) takes place two years after the defeat of Onslaught. World peace had been achieved, save for the fighting between the rival Capcom and Marvel heroes and villains. Ruby Heart discovers that a new entity known as Abyss has engulfed Earth’s atmosphere with a dark energy bringing death and desolation to everything it consumes as dark energy tends to do. The characters from the opposing camps need to form a truce and take on Abyss, which is done through the single player story mode where the Marvel and Capcom heroes fight several battles against each other before the final confrontation with Abyss.

Alright, no one probably played Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for its story, which seemed to mainly exist for the sake of bringing together a ridiculously-huge roster of characters from different worlds to fight and justify and overpowered final boss from out of this world. Arcade mode is the obligatory single player mode and is a fun way to kill a half hour or so, but far from the reason this game is remembered so fondly.

Fighting game rosters have grown tremendously since the ’90s. The first Street Fighter II only had eight playable characters, and Mortal Kombat only had seven. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has 56 playable characters. This is a ridiculous amount of characters to include in a fighting game, especially in the year 2000. Choice paralysis is likely to occur with newcomers when they see the enormous roster on the character select screen, but to help ease into the ride the game is about to take you on, only 24 characters are initially available. The other 36 get unlocked by spending points that are accumulated through normal gameplay.

Battles in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 are fought with teams of three. It’s a last mutant standing tournament and once all three members of a team are knocked out, the fight is over. The action can get frantic as players can swap team members in and out of the arena to help balance out everyone’s health levels. What’s more fun about switching around characters is how you can get multiple teammates fighting at once. Zangief could be grabbing someone for a piledriver when Cyclops could jump on screen and add optic blast to the wrestling move. The on-screen action can be busy with the moves that require charge levels. These can include moves that cause the earth’s surface to rise up and attack, ridiculous amounts of energy projectiles or a swarm of countless Servbots.

The control scheme for Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was simplified compared to some of the other Capcom fighting titles. Part of this was to make the game more accessible to newcomers to pump that arcade cabinet full of quarters. While not overtly stated anywhere to my knowledge, part of it probably was influenced because of the sheer number of fighters each with three different styles that could be collected. It just seems like it would be so much less of a headache to tone down the technical skill required to pull off the impressive moves of so many characters, especially when combo attacks are involved. The main appeal of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was playing with friends, and this was one of the best reasons to own a Sega Dreamcast. Countless hours were spent in the early aughts facing off against friends, and because this title was more forgiving to button mashers it made the matches more interesting since there usually wasn’t someone who could clearly dominate everyone else.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was first Capcom fighter to feature the use of 2.5D graphics. The characters are fluidly animated 2D sprites that look comic book perfect over 3D-rendered backgrounds. This wasn’t the first game to utilize this style, but it was uncommon enough where it was noteworthy that they took this approach. This did make the game stand out among its contemporaries and while it was an unusual approach, the style worked well. Looking at still images from the game I can still envision the environment animations. One of the costs of having such a large roster is it doesn’t matter what team is used to defeat Abyss in arcade mode, as all character combinations receive the same ending. This is a mild disappointment as Capcom fighters typically had character specific endings, but with 56 characters the devs likely decided it would be more trouble than it’s worth. Of course, we could also blame this on some characters being redundant copies of each other. War Machine and Iron Man, Ken and Ryu, Wolverine with adamantium claws and Wolverine with bone claws and so on.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is one of the strongest arguments in favor of owning a Dreamcast. Since the initial release on Sega’s final console it has been rereleased in limited physical quantities to PlayStation 2 and Xbox, though neither of these versions were considered to recreate the arcade experience as well as the Dreamcast port. It found more life in digital download format on Xbox 360 and PlayStation, but with all the characters already unlocked, it lacked the thrill of accumulating points to unlock new characters to build your ideal team. Licensing issues are probably what has kept this from appearing in subsequent Capcom collections, which is a shame because this is one of the best 2D fighters around.

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