Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite wants to draw new fans while still satisfying the hardcore

Given the explosive growth of Marvel Comics into a Disney-owned multimedia colossus, it seems surprising to see a new Marvel vs. Capcom game. One can only imagine how much more complicated (and expensive!) it is to secure the rights to this scrap for the ages. But here we are: Marvel and Capcom are set to do battle once again. This time it's been reworked into a new 2v2 format, as opposed to the previous three-on-three battles. In doing so, there's been some interesting changes.

Joining the already announced cast of six are Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, Rocket Raccoon and Ultron on the Marvel side, while Capcom gains Chun-Li, Strider Hiryu and Resident Evil's notorious boulder-puncher Chris Redfield. They’re a varied bunch. Strider relies on agility and screen control from his robots, Redfield uses his considerable arsenal to zone his opponent, while Ultron is a semi-Doctor Doom replacement.

The game now uses a four button layout for strikes—light and heavy punches and kicks—plus a button to use your chosen Infinity Stone and one to tag your partner into the fray. Accessibility is one of the game’s main design pillars. Executive Producer Peter ‘Combofiend’ Rosas stated that they “expect a lot of new players to show up, so however long they have they’ll be able to pick up a pad, see their favourite hero and have fun”. For absolute beginners, it is possible to jab at light punch and your character will perform a basic ground to air combo, while pressing heavy punch and kick simultaneously will unleash one of their super moves.

For those at an intermediate level, every character now has a standard ‘launcher’ combo. Light punch, light kick, heavy kick, and then down and heavy punch becomes your go-to punish combo and sets up all the wild aerial stuff the MvC games are known for. Should you find yourself in one of these situations, you no longer have to sit there and take it, hoping your opponent drops the combo. Holding down the tag button will cause a Counter Switch, with your partner coming to your aid at the cost of some of your super meter, effectively resetting the situation and getting you out of trouble.

Before all the hardcore start screaming about the game being dumbed down, fear not—the technical side of things comes from elsewhere. For instance, previous MvC games have had some rules as to when you can switch out your fighters, but now you’re almost completely free to do it whenever you want. Mid combo, after an air-combo in an attempt keep it going, even as part of more tricky setups—for instance chucking out a fireball and bringing in your partner behind it, using it for cover. It’s a remarkably versatile system and one that is definitely going to be what brings—as they say—the hype during play.
“The Partner Switch mechanic” said Rosas “although intuitive and easy to understand, it’s much more open than it’s ever been. It’s another reason we had to go 2v2 because if we tried it with three or four characters it’d be completely mind blowing!”

The Infinity Stones are also key to more technical gameplay. The three in the current build—Space, Time and Power—all have two uses, one of which you can use whenever you want, a bit like a V-Skill in Street Fighter V. The Time Stone gives you an invincible teleport/dash, Space pulls your opponent towards you and Power gives you a powerful attack that cases a wall bounce. Once a meter has filled up, you can perform an Infinity Storm—a big, momentum shifting power that changes things in a major way while the meter depletes. Out of these, Space is the most interesting, as it sticks a massive transparent box around your opponent, restricting their movement to that area while you plan your next attack.

The trick here is whether you use the stones to emphasize character strengths or cover for potential weaknesses. Hulk has a hard time getting in on characters who can keep him away with near full screen projectiles, but a well-timed use of the Time Stone will cover ground in an instant. But a Hulk with the Power Stone is just straight up brutal, bouncing you around the screen for mega-damaging combos. It's going to be interesting to see what exactly the remaining Stones bring to the table, and how players are going to be able to use these to imprint their own style on the characters they choose.

What will make or break Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite is how these new systems flourish outside of those initial few weeks and months. Will skilled players find enough flexibility in the new 2v2 battles and Infinity Stone systems to allow for creative play, and will there be enough in the game to encourage newcomers to move on from the simplified one-button basics before they get bored? The promise of a cinematic story mode, traditional arcade mode and the usual suite of multiplayer and training options indicate that Capcom are wary not to repeat the same mistakes they made with Street Fighter V. It may have gone through some changes, but it's still very much Marvel, baby.