Marvel vs. Capcom Is About Finding New Ways to Make Opponents Hate You

With 'MvC: Infinite', the series remains one of the most expressive and layered franchises in fighting games.

Sep 26 2017, 6:00pm

screenshots courtesy of Capcom

The first time I played Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite was alongside four friends I've played Marvel with for years. We were sitting shoulder to shoulder in a cramped midtown apartment; there was hardly room for just ourselves and the two televisions, let alone the (inexplicably) six arcade sticks. As the match started, I marched straight towards my opponent, and when the timer started ticking, I hit him with an unblockable.

"Now that's cheap," my friend said. In any other game it would be a protest, but not here. Cheap is what we were and are always here for.

Marvel vs. Capcom is about self-expression, from the people competing on the stage to the people screaming in the crowd. With its tremendous breadth of possible playstyles, there can be no correct way to play it. Marvel is a blank canvas. The only thing that can be said for sure about Marvel is that it is not fair.

Whether you know it or not, your personality shows with every button press. Did you choose to go for a safe, quick move? Maybe you opted for a dangerous, but powerful button that rewards you more substantially if it were to hit, but leaves you open to punishment on block. Or perhaps you chose to opt out of hitting a button altogether; a fighting game can be about the spaces in between button presses. These tiny choices add up and, over time, create a fully formed picture of who a person is and how they think. But there are so many choices available at every stage of a Marvel match that every decision adds up to a detailed self-portrait.

In moments where Street Fighter might be interested in an attack or a movement, Marvel demands a jump, an airdash, an attack, and a character swap all at once. For every option a character has in Street Fighter, their Marvel counterpart has a dozen. As that number increases linearly, the possibility for interactions increases at a quadratic rate. Managing that unholy possibility space is a nightmare, and it's that uncontained nightmare that allows Marvel to become what it has.

It's fitting that some of the most intense storylines in the fighting game community come from and circle around a game with such a high density of expressiveness. Feuds between players are a daily occurrence, from Yipes and Filipino Champ's year-long spats, culminating in one of the most surprising triumphs in Marvel history (twice), to crowd favorite Flux demanding a rematch with nearly unknown DavidF for "any amount of money", to Marvel 2's lifespan being capped off by a legendary grudge match between GoldenBoyNeo and Cl0ckwork.

Passion runs deep in every fighting game, but there's always been something special about Marvel. The yelling and screaming that follows Marvel at every step comes from the raw emotion it summons, because nothing in a game gets more of a reaction than the cheap stuff.

Cheap is a loaded word. In most cases, the functional definition of the word cheap is "a powerful strategy that I don't like." There's a reason most competitive communities stay away from it. It's too personal a phrase. At best, it expresses frustration with one's own performance, and at worst it doesn't mean anything.

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But in Marvel, cheap is different. Cheap is part of our DNA. There are only two places for fair Marvel players: the crowd and the loser's bracket. From Wolverine, Strider, and Gold Warmachine to Sentinel, Storm, and Cable, then Morrigan, Phoenix, and Zero, the history of Marvel vs. Capcom is one of finding new ways to skew the odds. It's only fitting that the most iconic games of Marvel ever played have all been in Vegas. In Marvel, the strongest strategies demand to be described as cheap. But we keep crawling back.

There's a misconception around cheapness and unfairness that they don't result in fun play. The truth is, every Marvel player loves the cheap stuff. Whether we love doing it, or watching it, or discovering it, or just imagining what possibilities for cheapness exist just beyond our imaginations, we love it all. Sometimes it makes us angry, but that's the whole point; It always makes us feel some kind of way. Cheapness was the thing that pushed us from Marvel to Mahvel.

So cheap is the first thing we looked for with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. We forfeited a player slot by designating one of the setups to training mode. There was a sense of purpose in the air: We were meant not only to revel in the game, but first to learn about it. As we rotated in and out of our one versus mode setup, one lucky person was able to explore, poke, and prod around on our own.

My turn to hit the lab came around, and I started messing with weird timings using the new Tag system.

To briefly explain, where prior Marvel games utilized multiple character teams by assigning each character a designated Assist move, Infinite introduces a new system through which players can turn any move into an impromptu assist. Rather than having an Assist button, you can activate the Tag function even as moves are just starting. This causes your second character to run into the battle while the first finishes their attack. Where in past games, you were locked into one Assist move per character, you can force your characters to work with one another dynamically in Infinite with any move.

One of the first ideas I got messing around with this new system involved inputting a move that would require my opponent to block it standing, Tagging into my second character (allowing the initial character's attack to continue), then inputting a move that requires a crouching block as the first character's attack makes contact. If done correctly, this would force my opponent to be both standing and crouching at the same time, effectively creating an unblockable situation.

Now, unblockables are nothing new. In addition to a similar approach to creating unblockable situations existing in every pre existing Marvel game using Assists that require crouching or standing blocks, some moves are just programmed as being unblockable. The important question to ask with any unblockable is "How can you escape from my unblockable setup?"

So how do you get out of the simple unblockables I found? The most consistent is to not let me start it. You can't be forced to crouch block while you're jumping, so if you happen to jump before I start, you're safe. What if I do start though? Well, now you're in some trouble.

After doing some research, we discovered that my setups hit quickly enough that you don't have time to jump away on reaction. You don't even have time to mash your quickest light normal to safely try to push me away; you'll get hit. Instead, the only consistent recourse is to mash your launcher, a universal combo-starter that, while quick, is notoriously unsafe if baited.

To sum that up, if I see you on the ground, you have to choose between getting hit by an unblockable and mashing on your least safe attack, an easily bait-able option.

I switched out of the lab and back to playing matches. I started hitting my friends with this setup at every opportunity. I felt powerful. They got angry, but not with me, not with the game, with themselves for not knowing what to do yet.

We played for about eight hours that night, and that setup was by no means the most outlandish thing we discovered. The history of Marvel is one of researching and executing new ways to make your opponents hate you. In just a few hours, I had found my own little corner of that history.

"I wonder how long I'll be able to get away with this in tournament for?" I asked (not as long, I suspect, now that this is being published.)

"Forever," one replied. "This is too good."