The greatest favor players diving into Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite can do for themselves is to forget that everything between X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 ever happened. In general, the game is inferior to all five titles in Capcom’s Vs. series, but more than that, everything about the game is pared back to the point where it’s less of a new Marvel vs. Capcom game than it is a direct sequel to 1995’s Marvel Super Heroes arcade game. Fights are only two-on-two and Infinity Stones return as an in-game—and remarkably well-implemented—Super Move mechanic. The speed and aerial combat maneuvers that are the bread and butter of the Marvel vs. Capcom titles remain, and the mechanic of switching characters has been folded so smoothly into the flow of combos that now it can almost be considered a fifth punch button, but the chaos of multiple characters flitting in and out of combat to perform Super moves has been scaled way back.
There’s merit to how Infinite harkens back to the relative simplicity of Marvel Super Heroes while keeping just enough from the far wilder crossover titles to stay speedy. The game’s dramatically simplified combos and special moves don’t even negatively affect the overall gameplay. But even with that simple act of generosity, Infinite is still an amateurish product. It’s more akin to one of the ubiquitous naked cash-grab mobile Marvel games floating out there than a successor to one of the most beloved fighting-game series of all time.
The game screams out its damage just from looking at the characters: hideous, blocky, Rob Liefeld-evoking nightmares with heads seemingly being consumed by the piles of meat and muscle on their shoulders like something out of Akira. More than this, however, Infinite’s flippant approach to its pedigree is evident right from the beginning of its Story Mode. Not that Marvel vs. Capcom has ever been known for its narrative, or, well, having much of one at all, but any fan of either universe can instantly get on board with “Thanos is coming for the six Infinity Stones,” “Galactus is threatening to eat Earth,” or “Street Fighter’s Akuma is now one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen.” These are games that play with Marvel and Capcom iconography in a way that taps directly into the more innate love and knowledge for both universes. Infinite’s primary conceit is a B plot at best, involving Ultron fusing with insipid Mega Man X antagonist Sigma and threatening to unleash a virus that will destroy all organic life, but only after busting down the walls between the Marvel and Capcom universes for no reason. Of all the Marvel and Capcom characters to base a dual universe around, it’s baffling to think that the best that anyone could come up with for this game was Ultron and Sigma.
Then again, one gets the distinct feeling while playing Infinite that this wasn’t a decision borne out of creativity but necessity. Where Marvel’s character contributions to these games once ran the gamut from icons like Wolverine and Spider-Man to minor characters like Marrow, Shuma-Gorath, and Taskmaster, the roster has been drastically pared down to familiar faces predominantly from the Marvel Cinematic Universe—meaning, no X-Men or Fantastic Four characters whatsoever—with only a couple of random second- and third-string stragglers like Ghost Rider and Nova thrown in for good measure. It’s a logical development, considering the concessions the game makes in other areas to be as accessible to non-comic readers and casual fighting-game fans in general but one that loses the net positive of forethought when the roster feels like the characters were picked out of a hat.
The Capcom side fares worse, bringing a mix of characters that nullifies one of the biggest appeals of these crossovers: the pairing off of Capcom characters with their Marvel equivalents. Despite a 40-year portfolio of games to reach from, there’s no rhyme or reason to which Capcom characters were invited to Marvel’s playground. Mainstay Street Fighter characters like Ryu and Chun-Li have no real logical equivalent on the Marvel side, to say nothing of novelty characters like Dead Rising’s Frank West and Ghosts ’n Goblins’s Arthur.
It shows through the Story Mode, wherein Capcom characters are shoehorned into generic Marvel What If-style scenarios across lazily smashed-together stages—boasting punny titles like “A.I.M.brella” and “Valkanda”—whose setups don’t really serve the characters or their personalities well. Here, combined with dreadful dialogue, a lack of cohesive chemistry between the characters in any given scene, and an overreliance on our heroes facing off against nameless generic enemies instead of iconic heroes, Story Mode is a waste.
Beyond that, there’s very little else to report. There’s an over-too-soon Arcade Mode culminating in a remarkably silly fight against a mutated Ultron Sigma, who becomes Ultron Omega—and then the credits roll, and with no individual endings. Online functionality is solid, but contains nothing unique that Capcom hasn’t implemented before in its previous games. Once again, Capcom offers an in-game Tutorial Mode and a Mission Mode to challenge players to use intricate combos, still not realizing that a middle ground between those modes would make a world of difference for casual players.
Capcom has made some good decisions as it pertains to revamping Marvel vs. Capcom’s fighting system, and yet Infinite has proven just how much these games live and die on that kid-with-action-figures factor. There’s nobody in this game’s roster worth pairing up that’d be a surprise, or would come up in any kid’s “who would win” argument at recess. For the first time since Capcom dared to show Cyclops and Ryu shaking hands in X-Men vs. Street Fighter, the Marvel vs. Capcom series offers up a fight that nobody really needs to see.