The ballad of Shuma Gorath
The best word to describe the Marvel vs. Capcom Origins is “subdued.” Not subdued in the way the waves on a beach off the coast of Orlando hitting against the serene landscape is subdued. More like the way your underground subway is subdued against the bullet trains of Japan. One way or another, standing in front of one is going to fucking end your life. But one’s demise will be less of a blur of pain and confusion. At least you’ll have more time to see the former’s bright light coming toward you.
If you haven’t played fighting games in over a decade, try playing Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Then try playing Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 online. You will be confused, flummoxed and disenfranchised, all the while probably hating Albert Wesker. Said game will stack system on top of system, super-powered hero on top of super-powered hero, screen-filling laser on top of screen-filling laser, and at a speed the likes of which most human thumbs are not equipped to handle. An online session against players whom have used the past 12-22 months to practice their Virgil/Dante/Trish combos in lieu of a good Devil May Cry game have become very adept at thrashing newcomers without them as much as a chance to land a cute jab.
Marvel Super Heroes, the first of two games within this digital compilation, isn’t quite the manic fever dream of dejection. The action moves at a pace in which my untrained eyes can process information. Even the “turbo” setting in Marvel Super Heroes feels closer to Street Fighter 2 than anything with Ultimate in the title. Immediately, I had to unlearn the bad habits I formed from playing UMVC3 and Persona 4 Arena; namely the need to immediately bum-rush my adversary with weak punches. (And god bless Persona 4 Arena, that’s a review forthcoming.) The systems that you need to be aware of include “here are special attacks, a bigger special attack, and I guess here are some pretty crystals to bedazzle Iron Man’s armour with.” No cross-over specials, no Pandora’s Box limit breaks, no combo-breaking-combos.
Just super-heroes fighting super-heroes. You know, all of your favourites. Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America, Shuma Gorath. The tentaclely-eyeball fiend of death continues to make no sense within this fighting game outside of reminding you that this is a Japanese product and he sometimes gets too close to Psylocke for comfort. The rest of the cast seems inspired by the War of the Gems storyline that will be wholly relevant three years from now when Marvel’s next Avengers movie earns a another billion dollars from it. The gems becomes somewhat of an in-game mechanic, where randomly generated crystals (in multiplayer anyways) can be cashed in for status buffs like “healing” and “my kicks now throw icicles.” I imagine this random element pissing off tournament-loving players whom have the number of frames of animation for Shuma Gorath’s tentacle poke memorized. For me, I found the random hope of scoring on a key gem to turn things around made the dynamic of a battle more intriguing.
Mind you, this is still a game about super-powered pseudo-dieties assaulting each other with screen-filling laser beams. There is still a jump that takes you to the other end of the screen. The Hulk’s super still entails him jumping into space and returning with a gift-wrapped-in-flames-meteor. But the frantic nature of this game is just bearable enough to comprehend to someone who dropped out of fighting games around Street Fighter 2…most of the time anyways. I engaged in one or two online matches where I was soundly vanquished by, say, a Spider-Man combo depleting 75% of my health. This was a product of that Killer Instinct-era of fighting games where people were plunging quarters into machines because they thought memorizing button combinations made their life meaningful. Some balance tweaks for 2012 would have been appreciated.
Marvel vs. Capcom 1, the other game in this set, begins the series’ slow descent into convoluted madness. Matches are now tag-team affairs, but there are still 6 attack buttons instead of 4 and two assist buttons. You can summon a randomly-generated assist partner, but boring competitive players can hold button combinations to select Colossus as their partner instead of one of a dozen obscure Capcom characters. (The dude from Super Buster Bros! What a pull!) The pace is slightly faster than that of Marvel Super Heroes but still not at that frenetic Ultimate Marvel Madness pace.
And the characters, oh what wonderful characters they are. Forget Wesker or Dante, this game dropped Mega Man, Captain Commando and a guy that fire-strips into skivvies. And remember how cool Venom used to be before Topher Grace happened to Venom? Meanwhile, crazy, Capcomy-synth music happens, Dr. Wily yelling in the background on a megaphone happens, a multi-screen filling final boss bragging about his mighty hand happens…Marvel vs. Capcom 1 has its own set of odd, yet charming idiosyncrasies.
Developers Iron Galaxy (whom brought us other Capcom compilations, You Don’t Know Jack and NOTHING ELSE EVER) have given a similar treatment to this set as their recent Third Strike set. Assorted mini-achievements randomly occupy the spaces on the screen where flatscreens are wider than CRTs, and the points earned from accomplishing said tasks can be used on unlocking hidden characters or ever-beloved concept art. After a rough launch with Third Strike, they got the GGPO-endorsed online play down, resulting in a smooth, lag-free experience of getting thrashed by Wolverine’s lengthy air-juggles. There are a series of weird visual filters including fake-CRT, fake-CRT from in front of fake arcade cabinet, and fake-CRT from an over-the-shoulder view of a fake arcade cabinet. All that’s missing are the taller assholes blocking the view and yelling all manner of racial slurs. You need Xbox Live to duplicate that part of the experience.
My biggest issue with the game, and it’s a minor-yet-major one, is the main menu theme. It’s not a bad theme, (in fact, it’s probably more Capcom than most things Capcom does nowadays.) It’s just that it starts up, from the beginning, every time the action is paused, and feels completely out of place as action-stopping pause music. A weird quirk, but a bothersome one nonetheless.
Besides setting up an inevitable X-Men retro fighting game compilation, Marvel vs. Capcom Origins works on both a nostalgic level and a humane level. Yes, there’s something touching and familiar about Wolverine proclaiming that he is performing a drill claw, especially since I’ve played some two-three games in the past few months that make such a specific call back. But with Capcom fighting games getting ever the more complicated (a notion that Street Fighter 4 became very successful by rebelling against), there’s a market for people like me looking for a fighting game that’s a bit more playable. That such a fighting game can include the Saturday morning heroes of my time is merely a bonus.