The Marvel vs Capcom series has been a comic book fan's wet dream since it started back in 1996. As with any gaming franchise with some sort of legacy, the Marvel vs Capcom series has traditionally stuck to a combination of simplified game mechanics and utter chaos unfurling on screen. In a sense, it is the realisation of those lazy afternoons spent playing with action figures pitting heroes against each other to see who will come out on top.

While every game in the franchise has had to somehow try and live up to the craziness of the one that came before it, Infinite seems to be in an unenviable position. Never has a Marvel vs Capcom game endured the amount of scrutiny and bad press that Infinite has had to but it also must live up to Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, a sequel most fans would agree was fun, even if it was a bit flawed. Does Infinite come out on top? Let's find out.


Presentation
The earlier 2D games in the series emulated the look of the animated Marvel TV shows and it did so with a lot of pizzazz, for the time, the games had some of the most detailed sprites and backgrounds, not to mention, stellar animation work. When the presentation moved to 3D for Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, it lost some of that cartoony style but in its place spruced up the presentation with generous amounts of Cel-shading and crazy particle effects that seemed to emulate the comic books from which the characters were taken from.

Infinite seems to fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, it's colourful and has gorgeous stage designs to gawk at but it seems to favour the Marvel TV series when it comes to taking inspiration for its character designs. For some characters, this absolutely works, Spiderman, Iron Man, the newcomers Jedah and Captain Marvel, their designs are spectacular but for some characters like Ryu, Mike Haggar, Hulk and Thor, it does them no favours. The odd fantasy entwined with realism art designs for characters like Ryu or even Mega Man X, fall flat. The one area that the game gets right when it comes to the presentation is the gorgeous stages, they may not be as complex as Injustice 2 but they easily hold their own.

Sound design is good though except for a few voices in the cast, the acting here is decent. This is of course, experienced best in story mode which again is not bad. It doesn't quite reach the levels of Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2 but having said that, it's fun to experience and is a joyful ride through various staples from both franchises with a campy, fun-loving vibe to it. It's at least better than Tekken 7 and Street Fighter V's story modes and that's saying something.


Gameplay
Having learnt from their mistake with Street Fighter V, Capcom has shipped both a story mode and Arcade mode at launch, now granted this isn't where you are going to be spending most of your time but it is appreciable that they included it. Story mode for what it's worth is a four-hour fun-filled romp that even if you end up hating still gives you an opportunity to try out the entire roster and get a feel for how each character plays. Arcade mode is a series of escalating vs CPU battles with a boss battle at the end and sadly that's about it, it's as vanilla as it gets. Thankfully, the online mode is fun but the pre-release copy that we got for review obviously didn't have many players online to do battle with, so we are basing our opinion here on the few matches we did manage to have. We also don't have a clear idea on how the ranking system works or whether like Street Fighter V, there is no punishment for rage quitters. The Practice and mission modes are where you are going to be spending most of your time outside of online or arcade mode. Thankfully, the game has an in-depth training mode with tons of options to tweak allowing you to recreate almost any match situation that you may come across. Mission mode are mini-challenges for each character, where you are tasked with pulling off increasingly difficult combos and strings, allowing you to polish your inputs and gather your timing.

Outside of the modes, the gameplay itself has changed a bit since the last iteration, gone are the 3v3 tag battles which has been a series staple since Marvel vs Capcom 2. Instead, Capcom decided to look to the past for inspiration and has gone back to the old 2v2 tag battle system of the earlier games. It also brings back the infinity gem system from Marvel Super Heroes. In terms of affecting gameplay, the Infinity stone system is the equivalent to character assists from the previous Marvel games. Each team can equip a stone before battle and each stone provides a unique buff to the team, for example, granting air-dashes to characters like Ryu, who normally doesn't have one.

The tag system has also been tweaked. You can now tag in your partner at literally anytime, even in mid-air, opening crazy possibilities for extending combos or a last minute desperate tag out. This is balanced by the fact that tags aren't safe when you tag, your character takes a noticeable amount of time to exit off-screen during which time he is vulnerable and can be attacked. This emphasises using the tag system more intelligently to keep both your players safe. For beginners, this is probably the easiest pickup and play fighting game released this year. Every character has a one button auto-combo that is triggered by mashing LP or the light punch button, the game also has universal launchers for everyone, that allows them to send a character skyward for easy air combos and everyone shares the same LP, LK, HP, HK combo starter string that can be mixed up, all you must do is make sure the light attacks flow into the heavy and not the other way around. Special moves and Hyper combos are also easier than ever to do, requiring at most a single quarter circle back or forward in conjunction with two buttons. Trust me, if a scrub like me who can't string together a decent combo in Street Fighter IV to save his life can do 80 hit high damage combos, anyone can. There is literally something known as an easy hyper combo, which requires players press just two buttons. There is also the fact that the window to cancel normal moves into specials is now larger, allowing you to, for instance, cancel Ryu's LP into his Hadouken much more easily, opening even more insane strategies for combos. In any other fighting game, this kind of simplification is looked down upon but when it comes Marvel vs Capcom, it's part of its legacy, heck the game had something known as easy input mode which essentially allows you do specials with a press of a button as far back as Marvel vs Capcom on the PlayStation One. In a broader sense, this seems to be a reaction to a complaint that most beginners had with 3, that it was too chaotic to comprehend at times, with Infinite, Capcom has reigned in the madness just a tiny bit while expanding its depth.

There is no getting around it, a lot of people seem to be upset with the roster that infinite is going to have at launch, specifically that the game will have 30 characters at launch. This seems to stem for a general complaint that roster has been getting more anaemic as the series goes on, citing two's 56 compared to the 38 in three and 30 in Infinite. There will be more characters added to the game at some point, of which I have no doubt and we are going to have to pay for them through our noses but personally, I don't think 30 is a small number but hey! I might be in the minority on this one.


Conclusion
Marvel vs Capcom is a fun game even if it errs a bit when it comes to presentation. Ultimately, Capcom has released a product that stands up to the previous entry in the series while looking back to take subtle steps forward, if you hated three, give infinite a try, you may find the gameplay in this one a bit easier to tackle. Now, what will ultimately decide the game's fate is how solid the online mode is and how viable it's going to stay at tournaments in the years to come.

Disclosure: We were given a PS4 review copy of the game