Friday, October 30, 2015

Shades of Resonance: Fond Reminiscence - Memory Log #49

Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes

The year 2000 had arrived and with it the exciting prospect of spending many an after-school hour enjoying all of my new N64 games, yet there I was distracted by thoughts of the enlightening event that had taken place on Christmas Eve a week earlier. Up until noon on that December 24th, you see, I could still lay claim to sole ownership of the title "Captain Oblivious": I hadn't been to an arcade in over four years, my knowledge of scene limited to what the odd console port portrayed, and it was my belief that the console landscape was continuing to be formed by the ongoing N64-versus-PlayStation war, with no other competitor making waves (the Saturn had to have fallen off, I figured).

That's why I was so confused when my cousins from New Jersey showed up to our house with a green backpack from which they pulled out an unfamiliar-looking square-shaped console bearing Sega's logo. They told me that it was the "Dreamcast," Sega's recently released next-generation machine. Though, I couldn't recall hearing anything about it.

Credit to segaretro.org.

"Isn't it a little too early for one of these next-generation machines?!" I wondered, still somewhat stunned by the sudden revelation. "I mean, the N64 came out only three years ago! Aren't competitive consoles supposed to release in proximity to one another?!"

I thought to raise an inquiry, but I couldn't find the words, so I instead kept to myself and followed them down to the basement, where they hooked the Dreamcast up to my brother's big-screen TV. And for the first few hours in following, I watched on as an observer as they demonstrated for us the capabilities of this new console. 

They introduced us to its oversized controller, which had a strange detachable-LCD device in its center (I assumed it to be the company's new, fully compatible portable system, but then I was informed that this "VMU" was actually a specialized memory card whose simplified display could be used to output supplementary information), and they showed off launch-window titles like Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, House of the Dead 2, and the one that absolutely floored me--NBA 2K, which looked so lifelike that all I could do was wonder about how the technology had advanced this quickly without me noticing (I wondered, also, what this meant for Nintendo, whose N64 was suddenly looking long in the tooth). I was even more impressed by how the game played; I mean, I'd certainly seen my share of simulation-style basketball games, but never one that went so far in replicating everything down to even the sport's minutia. That combined with its mind-blowingly realistic visuals spoke to me about the power and the potential of this "Dreamcast."

The only downside to the experience was the trouble I had trying to grip the controller: The rubbery analog stick lacked friction, which resulted in my thumb constantly slipping off of its head, and the inexplicable wraparound-cord design made it feel a bit unwieldy at times. Neither flaw prevented me from enjoying NBA 2K for several additional hours, but I was far from in love with this controller (I'd rank it as one of the worst I'd ever used).

Still, I was highly intrigued by what I'd seen that day--not enough to where I considered running out and buying myself a Dreamcast, but enough so that I couldn't wait to visit my cousins and see it again (well, see more of NBA 2K, specifically).

And these were the thoughts that were floating through my mind in those early weeks of 2000. However, they wouldn't haunt me much longer; one day late in January, that is, I arrived home to the news that we'd been invited to my uncle's house in New Jersey for a little post-holiday get-together, which meant that I'd soon be reuniting with my cousins for more Dreamcast-fueled fun!

I got a chance to see more of NBA 2K during our visit, yeah, but I found myself unexpectedly taken by a more compelling piece of software. It was called "Marvel vs. Capcom" (sans subtitle), the idea of which, alone, blew me away. I'd always had an odd fascination with crossover battles--my interest piqued even in cases where I wasn't particularly interested in the parties involved--so Marvel vs. Capcom already ahead of the game. That its cast of combatants included the superheroes over which I'd grown up obsessing and hero characters as plucked from the stable of games made by my second-favorite game developer opened up a fast-lane track to potential god-tier status.


I was delighted to learn that Marvel vs. Capcom ran on the Street Fighter II engine, which guaranteed that it would be immediately accessible to me. And indeed, I was able to jump right in and begin tossing projectiles and throwing uppercuts with the best of them. Though, there was so much more going on here; assist characters were flying in from all angles, pairs of heroes were stringing together ridiculous combos, constant explosions rocked the battlefield, and there were times when the TV screen, itself, seemed to be going supernova. This was Street Fighter II with the dial turned up to 100, and I was having a great time with it despite my inability to fully grasp the complexity of its numerous systems.



I was in awe of the game's chaotic energy. I was enamored with its tag-team battle system and how it allowed me to swap in a partner at any time. I loved that Capcom thought to create a "Special Partner" category for the purpose of packing in as many secondary characters as possible. In particular, I was tickled to see Ghosts 'n Goblins Arthur spring into action and bombard his opponent with his classic spear weapon; his inclusion spoke of both Capcom's reverence for its own history and the amazing diversity of the game's cast. Some of the potential match-ups bordered on surreality: Ryu could duke it out with Spider-Man! Mega Man, who was sure to become one of my mains, could trade blows with Wolverine! Strider could attempt to slash his way through the impenetrable shield of Captain America! The Incredible Hulk could wrestle it out with Zangief! (Though, I had to apply some suspension of disbelief when met with the idea that Capcom's fighters could last more than a few seconds against Marvel's supremely overpowered superheroes; this was always an issue when it came to crossovers.)

"How did a game of this magnitude manage to slip under my radar?" I wondered, now somehow oblivious to even my own obliviousness.



Marvel vs. Capcom was all I could think about during the ride home that night. I hadn't yet played enough of the game to decide whether or not it qualified as a great fighter, but that wasn't even a real consideration. I was too far under its spell; I'd been hopelessly drawn in by the spectacle of it all, and reason had no place in my thought-processes. In the end, I could draw only one conclusion: I had to have this game.

However, the problem remained that I didn't own a Dreamcast, and there was no chance that I was going to dump $200-plus on another console when I'd just recently picked up an equally pricey PlayStation. Still, I wanted the game so badly that I took to the Internet with the hope that I'd find a good deal on the system. I wasn't going to buy the console used, since I strongly opposed the practice, but I figured there might be a chance that an Amazon vendor was selling a Dreamcast-Marvel vs. Capcom bundle at a discount price. What my search turned up, instead, was the revelation that there was also a PlayStation version of Marvel vs. Capcom

Initially, I was hesitant to consider such a purchase, since it seemed logical that the PlayStation's inferior specifications would somehow compromise the game's scope (and I'd been burned many times in the past by stripped-down ports), but it was realistically the only way I'd be able to get my hands on a copy without seriously setting myself back. (Comparing the screenshots now, I can see that both versions are virtually identical, the game not nearly as technically advanced as I originally thought.)



It was unfortunate, though, that Marvel vs. Capcom's was a case where my overblown conception of a game far exceeded what it was actually capable of delivering. My enthusiasm for the game began to evaporate as it became clear that it was simply too crazy for its own good. I still loved the idea of Marvel vs. Capcom--heroes from disparate universes clashing--but experimenting with it in a solo setting led to the realization that its was a callous disregard for the simple, accessible Street Fighter II formula upon which it was built. There were too many meters to keep track of, my opponents were ceaselessly unleashing super-attacks without any obvious restriction (the "Hyper Combo" gauges would fill substantially even if attacks whiffed, which I thought was silly), and too often I'd be wiped out in a matter of seconds by an endless combo-string. I specifically played Street Fighter II to get away from fighting games in which a single inescapable combo-sequence could drain your entire meter, yet here I was the owner of the new standard-bearer for such.

It was too much. All I wanted to do was play Street Fighter II starring Capcom and Marvel's greatest heroes. In my desperation, I'd attempt to play it as a Street Fighter II-style game by selecting Ryu and clinging to the more grounded strategy of tossing fireballs and punishing mistimed leaps with Shoryuken uppercuts, but this approach yielded little success when opponents were countering with missile storms, partner-assisted tank attacks, and ridiculous combos that invariably nullified any offense I could muster. I couldn't stand fighting either Strider or the Hulk, who were absolutely the worst in this regard.



So I extracted what value I could by completing the Battle mode with all of the available characters (including Roll, who you could unlock by clearing this mode with Mega Man) and watching all of the ending scenes. After that, I decided to shelve Marvel vs. Capcom, which I would tell you was boldly designed, imaginative, and aesthetically brilliant (it definitely has the best character-select music in any Capcom fighting game) but simply not for me.

But I love that it exists, and I'll forever remain an advocate for what it represents. In the end, that's what Marvel vs. Capcom meant to me: It was the best reinforcement for my long-held belief that I could strongly appreciate a game even if I didn't enjoy playing it. Sure--there's a chance that I might never seriously return to Marvel vs. Capcom, but that wouldn't make any difference; no--there's nothing in this world that would prevent it from continuing to hold a place in my memory.
Besides--any game in which you can pit Mega Man against Venom should never be forgotten. Let's not ever be mistaken about that.



The road to enlightenment was wrought with unexpected twists. Somewhere along the line, NBA 2K became Marvel vs. Capcom, and Sega became Sony. But what was most important was where I arrived as result of the journey: I'd been awakened, my eyes now open to a world that was worth exploring beyond what I knew--a world brimming with Dreamcasts, Marvel vs. Capcoms, and other wonderfully imaginative products I might stand to miss were I to fail in keeping up with the times. I haven't missed a development since.

The second phase had begun.

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