2020 is a big year for one of the most popular fighting games ever released. It was on this day in the year 2000 that Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes released in arcades. The sixth entry in Capcom’s portfolio of Marvel Comics themed fighting games and the fourth in the “Vs. Series”, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 drastically changed the formula that was started with the release of X-Men vs. Street Fighter. The most obvious shake-up was that the series upped the team count from 2v2 battles to 3v3, but that was just the start. Marvel vs. Capcom injected new characters into the “Vs. Series” after years of Capcom economically recycling assets from other games, something that Marvel vs. Capcom 2 dialed up to 11. Every character who had made an appearance in a previous game, with the exception of the new assist characters from the first Marvel vs. Capcom, returned along with a whole slew of new fighters like Cable, Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil series and Tron Bonne, riding her mech as seen in the Mega Man Legends spin-off The Misadventures of Tron Bonne. Marvel Vs. Capcom 2’s popularity has endured over the years as it is a game that can be enjoyed by everyone. With a cast of over fifty characters, there’s a team for everyone’s play style and its easier to grasp mechanics make it far daunting to dive into than Capcom’s Street Fighter games from that era. For how beloved it is though, there’s been a problem that has plagued Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for two decades now: it’s not exactly friendly as it could be for those who play with a controller.
The Marvel vs. Capcom series found their first home on Sega’s final console, the Sega Dreamcast, a piece of hardware built to reproduce arcade experiences in the home that has perhaps one of the best library of fighting games of any console, in particular if you love games from Capcom. Street Fighter Alpha 3, Capcom vs. SNK, Street Fighter III, Power Stone and both Marvel vs. Capcom alone are some heavy-hitters in the fighting game genre found on the Dreamcast, but they’re not exactly best played with the system’s default controller. Many purists of course will say that real players should play with an arcade stick like in the arcades, but there are people who experienced fighting games through their home conversions and are far more comfortable playing with a controller. There’s also the issue that if someone picks up a copy of a game like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for the Dreamcast today, which is not cheap, the additional cost of a pricey arcade stick is simply not viable.
The original Marvel vs. Capcom is a stunning conversion of an already amazing looking game, but it’s also a bit of a monkey’s paw scenario. For how great it looks, animates and runs, it’s unplayable on the default Dreamcast controller. In his review for Electronic Gaming Monthly for Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, Dan “Shoe” Hsu wrote:
“Just make sure to get arcade sticks for this game. It plays like dog poo on the standard Dreamcast Controller.”
Given that a lot of 2-D fighting games, especially overseas, found their way to the Sega Saturn, it’s unclear exactly why Sega chose to design the Dreamcast controller as they did. The Sega Saturn controller featured six buttons, laid out in two rows of three on top of one another, just like the six-button controller that was eventually made for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. This layout easily made Sega’s controller’s the best way to play fighting games on a controller for two generations; a trend that ended with the Dreamcast. Marvel vs. Capcom has the same six-button control scheme that became the standard after the release of Street Fighter II: three buttons for punches, another for kicks, in a light, heavy and medium persuasion. The Dreamcast’s controller has four face buttons plus a left and right-trigger and functions like tagging in a new fighter or performing a hyper combo, actions that require hitting two buttons at the same time, is an absolute nightmare to pull off reliably, which is something that should not be the case for a fighting game.
Marvel vs. Capcom found its way to the original PlayStation months after the Dreamcast port, and say what you will about the elephant in the room problem that plagued the Vs. Series since the release of X-Men vs. Street Fighter on the PlayStation, namely that you can’t tag characters in and out like in the arcade, but it’s a conversion I personally prefer as I’ll take a playable one-on-one fighting game over an arcade perfect conversion that doesn’t function any day. The need to tag, though obviously disappointing, removes one combination by necessity, and the additional triggers on the PlayStation controller, whether speaking of the original or the Dualshock, allow you to map triple punch and kick to a button, increasing your chances of reliably pulling off hyper combos. When Marvel vs. Capcom was eventually rereleased in the Marvel vs. Capcom Origins compilation, this function was added in by developer Iron Galaxy. It’s just a shame that due to expired rights, this is no longer available to purchase if you don’t own it already.
When Capcom went about designing Marvel vs. Capcom 2, they seemingly did so with the intention to make it both an easier game to play and a more comfortable experience for the eventual Dreamcast port. As opposed to the traditional six-button control scheme, you have four: medium attacks were cut, leaving only light and heavy punches and kicks. For newcomers, this meant less buttons to have to work with, but more importantly, it meant that all attacks would fit comfortably on the face buttons of the Sega Dreamcast controller. Even with this change though, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 still isn’t as comfortable as it could be. In the default controls, the trigger buttons are used to briefly summon in your other teammates, and when depressed together after building up three hyper combo meters, it brings in all of your team for a screen filling super attack. In this control method, you still need to hit two-buttons together to tag or pull off an individual character’s hyper combo, and like in the first Marvel vs. Capcom, it doesn’t ever feel right. You can change what the trigger buttons do, for example you can make them be two-punches in one to easily pull off hyper combos or both heavy and light attacks together to tag in your opponent, but in all cases you’re still left with a compromise.
This problem sadly even made its way into Marvel vs. Capcom 2’s big HD revival when it was ported to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The port uses the Dreamcast as its base, button layout and all, so you can’t use the additional triggers afforded by each controller as you’re still only working with six-buttons. There was a port of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 that did take an eight-button controller into consideration, the one that was made for the the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox that was released in late 2002/early 2003, but it’s a version I don’t have any experience with. The consensus is that they aren’t as optimized as the Dreamcast port, and the Xbox original controller in both its Duke and Type-S configurations are arguably worse than the Dreamcast’s for fighting games, but if this means that the game is a bit more playable on a controller, the PlayStation 2 version at the very least is something I might make an investment into over the coming weeks.
I can’t help but love Marvel vs. Capcom 2 if for nothing more than it stars characters from two of my absolute favorite universes, but it’s a game I’ve never felt comfortable playing. I missed it in the arcade and its initial home releases, and was excited to download it to my PlayStation 3 in 2009 only to find it wasn’t as pick up and play as I would like it to be. This sentiment was also true when I was fortunate enough to get a Dreamcast copy in 2012. Given that 2020 is the 20th anniversary of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and it will once again return to EVO, the game is long overdue for a comeback, whether that’s from a collection of the Vs. Series games, a standalone release or even an Arcade1up cabinet like the Marvel one that was produced last year. Should the game return, it will hopefully marry the performance of the Dreamcast version with the control options of the PlayStation 2/Xbox original conversion to make the best home version of this classic fighter ever produced