Hey gang! This is the premiere of a BRAND NEW SERIES, tentatively called Head-to-Head! We’ll be taking a look at several similar games and determining which one of them has the most to offer (the Earthbound vs. Mother 3 article has been rebranded as part of the series as well). Enjoy!
Capcom has historically been a company known for setting the standard when it comes to fighting games. Not only is Street Fighter II usually considered the first good fighting game there was, it’s also the one that laid the framework for fighters as a genre to be taken seriously in the future, with an iconic cast of characters and mechanics still in use to this day. These games blew up in popularity in the 90’s, faced a pretty jarring decline (along with arcade culture itself) in the early 2000s, and for the past seven years or so have been back in the public eye in a pretty big way, with classic series like Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct coming back into the limelight and an abundance of downloadable HD re-releases for 90s titles available on Xbox Live and PSN.
Most attribute this to the console release of Street Fighter IV in 2009. Coming out of a nine-year hiatus, the 7th generation of consoles let Street Fighter reap a lot of benefits that previous games just didn’t – the classic 2D, 6-button gameplay combined with stylized 3D graphics, new characters and mechanics, and the ability to play with friends and strangers alike around the world through online play? This game made a big splash, selling 3.4 million units (combining this with the sales of revisions adds up to more than 8.1 million worldwide).
Capcom was able to take that SFIV cash and put it into more fighting game projects around the same period; the long-awaited Marvel vs. Capcom 3 saw release in 2011, and a dream crossover that no one saw coming dropped in 2012 in the form of Street Fighter X Tekken. These games all saw critical success, but which 7th generation Capcom fighting game is the one that’s going to be remembered the most moving forward? Let’s talk about it! I’ll be discussing every aspect of these three games and comparing them Head-to-Head. We’ll be comparing their final releases (Ultra Street Fighter IV and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3) since there’s not really any reason to pick up the vanilla versions at this point. Let’s begin!
Street Fighter IV
Initial Release: July 2008
Platforms: Arcade, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, PC, 3DS
Roster Count: 44
Credited with reviving the entire fighting game genre, Street Fighter IV’s release on home consoles was a big deal. The roster and mechanics would continue to be refined and expanded upon throughout its seven-year lifespan, the last big expansion being 2014’s Ultra Street Fighter IV. With a considerably longer support period than Marvel’s or SFxT’s, SFIV has probably seen the most exploration and competitive attention over the years, and has gone through a lot of big changes. At this point, it’s probably the most well-balanced of today’s three games, and most likely the most balanced game in the Street Fighter series. It’s game that had a long and eventful journey. It was created for the sake of reviving a beloved IP for a new generation, but ended up playing stage to a dynamic and ever-changing eSports journey that concluded with a $500,000 pro tour.
It was clear from just about every angle that Street Fighter IV was released as a successor to Street Fighter II more than anything else, from its gameplay and cast of characters to its place in the official timeline. And it certainly makes sense Capcom would build their game this way – Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III certainly have a lot of fans, but II is clearly the most fondly remembered entry in the franchise and one of the most influential games of all time. But even with that being the case, releasing the game was a risk – 2D fighting games had been all but dead for the better part of the past decade. Could a game like this succeed with the new generation?
This game was being released to a different market. The intimate experience of frequenting the arcade to make friends and level up was all but dead outside of Japan, with the closest equivalent today being online play. Street Fighter IV took notice of this, and aimed to create the most robust online experience possible. In addition to playing with friends and strangers, the SFIV series would see features like 8-player lobbies, team battles, a tournament mode, replays, and even an online training mode to help players learn with others around the world. Unfortunately the quality of the game’s netcode wasn’t necessarily great, and most serious players agree that it’s flawed and encourages bad habits, but I suppose that’s the sacrifice made for the convenience of online play in the first place. It’s still a fun time and a lot of more casual players probably wouldn’t take much notice of the lag issues anyway unless they were at their worst (it can get pretty ugly).
The final roster is a big and diverse mix of SF2, SF3, SFA and brand new characters. You’ve got simple characters like Ryu and Ken, huge grapplers like Hugo and Zangief, speedy characters like Vega and Cammy, and just about every other archetype in the book covered at least a few times. You’re going to end up falling in love with at least one of these characters, even if you’ve never played a Street Fighter game before – from the feral beast Blanka to the old kung fu master Gen, you’d be hard pressed to find a selection of original characters more diverse than Ultra Street Fighter IV’s. The characters are brought to life by a distinct, inky artstyle that feels natural and looks sharp (apparently sharp enough to have been recycled for SFxT), which also goes for the large selection of stages.
The game’s mechanics are familiar but fresh. You still have 6 buttons, consisting of 3 punches and 3 kicks of varying strengths, each with a jumping and crouching variant. You have familiar options like grabs, dashes, super combos, and of course the taunt. In terms of new mechanics, Street Fighter IV introduces the “Focus Attack”, which is basically a charged blow that will crumple the opponent, and can take a single hit during the charge. You can use the focus attack to cancel an attack of yours that connects (whether the opponent gets hit or blocks) at the cost of two bars of meter, allowing you to either extend combos or back away after an unsafe attack to save yourself. Ultra SF4 introduces the Red Focus Attack, which uses two bars of meter but does a considerable amount more damage and can tank an unlimited amount of hits while charging. There’s also the Ultra Combo, which is basically this game’s comeback mechanic. You select which of your two Ultras (or both, with reduced strength) that you want to go into the match with, and after losing about half your health you gain the ability to use it. They all have unique properties and different uses, but they all guarantee a ton of damage upon connecting.
A lot of people are going to understand everything I just said, and a lot of people have probably already gotten a headache and closed the tab. SFIV’s execution is a bit more forgiving than past entries in the series, which many people have mistaken for accessibility. I assure you, being even competent at Street Fighter IV requires a fairly strong level of understanding of the game’s many mechanics, but it doesn’t end there – with 44 characters each having their own properties and attacks, learning to play Street Fighter IV required a time investment that only got longer and more difficult the longer you waited to jump on-board. If you had been playing since vanilla SFIV dropped, even a casual player could eventually get a grip on the new mechanics and 25 character roster. But almost every major update for this game introduced brand new characters and mechanics, and the final product is one that can be very intimidating for someone who wasn’t following along the whole time. At the same time, learning the game’s intricacies is a big part of the appeal, and it’s a journey that’s very rewarding to one that chooses to pursue it.
Looking at SFIV’s offline modes, you get a decent selection. The arcade mode has an anime opening and ending for each fighter with a fun rival battle cutscene in-between. A lot of them are confusing but at the very least most of them are entertaining and do a decent job communicating each character’s motivation and personality. There are 24 “Trials” for each character that are meant to be tests of the player’s execution – you start off performing each of their special moves, then their super and ultra moves, then some basic combos, and by the end the game is demanding some pretty ridiculous and largely impractical strings. Going through them won’t teach you how to become a great player, but at least you’ll learn all of your character’s inputs and which moves can combo into others. On top of that you get some goofy mini-games like destroying a car and breaking falling barrels and a very intricate training mode that gives you all the tools you need to improve your game.
I think Ultra SFIV is, in many ways, the definitive fighting game (for the time being – who knows what could happen with SFV?). A huge but very balanced cast of characters with a good amount of distractions and bonuses, particularly when it comes to options for playing online. The lowered execution makes it accessible enough to get started with, but the depth of the new focus and ultra mechanics (which kept growing with rereleases) and sheer number of characters to fight against means that there’s definitely a lot to swallow for new and old players alike. And for a lot of people, well, that’s just the way they like it.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Initial Release: February 2011
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Vita
Roster Count: 50
Having spent a decade as one of the most anticipated sequels of all time, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 had big shoes to fill. The Marvel vs. Capcom series might look similar to other fighting games at face value, but even the most rudimentary understanding of the way these games work reveals that the number of options available and variables in each match absolutely eclipses its competition. While Street Fighter has 1-on-1 fights, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 features teams of three, each character having the ability to come in and assist at any point. Street Fighter traditionally rewards patience and playing safe, where Marvel encourages only the extremes; performing insanely long combos, flooding the screen with fireballs, and generally going in and doing whatever it takes to open the opponent up.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 managed to put together a gignatic 56 character roster by mishmashing together various sprites and animations from Capcom’s history, with a handful of original characters included. Balance clearly wasn’t the main concern (in fact you could probably get away with calling it pretty sloppy), but it didn’t really seem to matter. The game is looked at very fondly for just how insane it can get at any level of play. A kid can have fun watching projectiles fly around and doing team supers, where a professional can appreciate Magneto’s complex pressure and mobility options (of course keeping the kid and the professional separated is probably a good idea). Making a sequel to a game that catered to so many people sounded impossible. But they did it anyway, and this time, from scratch. The characters, stages, animations and effects that made Marvel 2 stand out for a decade’s time would all be brought into the third-dimension for the first time, with a highly unique cel-shaded artstyle and one of the most explosive and unique color palettes that the last generation of consoles had seen.
If there’s one thing I absolutely love about this game, it’s the roster. There was more polish and personality put into each of these 50 characters than most fighting games can get with 15-20. They each have their own theme music, most (if not all) of them have their original voice actors, they all have lines and exchanges with other members of the cast, the comic-book artstyle makes every single one of them fit in perfectly, there were a ton of CG trailers and promotional posters that made every character stand out, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 very much feels like its own universe. And that is a great, great thing. Where MvC2’s roster was a tad bigger, 3 does an enormously better job in terms of both diversity and representing the two companies. While Marvel 2 has Street Fighter characters making up almost half the Capcom side, this game has characters from Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Final Fight, Devil May Cry, Okami, Viewtiful Joe, Dead Rising, and even Ace Attorney, and each of them almost feel like they were ripped directly from their home games.
While the veteran fighters stay true to their roots for the most part, the newcomers introduce some of the most ridiculous and creative playstyles in fighting game history. Spencer uses his bionic arm for swinging around the stage and grappling from full-screen, Dormammu charges up and unleashes devastating spells that take up most of the screen, Phoenix is revived as the almighty Dark Phoenix if she dies with full meter, Frank West is actively taking pictures and leveling up during the battle, it’s crazy how much thought was put into the design of these characters. The stand-out in my opinion is Mr. Phoenix Wright, who actively collects evidence and attempts to indict the opponent during the battle. There is no other game like Marvel 3.
There are still balance issues, but it’s not nearly as bad as Marvel 2’s. Team-building is the biggest aspect of the game – a fighter who may be pretty mediocre on their own may have an assist move that helps the point character out tremendously, and thus end up being a pretty solid decision. Characters like Vergil and Zero have a reputation for being impossibly hard to deal with, but with combos being so powerful in this game, it only takes one or two mistakes for them to end up losing that character entirely. I have a hard time saying that anyone has much of a chance winning a major with Hsien-Ko, but I will say that even the worst of match-ups don’t feel impossible if you’ve got the right team built around your character. How unbalanced can the game be when after five years as a main-stage game at Evolution, the only character who’s been on the champion’s team more than once is Mayor Mike Haggar? There’s more variety in Marvel’s meta than a lot of people would have you think.
Reaching the top-levels of MvC3 takes about as much commitment as a game can take. It’s deceptively simple; every character has access to an easy to learn combo nicknamed “the magic series” that launches opponents into the sky, does a good amount of damage and doesn’t take much dexterity to execute. Once they’ve mastered this combo, the game becomes a whole different beast for the player. How can I do a better job landing this combo than my opponent? What are my options for moving around, in and out of range to land this combo on my opponent? What assists can I use to help me get in and land this combo, and what assists can I use to punish my opponent for trying to use this combo on me? What special moves can I insert to make this combo longer? Does my character have any better options for beginning this combo? Can I add a hyper combo at the end to increase the damage? Once all of these factors are taken into account, the simple magic series combo that the player learns on their first day looks a whole lot different.
I’ve had a lot of kind things to say about this game and its engine but it’s not quite as pretty looking at the whole package. For one thing, the Marvel license being a factor means that a lot more parties were involved in this game’s development and release. Once their contract ran out, it ran out. No more balance patches, no more DLC characters, no more re-releases, this game has had zero developer support since early 2012. I’ve said the balance is pretty good but, don’t get me wrong, there are still some characters who absolutely take a lot more effort to do well with than others. There are some nonsense setups that take inhuman reaction speed to react to and block. Magneto has moved across the entire distance of the screen and called for Dr. Doom to support him with a barrage of missiles before Iron Fist has had the chance to throw a single punch. One more balance patch, just one more would have been a phenomenal opportunity for this game. On top of that, anything Marvel vs. Capcom was put out of print and removed from digital distributors. If you wanted to download some DLC costumes, play as Shuma-Gorath or Jill Valentine, or even pick up Marvel vs. Capcom Origins or 2 on XBLA/PSN, well, I hope you did that a few years ago, because they’re gone and more than likely never coming back.
And when this game launched, a big deal was made out of how barebones it really is in terms of content. The single-player endings are still images with text over them, online options are very limited compared to how robust SFIV’s were (the game didn’t even have a spectator option at launch), there aren’t really tutorials of any kind. There are combo trials like SFIV but the majority of them are still pretty unpractical and you don’t learn a whole lot from doing them. There was an awesome idea for a mode called Heroes and Heralds that allowed you to customize your characters and their attributes from the ground up with collectible cards featuring a ton of Marvel and Capcom characters, but unfortunately no one is playing it online at this point and playing it locally with friends involves hopping through a ton of hoops that no one wants to go through. When you’re purchasing this game, you need to be aware you’re purchasing a versus mode and a training mode without much else to offer. As a game, you could say it’s lacking.
But as a fighting game, you’ll find more to see and do here than with any other game on the market.
Street Fighter X Tekken
Initial Release: March 2012
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Vita
Roster Count: 55 (5 PS3/Vita Exclusive Characters)
Street Fighter X Tekken is without a doubt the most divisive and least popular game of the bunch, among both casual and competitive audiences. There was a lot going against SFxT before it even came out – a ton of downloadable content was found completed on the disc, there was a sexual harassment scandal on the game’s promotional series Cross Assault, the game’s visuals that were just about identical to Street Fighter IV’s. Capcom themselves said that they primarily blamed the over-saturation of the fighting game market for SFxT’s relatively poor performance, and it’s a fair point – if playing Street Fighter IV makes me feel smart and playing Marvel vs. Capcom 3 makes me have fun, I don’t necessarily have to drop another $60 on this weird, in-betweeny game that’s the least popular of the three by a longshot. But with these unfortunate factors taken out of the equation, what does SFxT offer that other fighters don’t?
As opposed to SFIV’s straightforward 1-on-1 or Marvel’s chaotic 3-on-3, SFxT strikes an interesting middle-ground with a 2-on-2 system inspired by the Tekken Tag Tournament games. You and your partner have two separate lifebars, but only one of your characters has to go down for the opponent to win. You can switch your characters mid-combo, have them perform a super combo together using all of your meter, or spend that meter to have both of them appear on-screen at once (with one of them controlled by the CPU), creating a brief period of double the pressure and double the damage for your opponent to deal with.
This might come as a surprise, but I can see a case for why casual players would see more in SFxT than either of Capcom’s other fighters. Simply put, there are more bells and whistles here than either of their other games. The story is the kind of goofy, comic book nonsense you’re used to from Capcom’s fighters, but with impressive and entertaining CG cutscenes from every team, making single-player feel more rewarding and appealing. The roster is almost unreasonably large (no doubt thanks to some shared assets with Street Fighter IV), peaking at 55 including DLC and PS3 exclusive characters. There’s a pretty thorough tutorial mode hosted by Street Fighter’s own Dan Hibiki, as well as the same set of combo trials present in the other two games. Unlike MvC3 you can actually have another player play as your tag-team partner, leading to a whole new set of options with team gameplay available online and offline. There’s even a “scramble mode” with all four characters fighting on screen at once, almost like Smash Bros.
There’s a lot of character customization that SF and Marvel are missing as well, with in-depth character color customization and an all-new “Gems” system. By creating a set of gems with different attributes, your characters’ properties will change mid-match with interesting results. There are straight-forward ones like granting a percentage-based increase in attack power or speed, as well as some zany ones like health-recovery and simplified special attack execution. Whether they’re balanced or not may be up for debate, but they’re something unique and undeniably fun to experiment with. The gameplay itself is arguably the most simple of these three games as well. There’s an interesting mechanic allowing you to charge a special move into its EX variation or even to a super move just by holding down the button (losing no meter in the progress), as well as the same simple “magic series” combos that Marvel has. I can imagine a casual player not only having more fun with this game, but having an easier time understanding it.
As far as the game’s competitive viability goes, there were a number of key problems that made the game’s lifetime short (while MvC3 is still at Evolution and SFIV stuck around until SFV’s launch, SFxT just barely stayed around for two years) and generally uninteresting. First of all, there were a lot of mechanics in SFxT that seemed shoehorned in without much use. The “cross-assault” feature that allows both characters to team up against the opponent at once can be deadly if you’re playing with a partner, but if you’re on your own then you’ll notice that your AI-controlled partner won’t always carry their own weight. This game’s big comeback mechanic is called “Pandora mode”. Once your point character’s life reaches less than 25%, you have the option to sacrifice them in order to give your partner a 15% increase in damage across the board and a regenrating super bar, at the cost of… uh… a seven second time limit? If you don’t win in these seven seconds, you lose, regardless of how much health both of you have remaining. It’s a huge gamble and didn’t see a lot of use.
Meanwhile, the game’s requirement of only needing to knock one of the two characters out to win led to a lot of games coming down to decision by time-out, something that the game has been notorious for since pre-release. With a partner slowly regenerating health in the background that you can switch to at any time, it’s not particularly hard to run around and do what you can to survive for a minute and a half. The gems that I spoke about earlier caused a lot of controversy as well – should we ban them? Do we only allow certain sets? Do we allow all of them? What about the DLC gems? That’s not to speak of other problems that the game had, such as simple and overpowered cross-ups, a lack of effective anti-airs for a big chunk of the cast, a heavy reliance on jabs, throws with poor range, unreasonably fast wake-up rolls making corner pressure more difficult than ever before, and a lot of the cast being pretty weak thanks to short-ranged normals or underwhelming mobility. In all fairness, Capcom made a big effort to address all these problems in a huge patch at the beginning of 2013, but by that point almost everyone had blown the game off, so it never really saw the same level of exploration and competition that the other two games had.
SFxT is in a very unique position. While most of its problems were eventually fixed, the game’s sour reputation and remarkably poor launch meant that there just weren’t very many people left to give the game another shot. With such a gigantic roster, a ton of modes and options, and generally cool and stylish presentation, there’s a good chance that players on the more casual side of the spectrum would find themselves being drawn to this game before Marvel or SF. With some no-brainer decisions (such as not leaving your $20 DLC characters in the game’s files) and more balanced mechanics at the game’s launch, I really think SFxT was a distinct enough game to have a shot at winning a lot of people over. But thanks to these unfortunate launch conditions, this crossover may have been better off staying in our imaginations.
At the end of the day, there are different measurements of success for each of these games. Street Fighter IV had the highest lifetime sales and longest tournament life, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has seen the longest run at Evolution, and even Street Fighter X Tekken offers the widest array of casual options and modes. They all have certain benefits over each other that I really wish were present in other games (a fighting game with SFIV’s balance and online options, Marvel’s personality and depth, and SFxT’s customization options and fun modes would effectively be the peak of the genre, as far as I’m concerned). There is a reason to play and a reason to buy every single one of these games.
But, my favorite is…
A flawed and barebones game, yes. A game lacking any and all developer support, yes. A game that doesn’t even have Mega Man, yes. But it’s a game with more heart and room for creativity than any other fighting game last gen. I could talk about the personality and the character interactions, or the colorful and beautifully animated characters and stages, each shining with polish and small touches, or the ingenious new playstyles and creative new characters that changed the way I thought about fighting games, but I think MvC3’s gameplay speaks for itself.
Thinking about the stages I went through learning Marvel, I realize that I had to learn more on my own than with any other fighting game I’ve played. I picked my favorite character, I built the best team I could around him, I studied his combos and movement options religiously and improved my use of them in small increments, every step of the journey felt like I was putting together pieces of a puzzle in my own unique way. Characters have too many options to restrict them to a single playstyle, and combining that with multiple teammates and their assists makes an already deep game that much more special. Marvel fans will tell you that they’d buy this game’s training mode as a separate purchase, just because experimenting and learning with different characters and teams is such a fun and rewarding experience. Whatever the future holds for Capcom and their fighting games, I can only hope their next crossover extravaganza has as much love and effort put into it as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 did.