I was chatting with a buddy of mine at Evo last weekend about some of the upcoming changes to our beloved MAHVEL in the upcoming Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and we started talking about one of the not-so-big game changes–specifically, that characters coming in after your point character gets knocked out now have their own battle cry. Magneto yells “For mutantkind!”, for example. To which my friend says “Yeah, but who cares?”
That got me thinking. I grew up playing Street Fighter and collecting Marvel trading cards. When X-Men vs. Street Fighter dropped, I was thrilled. It just seemed like a totally natural fit. And even though I wasn’t a big comic book reader when I was young (spent the allowance on arcade games…) and have only recently taken up the habit, I remember a decent amount of Marvel trivia from the cards alone that I feel like I grew up with the Marvel cast as well as the Capcom cast. And I just kind of assumed that everyone else was at least somewhat literate about the Marvel world. It wasn’t until the movies started gathering steam that I realized most people didn’t catch the whole Dark Phoenix hint at the end of X-Men 2 because they didn’t know shit about Jean Grey.
So Marvel vs. Capcom 2 happened, and it was a big thing in the fighting games world. Really big. Fighting games had always attracted a wide audience–after all, the barrier to entry is only a quarter. (I think of fighting games fans as the soccer hooligans of the gaming world, bless their hearts.) But MVC2 became a special thing, because it looks, feels, and plays differently than any other fighting game before. And since Capcom had lost the license to make Marvel games, we didn’t see any new versions for 10 years or so.
Fast forward to 2008, where Street Fighter IV brings fighting games (back) to the masses, and Marvel’s series of blockbuster movies start coming to a head. However, none of the Marvel movies inspired any games worth a damn. So a Marvel/Capcom collaboration sounded like a pretty good idea. But when we finally got Marvel vs. Capcom 3, it felt different from its predecessor. I’m not talking about the gameplay, mind you–that’s a different conversation entirely.
I get the impression that 3 was made with a lot more input from Marvel to give their characters personality–something which Capcom’s characters often lack. Each character calls their partner’s name when tagging them in–and if they have a special relationship, they’ll call them something else. (Hulk, for example, has nicknames for the whole cast–“Strong Guy! Robot! Dog!”, and to him, She-Hulk is simply “Jen!”) Deadpool moonwalks, routinely breaks the fourth wall, and beats his opponent with their own life bar.
Between the in-game sound bites and the win quotes, all the characters have more, well, character. That’s a big difference from MVC2, where most of the cast is rather flat (Jill’s “I’m a member of S.T.A.R.S!” comes to mind). That flatness, combined with our years of playing the game, are what got us MAHVEL BAYBEE. And don’t think MAHVEL BAYBEE is just a YouTube video. I saw more shirts at Evo with Pringles/MAHVEL/Haagen-Dazs references than proper Marvel references by a long shot. Because it’s our culture. See, we got invested in Storm/Sentinel/Cable/Magneto etc. outside of the Marvel proper. We don’t see Magneto and think “Brotherhood of Mutants”, we think CURLEH MUSTACHE.
Sentinel is probably the best example. The only reason fighting game fans adore Sentinel is because we spent thousands of hours watching him and playing him in MVC3. Kind of weird, considering he’s basically a foot soldier robot in the comics and the X-Men cartoon. But MVC2 fans would have rioted if Sentinel got left out of MVC3, so they included him, weird frying pan attacks and all, and made him really, really good. I doubt Marvel wanted to include him–he’s not a property they can really sell anything from, and the X-Men are already well-represented in the games. That character slot could have been used for Daredevil, or the Silver Surfer, or any one of a number of upcoming potential Marvel movies. But Sentinel had to stay.
MVC3 just hasn’t endeared itself to us. We haven’t gotten attached, and I don’t think it’s a time-related issue. Yipes tried with “Reebok Classics” for She-Hulk’s super, but it just isn’t the same. There’s too much given to us in the game for us to find our own memories for the characters. (Though Yipes yells “JEEEEEEEEEEAN” into the mic really loudly when she transforms into Dark Phoenix, which I find hilarious because he’s basically inflicting pain on the audience that is already pained by simply watching Dark Phoenix.) It’s pretty clear that Yipes hates watching MVC3, and after being at Evo, by and large I’m inclined to agree with him. I’ll still watch it and I’ll cheer on occasion, but they messed with the magic formula and it’s a less-fun game to play and watch than 2 was at its prime.
My guess is that this is completely intentional on the part of Marvel. Making money on a wildly popular video game is nice, but they don’t want their characters to be re-interpreted by the world because that would dilute their brand. Remember Juggernaut Bitch? The X-Men parody so epic it found its way into X-Men 3–probably because by humoring the Internet, Marvel was able to reclaim the Juggernaut. After all, it’s not fun if they’re doing it. (What the hell is My Way Productions up to these days, anyway?) But Marvel doesn’t make money from Juggernaut Bitch or MAHVEL BAYBEE. And no one takes Marvel characters seriously if they’re busy yelling SICILY NIGGA THE MIDDLE OF ITALY whenever they show up on screen. So instead, they fill the vacuum, co-opt the memes when necessary, and make their games just a little bit less fun to watch as a result. Yipes was immortalized in MVC3 with Deadpool’s Mag-Freakin’-Neto comment, but it also kind of killed it.