Let’s start at the end to find the beginning.
In 2017, Capcom released Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, possibly the most embarrassing flop in the history of videogames. This should have been a slam dunk! It was a fighting game released after the resurgence of fighting game popularity, so there was a built-in audience ready and willing to fight online and at tournaments. The cast was also at the absolute peak of their popularity, as the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and The Guardians of the Galaxy were dominating the box office with hit after hit. The latest Avengers movie had just produced more profit than the entirety of South Americacitation needed. And the Capcom side of things? Sure, some of the cast was a little esoteric, but seeing the likes of Jedah or Dante is exciting for people that actually play videogames (and, hey, this is a videogame!). And next gen graphics! I have been led to believe that people love those crazy framerates! Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite should have been a generation-defining fighting game for all sorts of reasons.
But Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite was a dud. Why? Well, it seems like the big issue was that, in trying to court the Marvel movie audience, the direction of MvC:I left its fans in the dust. A bright, cartoony style was dropped for something that was trying for realistic, but wound up settling in the uncanny valley. The gameplay was weirdly stiff, and, even though the Story Mode was a hoot, the minute-to-minute of the experience simply felt… off. And perhaps worst of all, some of the most remarkable fighters from the previous title were dropped (sorry, Phoenixes), and the new arrivals were uninteresting, limited, and mostly DLC. When a franchise introduces a playable trash panda, you can’t follow that up with “Storm, but white”. And speaking of which, likely thanks to that movie-mandate, the entire X-Men cast was dropped from the franchise. Gone were the likes of Wolverine and Sentinel, and the best we could hope for was the (paid) return of Venom.
All in all, MvC: Infinite seemed like a lesser version of a game that had been released six years prior, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds brought the Versus Franchise roaring back, and Ultimate MvC3, its seemingly inevitable update, is noted by many to be the best in the franchise. This is clearly a title that was created by fans, for the fans (how else could you explain the presence of MODOK and Trish?), but also maintained a balance between the very disparate characters. You could equally have fun choosing a wee little red power ranger or a hulking… uh… Hulk. Hell, this is a game that managed to balance fights between multi-tentacled monstrosities and god-dogs. But, balanced or not, there was no lack of spectacle, and every last fight felt appropriately marvelous. Give or take Jill Valentine becoming some kind of angry cyborg cat (sorry, I have no idea what Resident Evil was doing that week), UMvC3 was received well for being a flawless entry in the Versus Franchise.
And it’s not like that would be a cakewalk from UMvC3’s inception; it was forced to bring back the franchise after 2000’s Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, which is noted by many to be the best in the franchise. MvC2 is not a balanced game like its descendant, but it’s not like anyone wanted balance anyway. This is mahvel, baby. This is a game that decided to cap off the (at the time) end of the Versus Franchise (mostly due to licensing issues), and include literally every fighter that had ever appeared. After years of Versus games that liberally dropped and added fighters as it moved along, MvC2 decided to just throw everything against the wall to see what stuck (and maybe include a talking cactus, too). This led to one of the wildest fighting games in history, as suddenly a gigantic stand-in for Satan could get his tailed-ass beat by an army of miniscule Servbots. There were 56 total characters, and, while there were a number of Ryu wannabes and the occasional Iron Man recolor on the roster (and two Wolverines, for some reason), this roster remains to this day one of the most eclectic in all of gaming. Where else are you going to find a metal tyrant battling a mummy? And, while some nuance amongst the characters was lost, there is no greater feeling than unleashing three hyper moves’ worth of beam attacks against a walking suit of armor. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was just the right kind of absurd foolishness we all needed after weathering the Y2K bug (which, miraculously, was not a playable character).
But that wouldn’t have even been possible were it not for the release of Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes two years earlier. The “original” MvC is noted by many to be the best in the franchise, as it wrung every bit of action and distinction out of its (compared to its descendants) limited roster. This was the initial game to introduce familiar videogame faces that were new to the world of fighting games, so now, like Athena ascending to King of Fighters, you saw Captain Commando and Strider executing fierce punches for the first time. It also included a bevy of cameo characters that guested for singular attacks, which, finally, allowed Jubilee to join in the melee. And if the balanced tag team action of the Versus Franchise wasn’t enough for you, there was also the Variable Cross, which allowed a whole team to attack simultaneously, so War Machine could set Morrigan up for the spike. This was the perfect mix of old and new, so, like a playable Mega Man, it was the familiar seen in an all-new light that was somehow instantly and effortlessly refined.
But why was it all familiar? Well, because we had already enjoyed X-Men vs. Street Fighter in 1996 and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter in 1997. Both games were the starting bell for what would be known as the Versus Franchise, but primarily only reused assists from prior games, whether they be Marvel or Street Fighter titles. X-Men vs. Street Fighter at least gave us luminaries like Rogue or Sabertooth, but MSHvSF was wholly recycled from previous titles, and was likely only published because someone wanted to see Shuma Gorath tackle Sakura. Whether sprites and moves were recycled from earlier titles is immaterial, though, as this crossover gameplay was wholly new to the Capcom stable. You can fight as two people at once (kinda)! You can combine super moves (totally)! Wolverine can finally take a chunk out of M. Bison! And MSHvSF may have been light on new character content, but it did introduce the vital ability to summon your partner for an assist. In short, everything that defines the Versus Franchise was right there at its beginning, even if it wasn’t yet a welcoming place for Arthur to hang out.
But even before we ever had a single tag battle, the basic gameplay of the Versus Franchise premiered with 1995’s X-Men: Children of the Atom. XM:CotA (and its spiritual sequel a year later, Marvel Super Heroes) was essentially based on the Street Fighter Alpha engine, but with a little… mutation. While the Street Fighter franchise veered more into realistic, restrained fighting in Street Fighter 3 (well, as realistic as a fight can be when one participant is an albino made of electrified jelly), X-Men:CotA adopted all the “based on an anime” indulgences of Alpha, and dialed it up to eleven with super jumping, laser beams, and midair combos. It was still natural to anyone that had played Street Fighter (or, of course, Darkstalkers), but the pomp and bombast of every battle was an experience that was wholly unique. And that made perfect sense! These weren’t mundane “street fighters”, these were Marvel’s mightiest mutants, so you had to have a game that accounted for characters with a non-standard number of arms. X-Men: CotA started what would become a franchise all its own by taking the familiar and marrying it to the fantastic.
But where did X-Men: Children of the Atom come from? From Cyclops battling Silver Samurai to Mega Man blasting Marrow to Thor fighting Sigma on the Rainbow Bridge, where did this all truly begin? With Street Fighter? Final Fight? What is the origin of this decades-old fighting game franchise?
Well, if I told you it all spun out of the opening credits adaption of the Japanese localization of a Fox Kids cartoon from 1992, would you believe me?
No, of course not. That would be silly. Let’s just say this all started with Street Fighter, and call it a day.
Thank you, Ryu, for bringing us the amazing Versus Franchise. Let us never speak of Omega Red’s impact ever again.
FGC #520 X-Men: Children of the Atom
- System: Arcade for the arcade experience, but the Sega Saturn version will do in a pinch. It kind of has a weird screen aspect thing going on, but it’s otherwise pretty tops. The Playstation 1 version is not discussed in polite company.
- Number of players: We might not be able to select two X-Men at once yet, but you can certainly have two players.
- Who Are These Guys: Even assuming the game is based primarily on the X-Men animated series, you have to wonder where half this roster came from. Wolverine? Great! Cyclops? A keeper! Psylocke? Okay, I guess Jim Lee got a vote. Omega Red? A poor man’s Sabertooth at least would have an interesting moveset. But Spiral? Spiral? Mojo’s occasional sidekick? And Silver Samurai? Did someone just have a “sword guy” moveset laying around, and here we are? I would love to see an interview with the team that made those decisions.
- Favorite Fighter: That said, give me Omega Red any day. He’s got range, the ability to drain the life out of his opponents, and a rad ponytail. What more could you ask for?
- Say Something Mean: I love this game and everything in it… save the fact that way too many of the fireballs or fireball-type moves are directionally controlled by your chosen attack button. That’s the kind of thing that works well in theory, but I despise keying in a fireball motion, but hitting the wrong button, so now said fireball is going straight up in the air, damned never to hit a soul. Maybe this is why Wolverine and his limited claws are chosen so often.
- Versus Origins: In case anyone was curious, both of the “original” Versus games were Versus games before they ever officially earned that moniker. X-Men vs. Street Fighter starts in X-Men: CotA via a secret battle with Akuma, and a certain wee Darkstalker snuck into Marvel Super Heroes before Marvel vs. Capcom.
- Win Quotes: The Versus Franchise eventually dropped win quotes (and then returned to them), but the fact that they discarded gems like Cyclops passively aggressively insulting the X-Men…
Or some big Akira Yoshida energy…
Is a loss.
- Forgotten Worlds: Playing through the whole of the Versus Franchise is interesting, as, while the characters are generally perennial (sorry, Marrow), the backgrounds of the various stages over the years portray storylines and locations that were important once, and are now completely forgotten. Remember when Daredevil was the leader of a ninja cabal? Or when the Celestials were prominent? Or when there was a Mega Man Legends franchise?
- Did you know? When the Fox Kids X-Men series aired in Japan, each episode suffered some content cuts so they could make room for… promotion for this X-Men videogame. It traditionally involved the (Japanese) voice actors playing the game, and “acting out” their characters’ reactions to parts of the game. So maybe there is a significant connection here…
- Would I play again: There are some parts of X-Men: Children of the Atom that are wholly unique and not simply absorbed by later sequels, so I occasionally return to this old standby. That said, it doesn’t happen very often, so my thumbs are a lot more likely to see Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crash Team Racing: Nitro Refueled! Guess there’s going to be some racing, and we’ll try not to crash. Ha ha ha. Please look forward to it!
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