It seems like just yesterday that my wife and I bought Street Fighter II Turbo for the SNES–our first joint purchase. Many a heated match were fought pitting her Guile against my Chun-Li, her Ken vs. my Ryu. Little did we know how the face of fighting games was changing. X-Men: Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes, bearing super-powered combatants, were just around the corner and, in 1996, the fighting game crossover was born with X-Men vs. Street Fighter. (While previous crossover games like Battletoads and Double Dragon and Aliens vs. Predator had been created, they were beat-em-ups and not fighting games.) Capcom had a grand idea on their hands, and they followed up with Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. It was only inevitable that they would take it to the next level with Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes.
It’s easy to forget, now that the world has seen Namco vs. Capcom, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, just how amazing this concept was. For the first time, characters with no place in a fighting game–some of them believed to be losts to the mists of time–were duking it out in the arcade. Popular favorites like Mega Man as well as obscure characters like Jin Saotome (of Cyberbots) joined the expected Street Fighter II cast and even members of Darkstalkers, while the Marvel side also added some new characters not seen in any of Capcom’s previous Marvel fighting games. You select two characters to fight with, as well as a random “helper” which enabled the inclusion of cameos in the game for characters who would not be feasible to play on their own, like Michelle Heart from Legendary Wings. My team of choice? Strider Hiryu and Chun-Li, with, if I was lucky, Saki of Quiz Nanairo Dreams as an assistant.
Not that you play a game like this for the story, but essentially Professor X is summoning heroes (and villains, it seems) from the Marvel and Capcom universes to help him stop Onslaught or prevent him from becoming Onslaught, or something like that. You end up fighting Onslaught as the main boss. Since Onslaught is made from the dark sides of both Professor X and Magneto (whose mind was wiped clean at the time), someone on the development staff was smart enough to realize that you shouldn’t be able to play as Magneto in a game where you ultimately end up fighting a being that is one-half Magneto. They weren’t smart enough to realize Magneto shouldn’t be an assist character, however, so you can actually unleash Magneto on himself if you play it right. However, that’s an issue of continuity, which is something that hardly belongs in a vs. fighting game.
Broken laws of time and space aside, for my money, Clash of Super Heroes remains the best game in the Marvel vs. Capcom series (a view which, I admit, is not widely shared), and the most intense representation of sprite-based fighting in its heyday. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 added many, many new characters, it’s true, but it also simplified control schemes, took out helper characters (in favor of an overloaded 3-character fighting team), has a nonspecific character story driven by Ruby Heart, a Capcom creation who never even appeared in any previous game, and began the transition away from bitmapped images by using 3D rendered backgrounds. Marvel vs. Capcom 3, while improving on the storylines and fan references from Marvel vs. Capcom 2, further simplified controls (down to three buttons from the original six) and did away with sprite-based graphics altogether, now rendering each character in polygons. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 may well represent the pinnacle of vs. fighting games to date, but chucks reality out the window, with ludicrous match-ups such as Phoenix Wright against Doctor Doom, or Chris Redfield against Galactus being possible.
Playing the original Marvel vs. Capcom may be problematic. Finding a copy in your local arcade–or even having a local arcade–can be tough. The game was ported to the Playstation 1, but that version was abysmal due to memory restrictions that removed the helper character and made your second fighter character a “helper” instead so that you really only controlled one character. By the time the game came out, Capcom had abandoned the Sega Saturn, else it could have done a respectable Japanese release with the 4MB memory cart it used for other fighting games. The Dreamcast port is very respectable, with accurate graphics and gameplay, and even a mode allowing four players to fight at once, Smash Bros.-style. Of course, this requires a Dreamcast. The easiest option will be an emulator such as MAME, if you’re willing to wade into the grey area of emulation.
Even if you don’t like the genre, if you get a chance to check this out, you should. It stands as the last hurrah of old-school fighting games and an experience that lovers of both comics and Capcom games (old or new) should witness.