As if you needed any more reminders that you’re getting old, this month marks the 20th anniversary of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Initially released in Japan in 2000 as an arcade game and on the Sega Dreamcast platform, MvC2 was later brought to arcades all over the world and ported to the Xbox and PlayStation 2 consoles in 2003. Much later on, it was also ported to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and even iOS (although it has since been removed from the app store due to incompatibility with current iOS devices).
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is widely considered to be one of the best fighting games ever made, and it’s also one of Capcom’s best-selling games. While I couldn’t find any data on its Xbox and PS2 sales in 2003, its PS3 port released in 2009 sold over 1.4 million copies. For comparison, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 sold 3.4 million copies in 2011, while Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite sold 1.3 million copies in 2017.
MvC2, already a 9-year old game by the time it was re-released for the PS3, outsold Infinite, and it probably outsold MvC3 too if we could include the numbers from its Xbox and PS2 sales. There’s just something about MvC2 that makes everyone want to play it, and you can bet that everyone’s played it. Anyone who was part of the golden days of arcade and Xbox/PS2 gaming has played MvC2, and more often than not they’ve got fond memories of it.
So what makes it such a classic game? How has it stood the test of time and remained so well-loved throughout the years? What exactly did MvC2 have that none of the other games in the Marvel vs. Capcom series could replicate?
As we celebrate its 20th anniversary, let’s take a look at all of the things that make Marvel vs. Capcom 2 so special.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a 3v3 team-fighting game with a character roster made up of the greatest heroes and villains from the worlds of Marvel and Capcom (well, duh). It boasts a total of 56 playable characters, but you start out with only 24 of them. The other 32 characters you’ll have to unlock by purchasing them with D-points, which you can accumulate by playing the game on Arcade Mode.
When you start playing MvC2, you’ll be spending most of your time unlocking the other 32 characters and testing each one out once you’ve bought them with your points, but the real fun starts once you’ve unlocked all of them. With 56 characters to choose from to create your team of three, there are a total of 27,220 combinations you can come up with. You can spend hours and hours just finding the perfect team for you.
MvC2’s large character roster allows for so much variety that it can take a while before you can get used to how each character’s moveset and assists work in a team dynamic. You’ll also need to take into account that every character has a slightly different damage output. There definitely are some weaker characters and some that are just straight-up broken, but somehow it’s forgivable because the game remains fun despite a little power imbalance. You can always even out the enemy’s Juggernaut with a well-timed laser assist from Cable.
Gameplay elements aside, MvC2 ups the ante from previous games when it comes to letting you fulfill your greatest Marvel/Capcom team-up fantasies. Ever wanted to see Megaman fight alongside Wolverine and Strider Hiryu? You can do that in MvC2. It’s just like when you used to make all your different action figures fight, except it’s a video game and a really good one at that.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is fanservice of the highest order because it succeeds in both integrating each character’s unique powers into their moveset and balancing every character’s power level well enough to create a mostly fair, and very fun fighting game. It’s what games like Jump Force and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale should have aspired to, and the only other game I can think of that equals this achievement of MvC2’s is the Super Smash Bros. franchise. And we all know how good those games are.
To celebrate MvC2’s 20th anniversary, EVO included the game in its line-up of fighting game tournaments for 2020. MvC2 was a mainstay in EVO tournaments from 2001 to 2010, and this year it makes its triumphant return through an invitational tournament featuring four previous MvC2 champions (Jwong, Yipes, Santhrax, and Ducvader) and four open slots for challengers.
MvC2 having been an EVO mainstay for ten years shows that it’s a well-loved game in the competitive scene, for both players and audiences. With a large character roster and thousands of team combinations to choose from, professional players have a lot to master, and it’s exciting to see which characters or teams they’ll bring to the tournament. For audiences, MvC2 is also just a blast to watch. I love seeing a good Tekken or Skullgirls match just as much as the next guy, but MvC2 is something else. Everything happens so fast, and there’s so much happening on the screen at any given time. The system of character assists and combination super moves just allows for a much bigger spectacle than your average fighting game, and it just gets better when put in the hands of professionals.
Competitive scene popularity aside, MvC2 also appeals to a large casual audience, and I use the word casual lightly here because there are those of us (myself included) that are simply unable to git gud at fighting games. After all, MvC2 wouldn’t have sold millions of copies and gained legend status if it was only playable by people who can do more than the simple hadouken. MvC2, even for the casual gamer, is as much a blast to play as it is to watch, because the controls are easy to grasp, and the visuals make you feel as if you’re doing more with your hands than just button mashing and pressing L1 and R1 at the same time.
MvC2 manages to be accessible and enjoyable for casual players while also maintaining a high skill ceiling for the pros, and that’s a measure of a great game. Anyone can play it.
Was it simply the large character roster, explosive gameplay, and mass appeal that earned MvC2 a special place in everyone’s hearts? If that were the case, it would have been easily toppled by many of the more complex and more visually stunning fighting games that came after it. MvC3 was a great game (I will not comment on Infinite) and it retained a lot of what made MvC2 good while also improving on graphics and gameplay. So why is it that MvC2 remains irreplaceable as the definitive Marvel vs. Capcom game, and one of the best fighting games of all time?
The simple answer is that Marvel vs. Capcom 2 came out at the exact time that the world was ready for it, and it came to represent the arcade and console gaming era of the early 2000s. There’s already a lot to love about the game itself, but 20 years later MvC2 reminds us of more than just its over-the-top 3v3 gameplay. It now reminds us of going to the arcade with our friends or playing it on the PS2 with our siblings and cousins. It reminds us of the time before everyone had an internet connection and we had to get our cheat codes from the latest issue of GamesMaster; when online multiplayer didn’t exist and you couldn’t flame your opponent if you lost, because they were seated right across you at the MvC2 console at TimeZone.
When a classic game from the past is still an enjoyable experience in the present day, we like to say that it “aged well,” but Marvel vs. Capcom 2, instead of aging well, just never grew old. It remains frozen in time, representing a bygone analog era of the gaming community before the internet took over and introduced esports and online multiplayer. It’s something no MvC sequel can ever replicate—it’s Maaahvel, baby.
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