Marvel vs. Capcom 2

Comic relief.

I like to think that I've managed to suppress the more extreme elements of my geeky nature. I don't write crossover fan fiction. I've not had the urge to dress up as a superhero since I was at primary school. The daily march of adult responsibility means I've even forgotten some of the more esoteric nerd trivia that had accrued in my brainpan.

And then I see Mega Man fighting Magneto, blasting him across the screen with a Rush Drill Super Move, and it all comes flooding back; a deluge of every base geek impulse, those long lost pleasures stimulated back into life by joyous cartoon sprites crashing into each other's universe and walloping the pixels out of each other. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is back.

With a staggering 56 characters to choose from, all unlocked from the start for this downloadable edition, there's no end to the unlikely moments you can recreate. From the reliable ranks of Street Fighter to outlandish inclusions like Mega Man's Servobots on the Capcom side, to the heavy hitters of the comic world like Hulk, Captain America and Spidey, it's brilliantly surreal and maniacally paced.

For those who already played the game in its arcade or Dreamcast incarnations (it's the latter being revived here), all you really need to know is that this is a blisteringly fast translation that more than does justice to the exquisite combat design that Capcom is famous for. Thankfully, for a game where frame-by-frame precision is vital, the shift to widescreen HD hasn't impacted the gameplay at all. There are a couple of weird graphical moments at the edge of the screen where the playfield of old stretches to accommodate its new home, but these quirks are fleeting and strictly visual in nature.

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The default music is famously horrible, and there's still no sign of the custom hip hop soundtrack that Capcom promised.

The sprites default to their new "crisp" look, which is a little smudged but certainly better than the smeary look that the "smooth" filter provides. Purists will still favour the classic pixels, which look chunky but fantastically detailed when blown up to size. The backdrops also warrant praise, and it's here that the move to HD is most favourable. Rendered in lush animated 3D, they never overpower the 2D action in the foreground.

Online play is the big addition for long-time fans, of course, and the good news is that on the basis of the matches we played on Xbox Live it's smooth and lag-free. The pre-match set-up is a little bare bones - for a game so steeped in tournament lore it'd be nice to choose which rules and exploits to use - but with six-player lobbies it's easy to recreate and enjoy the old round robin battles of old.

Dedicated lovers of the game, therefore, shouldn't really need any more convincing. This is Marvel vs. Capcom 2, one of the finest 2D fighters of all time, in a near-perfect port. True perfectionists may prefer to wait for the PS3 release on 13th August (also tested), purely to avoid the slippery sticks of the Xbox 360 pad, but that's the only real drawback.

For those who are hovering uncertainly over the Download Full Game option, drawn by the game's impressive reputation but wary of the ultra-competitive nature of the spritey-fighty crowd, a little more illumination is probably required.

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