If the Dreamcast had an abundance of anything, it was fighting games and a crowd of hardcore devotees willing to lap them up. Arguably one of the finest fighters released on the platform was Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and some two years later Capcom have seen fit to resurrect the classic to a new and far wider audience on the PlayStation 2.
But come on... two years? That's a long time to leave a title to mature, and most titles left for this length of time would have been surpassed long ago. It's a testament to just how accomplished this title was, then, that it still feels like a powerful contender amongst the fresher faced games bustling for attention in the genre.
The Marvel vs. Capcom franchise is unique in that one on one battles are eschewed in favour of three-character tag fights, lending a completely chaotic but often strategic slant to the proceedings. The main portion of the game takes the form of the genre-staple Arcade mode. You pick three from the complement of 56 fighters, comprising favourites from the Marvel universe and Capcom classics, and enter the fray.
Once the fight starts, you're able to freely switch between combatants with a click of the shoulder buttons, helping you to better suit your current opponent. While off screen, each fighter regains a little health and so simple ability-swapping strategies can evolve as the fights go on. Additionally, if your current character is in need of a little backup, another character can be brought in briefly to automatically perform a special move while you step back to work on a combo.
At first, all the to-ing and fro-ing can feel like a frantic mess, but once the nuances of combos, character switching and special abilities sinks in, you'll be deftly performing devastating assaults on your opponent's team. The screen sometimes descends into a mess of colour and stuff flying all about the place, particularly when a couple of characters team up for a special attack, and losing track of exactly who it is you're meant to be controlling is a regular annoyance.
The game tends to rely on intensity a little too much for my tastes however, and at first you'll be randomly bashing away at the buttons without any real sense of control; wins in the early stages can feel like a totally random occurrence. This enforces the fact that the art of playing MVC2 is an acquired taste, and tapping the hidden depths of the game could take weeks or even months. The deceptively simple approach to the game's presentation disguises an enormously complex fighting model.
Visually, the game is very strong for a two year old 2D fighter. Well, we say 2D, but the backgrounds are lavish animated 3D backdrops, decorated with a wonderful painterly quality that feels both unusual and surprisingly elegant when contrasted against the bombast of the foreground effects. There are some nasty sprite scaling issues as a result of the port to PS2, but the well animated characters are flitting about the screen so fast the majority of the time, you rarely get a chance to notice. It's a shame such nicely-crafted visuals can be backed by such a horrific, lift-music oriented soundtrack and low quality sound effects, though.
Whether or not the number was up for 2D fighters long ago is something of a grey area, but this is by no means an unsuccessful cash in of a port. There are easily better fighters on the PS2 though, and so this feels more like an exercise in retro gaming than an essential and accessible purchase. One for the hardcore, then.