Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and the chase for fighting game accessibility

Capcom and other fighting game brands are doing a bit of soul-searching to bring in new players.

Fighting games are hard. From learning combos, to memorizing frame data and figuring out character match-ups, the path to fighting game mastery is a fulfilling but arduous journey. Recent fighting game releases like Street Fighter V have attempted to make that initial difficulty curve easier to surmount. Early impressions of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite show that Capcom is continuing its efforts to lower the barrier to entry, by adding in automatic combos which can be performed by continuously pressing a single button and potentially changing 30-year old input commands so more players can successfully perform them.

Unfortunately, these surface-level measures are not a true solution for making fighting games more accessible. They just mask the greater problem: that Capcom has a terrible track record in teaching new players how to play its games.

First off, let me clarify that the very act of adding a simplified control option isn’t an inherently bad thing. Fighters like Killer Instinct, BlazBlue and even Marvel vs. Capcom 3 have featured automatic combos and they are a great way of helping newer players overcome that initial fear of picking up the controller. But just having these options and the static combo trials for each character do very little to prepare players for the badlands of online ranked play. An autocombo is only useful if someone can land that first hit, making it ineffective against players who know how to block and move effectively. Even among those who use them, autocombos quickly become obsolete once players discover better alternatives. As such, the games leave new players with an inefficient option to deal damage, which won’t train them how to play competitively.

Instead of simplified moves and autocombos, Capcom should focus its energy on showing off how Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite teaches players how to play.

So, why not make individual moves easier? In the previews for Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, many critics remarked that Ryu could pull off his anti-air Shoryuken attack by double-tapping down rather than doing the traditional forward, down, down-forward motion. Besides just making Ryu’s Dragon Punch easier to perform, the proposed new input alters a major aspect of defensive play. Now, when blocking ‘cross-ups,’ a player using the simplified Shoryuken doesn’t have to worry about flipping input directions as they normally would. Because the new motion is just down down, the uppercut will most likely automatically track the opponent to determine its direction, making this new Shoryuken a defensive option with no real risk of failure. The simplified Shoryuken becomes the inverse of the autocombo: a super-efficient option that dissuades players from learning other things, while also making it harder for a novice to get a hit in.

Instead of simplified moves and autocombos, Capcom should focus its energy (and marketing) on showing off how Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite teaches players how to play. I’m not just talking “here’s how to do a light punch;” I’m talking about breaking down much of the specific vocabulary that surrounds fighting games and explaining how to tackle common situations you see in matches. Breaking through the wall of jargon is especially helpful, as it sets players up to move on to other fighting games with a basic understanding of how the genre works.

Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator’s tutorial is a shining example for other fighting games: not only does it teach players how to move, block, attack and so on, it does it in the form of active mini-games. It gives players a place to try out things where there is some element of tangible progress, rather than just being sat in Training Mode with a practice dummy. From there, it also provides basic challenges which have players dealing with common strategies you’ll see in a match. You integrate these trials into a Story Mode with in-game rewards like costumes and color palettes and you’ve got something that everyone will play through. From my experience as someone who took ages to properly ‘crack’ fighting games, just having a drill that taught me how to deal with projectile spammers went a long way to helping me fall in love with the genre.

Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator's tutorial is a shining example for other fighting games.

Frustration is what often turns players off fighting games. The annoyance of not knowing what to do in a certain situation and having no way of solving the problem is a killer for keeping new players engaged. Giving them an inkling of how to perform or counter basic strategies will certainly increase the odds of them sticking around longer than just giving a punching bag and a list of moves.

This also solves the lingering issue that often pervades discussions of fighting game accessibility, that adding features like easier inputs lowers the overall skill ceiling. By thoroughly teaching inexperienced players the basics and helping them clear that initial execution and knowledge hurdle, you can still keep the ceiling high. It’s that high skill ceiling and room for experimentation that will ultimately keep a fighting game alive for years to come, so it’s in Capcom’s best interests to see more players graduate to that higher level.

Capcom’s previous attempt at fighting game accessibility with Street Fighter V didn’t work quite as planned. While lowering the skill floor may have made the game more accessible on the surface, the combined lack of teaching tools and room for player experimentation has resulted in a rather lukewarm reception to the fighter for both new and veteran players. There is a guaranteed influx of new players with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite just on the license alone, and with the heavy expectation from Marvel die-hards, there is a lot riding on this attempt at accessibility. My hope is that Capcom will learn from the work of its contemporaries who have crafted ways for making players graduate past the beginner stage, rather than taking the easy way out.