Why are 'Marvel vs. Capcom 2' and 'Super Smash Bros. Melee' Still Alive Today?
Musings on the Fighting Game Community
An early 2000s cross-over fighting game that is the second installment in a long-running series, very technically demanding, and has a meta-game dominated by a few top tier characters. Given that description, what fighting game comes to mind? If you answered Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or Super Smash Bros. Melee, you would be partly correct because I was thinking of both. At first glance, these fighting games don't appear to have a lot in common, but upon further inspection, they have quite a few similarities. The most significant commonality being the survival of both their competitive scenes more than a decade after their original release.
The 10-year gap between new releases of Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom is known as the dark age of fighting games. While other fighting games remained active during this Capcom hiatus like Dead or Alive, Virtua Fighter, and Tekken, it was still a blow to the fighting game community. The lack of new installments meant that Marvel vs. Capcom 2 players would need to continue playing the same game for ten years. During this time, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 might not have attracted lots of new players but, that didn't stop the veterans from drawing crowds at their competitions. The hype wasn't exclusive to tournaments either, as high profile money matches that would pit two players against each other for large sums of money were also very popular. The extended life of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 helped push the meta-game to new heights and raised the profile of several fighting game players including, Justin "JWong" Wong, Michael "Yipes" Mendoza, and Sanford "Santhrax" Kelly.
While not as long, the seven-year-long gap between Super Smash Bros. Melee and its sequel also provided a challenge for its community. Unlike other fighting games, Super Smash Bros. Melee didn't have much of a presence at fighting game events because of its party game status. In fact, before the regular appearance of Super Smash Bros. Melee at the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) following 2013, it had only made one appearance in 2007. Before EVO the biggest, organization to host a Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament was Major League Gaming (MLG) starting in 2004, with 2006 being the last year. This lack of legitimacy forced players to take matters into their own hands by hosting grassroots tournaments, often bringing their own Nintendo Gamecubes and CRT televisions to support the effort. Just like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, the extended life of Super Smash Bros. Melee pushed the meta-game and developed storylines around some of its best players.
For the fighting game community, one of the most coveted characteristics of a fighting game is a fair or balanced character roster. However, despite having a character roster that's far from balanced with characters that are affectionately referred to as broken by its players Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is often considered to be one of the best fighting games of all time. Rather than a balanced character roster, the appeal of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 appears to be the large amount of freedom the game engine provides. Since Marvel vs. Capcom 2 released before online balance patches were possible for fighting games, everything that's thought of as cheap and unfair remained in the game. The nonexistence of balance patches opened up the possibility space allowing for a level of creativity that far exceeded what was intended by the developers. So what may come off as a match lacking variety with the same top tier characters to the trained eye can be a showcase of each player's unique style.
Super Smash Bros. Melee is similar to Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in regards to freedom but, the relationship between their community and its sequel makes things a bit more complicated. While most Marvel vs. Capcom 2 players transitioned to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 when it was released in 2011, the same did not happen for Super Smash Bros. Melee and its sequel Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The lack of enthusiasm for Super Smash Bros. Brawl stems from the absence of advanced techniques like wavedashing the addition of pratfalling, a mechanic that makes the player trip randomly while dashing or turning around, and an overall slower pace. These changes led to a schism in the Super Smash Bros. community that resulted in veteran players continuing to play Super Smash Bros. Melee and newer players playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl and its eventual sequels.
Super Smash Bros. Melee and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 continue to be played competitively to this day but, both games are not a part of the EVO main stage lineup. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 found new life with a rerelease on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in 2009 that added online multiplayer. On the contrary, Super Smash Bros. Melee would never receive a rerelease, but through the Nintendo Gamecube emulator, Dolphin, and its netplay feature, players can compete online. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has experienced a recent resurgence with Yipes hosting the annual tournament Battle of the Strongest and EVO announcing the Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Tournament of Champions at their 2020 lineup reveal show. Super Smash Bros. Melee is still going strong with tournaments like Genesis, The Big House, and Super Smash Con that attract hundreds of entrants every year.