Marvelously We Compete

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My brother Rob and I never cared much to play sports together. That’s not to say we were those kids so consumed by our huge egos that we “didn’t see the point of sports,” but we never made good competitors for each other. Our 6-½ year age difference probably played a key role in this: My brother’s height and weight advantage ensured that he could beat me in basketball and tennis. Plus the one sport that we both truly enjoyed, Taekwondo, just didn’t look right when it became a 16 year old repeatedly kicking an 9 year old in the side the head.



When I was in fourth grade, Rob and I finally found an arena in which we could bash each other’s skulls in without making momma sad: Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for the Playstation 2. MvC2 featured crisp, seizure-inducing graphics, all-rendered in two dimensions, a ray of sunshine into the polygon-esque Uncanny Valley that characterized the mid-2000s.

My brother and I selected tag-teams consisting of three characters from the universes of Marvel Comics and Capcom video games. If you’re a guy born within 5 years of the 1990’s this alone should get you excited: a given match could feature Wolverine mauling Megaman into microscopic made-in-Japan bits, Ryu upper-cutting the smug look on Spiderman's face that was somehow still visible through his mask, or the Incredible Hulk gamma-crushing Chun-Li from Street Fighter so hard that not even her thunder-thighs could stop him.

Rob and I joked that Capcom made the soundtrack for MvC2 out of the default loops from some third-tier music editing software and random selections from the 1979 edition of an American idiom dictionary. In reflection, this doesn’t seem that far-feteched. By the 10,000th listen, the jazzy-female voice sang “I wanna take you for a ride” amidst a barrage of saxophone and snare drum remains burned in my cochlea.

The MvC2 roster of 56 characters meant that there were 27,720 possible tag teams. Naturally, I upped this figure to 29,269 after beating the game on “Very Hard Mode” unlocking the ability to choose the same character multiple times. As a result, no be-all end-all “best team” existed; if Rob saw that I selected Colossus to bludgeon him, he would simply pick Cable who could shoot at Colossus from long range; I, of course, would then pick Iceman, who could block Cable’s gun while taking no damage.

MvC2 was so fast-paced that even with what I think was undiagnosed ADHD that afflicting me through all of middle school, I found it overwhelming. During the game’s dull moments, multiple telekinetic blasts would whiz past the inexplicable giant chicken in the background. If I wanted to beat Rob, my thumbs would need to fly along the Dualshock controller; even when we were both beginners, victory required landing a 30 move hyper-combo in a matter of seconds.

On one particular Thursday afternoon when I should have been at Taekwondo class learning how to actually fight, I landed a 280 move hyper-combo. I caught all three or Rob’s characters with Blackheart’s Heart of Darkness combo, then transferred into Gambit’s Kinetic Cards, and finally finished his entire team off with Tron Bonne’s Chuushoku Rush. My hand was locked into a claw-like shape until dinnertime.



Rob could tell a lot about my mood based on the character I chose. If I centered all my teams on Akuma, Rob knew that I was “the man” at the middle school dance. The most explosive character in the game yet the easiest to kill, Akuma required a confident player. Using Akuma was like driving stick; when I shifted gears from tornado kicks to air-hadoukens perfectly he was a smooth ride; when I stalled and let Rob land even one hyper-combo I was sunk. A victory with Akuma turned a good day into a great one, and a loss with him was no big deal.

On bad days, I chose Cable. No self-respecting video-game player regularly selects Cable, just like no self-respecting musician plays the tambourine. Cable’s entire strategy revolved around pressing the triangle button at the right moment, causing Cable to pull out his semi-automatic handgun and shoot. In a game about stylish superpowers and martial arts skill, it took a player of truly low self-esteem to rely on a gun.



Like most good things in America, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 developed an obsessive following; each year, hundreds of players gathered in Las Vegas for a national tournament with a half-a-million dollar prize. I only had to watch a few Youtube videos to realize that I would never have a chance at the tournament until I started playing MvC2 like a full time job, but I decided to give it up when Rob left for college.





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