Designing fighting game characters was an art form. It was something that I had been studying a long time. For the past 20 years I had been writing about fighting games, specifically dissecting the Street Fighter characters by Capcom. On occasion I had also looked at the designs from Namco, Sega, Midway, and SNK. The majority of the studios were Japanese. I never had reason to bring up the comic book fighting games because they were not my cup of tea. This changed with the Contest of Champions. Kabam was doing a brilliant job adapting the look of 2D characters into 3D models. Their figures were dynamic, colorful, and easy to read. Essentially all of the things that audiences needed fighting game characters to be. The models captured the details perfectly, whether from the pages of a comic book, film, or television. The artists and modelers at Kabam were really doing the characters justice. The heavy hitters, like the Abomination, and Juggernaut had mass, and heft. The small agile characters like Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Man looked elastic, and flexible. The characters the studio created for the game were among my favorite looks for these icons. These were the designs I wish I had seen in animated, toy, and game form while growing up. The reverence for each character showed in the details that Kabam included. This hopefully put the (sometimes) rabid fan base at ease. If not they certainly won me over.
Little by little Gabriel Frizzera and the team at Kabam in Vancouver introduced new things into the Marvel Universe, and they were accepted by the community at large. Their respect for the various properties was tangible. They didn't introduce a new character, or a new Chapter without a reason. Every hero and villain dropped into the contest served a purpose. They all helped drive a bigger story. Kabam had earned enough trust from Marvel to begin putting their own spin on the multiverse. They even created a few new faces in the process. The first of which was Civil Warrior. In the comic book story arc Dark Reign there was a star-spangled version of Iron Man, known as the Iron Patriot. In the absence of Tony Stark this armor was actually piloted by Norman Osborn aka the Green Goblin. Kabam presented an alternate timeline where Steve Rogers killed Tony Stark. Riddled with guilt he donned the metal armor and took on the identity of the Civil Warrior. Having both the Marvel, and Kabam originals be playable characters, each with their own library of moves and abilities was inspired design. It demonstrated the level of commitment that the studio had with the game.
Not every multiverse character featured in MCC was so serious, some were decidedly out of left field. An alien Symbiote infected Peter-Parker during the events of the original Secret Wars. It replaced his tattered costume, and covered him in a black and white mesh that enhanced his strength and abilities. He kept the new look for a while after he returned to Earth. He eventually tore away from this alien, and it stuck to Eddie Brock who was a rival of Peter Parker. This was when they became Venom. In the MCC there were timelines where the symbiote didn't end up with Brock but instead went to Wade Wilson, better known as Deadpool. Venompool was an extreme party animal, but also a dangerous fighter. Again, having moves in MCC that were all his own. The most bizarre multiverse hybrid happened when Howard the Duck, inter-dimensional detective, gained the powers from the symbiote. Venom the Duck was a servant of darkness, and easily the strangest looking fighter in MCC.
It took much more to making a mobile game than filling the roster with fan-favorite characters. The game had to be balanced, no particular class of characters could have an overall advantage. This meant months of tweaking, updates and roster changes. The control had to be simple, and accessible. It had to be something simple to pick up but difficult to master. There had to be an object to playing over, and over again. A series of in-game rewards, daily missions, and more kept people engaged. It also had to to require some skill and strategy to play. Even without using the familiar Marvel characters that was a tall order. Any fighting game, let alone a mobile game, could be undone by the slightest oversight. If a studio spent too much time on the graphics while sacrificing game play then it showed. Fighting game aficionados were a fickle bunch. They wouldn't support a title that was poorly made. There were hundreds of fighting games that had come and gone in the past 30+ years. Few had been as successful, or had lasted as long as MCC. The majority of the survivors were created by Japanese studios, this was one of the few franchises created in the west.
Great fighting games also featured eye catching stages. Most of the levels in MCC had to be spectacles, like the remains of a Celestial in the deep cosmos. This site was better known as Knowhere from the Guardians of the Galaxy. MCC had gorgeous stages by the boatload. They were pulled from the various comics, live action films, and television shows. New audiences could identify the places in the Battlerealm that were pulled out of a movie screen. The Avengers Tower, the location from the first Avengers film was one such place. It was breathtaking when it was illuminated at night. Players almost expected Tony Stark to walk on to the helipad with a drink in hand. Then there was the golden throne on Asgard. Formerly occupied by Odin. Audiences could see ornate filigree carved on the throne and columns. Giant banners swung in the breeze over polished stone floors. It was a stage truly worthy of a king.
Long time fans were surprised to see classic locations also make the transition to 3D. Those that had grown up on the X-Men comics knew about Asteroid-M. It was an enormous planetoid floating near the moon, it had been pulled into orbit by Magneto. He used it as his base of operations, and treated it as a sanctuary for the persecuted mutants of Earth. This place was central to the original X-Men pilot cartoon. It was also used as levels in arcade games by Capcom and Konami. Then there was the Astral Plane, a nexus of magic users often visited by Dr. Strange in the comic books. Seeing this in game form left me giddy. Spreading out the locations for the Battlerealm across the different franchises worked in the favor of Kabam. The studio was not limited to a specific movie, timeline or event. It had room to grow and that was what excited me most about the future of MCC. The universe was completely wide open to them.
Kabam was celebrating four years with the Marvel Contest of Champions. This celebration coincided with Marvel regaining the rights to the X-Men, and Fantastic Four (FF) movies. A good number of mutant characters were already in the title, but the Fantastic Four were notoriously absent. All of this changed at the end of 2018. The Silver Surfer appeared in a trailer and teased their return. Over 2019 new Chapters were planned for the game. Each was supposed to bring back one of the four. January saw the introduction of Ben Grimm, aka the ever-lovin' blue eyed Thing. Who was next would be anyone's guess. Perhaps it was Reed Richards "Mr. Fantastic", or his wife Sue Storm "The Invisible Woman", or maybe even his brother-in-law Johnny Storm "The Human Torch." Gabriel Frizzera and Kabam weren't saying.
The Fantastic Four had always enjoyed some notoriety in comics. They were also the ones that helped lead the charge against two of Marvel's biggest bad guys. Dr. Doom had not appeared in MCC either. There were many timelines in the multiverse where he was the supreme ruler of the world. He was a brilliant scientist, and master of the dark arts after all. Imagine someone with the scientific brilliance of Tony Stark, and the magical abilities of Dr. Strange. He was also underused in cinema for too long, but would undoubtedly get his due in a video game. Having the Silver Surfer in the trailer also hinted that he would be a playable character at some point in the future. And if the Surfer was planned for the game then it also meant that his master Galactus, the "Devourer of Worlds" would not be far behind.
From this point on the game could only grow, and evolve. As long as Kabam continued to explore the Marvel universe there was no telling how long the series could continue. I eagerly waited to see what they had planned this year and beyond. If you want to find out more about this game make sure you pick up Marvel Contest of Champions: The Art of the Battlerelam by Paul Davies. It will get you caught up to the events thus far. Do you have a favorite character or team from this game? What were your favorite comic book games? I'd like to read about it in the comments section! As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!