Earlier this month, Arcade Heroes reported that another mobile game was making its way to arcades. This time it was Marvel: Contest of Champions, a one-on-one fighter boasting a varied roster of Marvel Comics superheroes. (But no, not Marvel vs. Capcom.) Co-developed by Kabam and Raw Thrills and published by Dave and Buster’s, this new title has since been released and is now available exclusively at all D&B locations.
After messing around with the mobile version a bit, it’s clear that Contest of Champions is a very basic appropriation of the fighting game formula. There are light attacks, medium attacks, heavy attacks and blocking, but movement is completely out of the player’s control. (Just like Injustice Arcade/Injustice mobile.) Contest of Champions Arcade, though, adds two major differentiators: card vending and joysticks.
The card-vending aspect is something we’ve become fairly familiar with in the coin-op sector. We’ve seen it from video multiple times before (such as with Dinosaur King, Animal Kaiser, a whole host of Japanese titles, and Raw Thrills’ popular Injustice adaptation), and we’ve seen it a lot on the redemption side, too, with some licensed kiddie gambling pieces. It’s a cool novelty but not something I go crazy for.
What I’m really interested in are those sweet, sweet joysticks. As I mentioned, mobile Contest of Champions doesn’t allow for free movement, but the arcade version does. This seems to make it more of an authentic fighting game experience, as least based on the gameplay footage I’ve seen. While that doesn’t necessarily make it a stellar game, it makes it much better than Injustice Arcade, which featured gameplay based on timing alone. Looking at the control layout on the cabinet, it seems Contest of Champions is actually a real fighting game. That’s...well, awesome.
Before I go play the game, though, I’d like to lay out some of my expectations. (Let’s see how many end up fulfilled.) One thing I’m really hoping for, as silly as it sounds, is free games for winning fights. Cruis’n Blast and Injustice cabinets are typically set to not allow free games, even if you do win. This, quite frankly, makes me feel robbed, and I’d rather not see that disheartening trend continue with Contest of Champions. Is it likely that Dave and Buster’s, of all companies, would want to reward skilled players with free games? Absolutely not—but I can dream. Either way, “Winner Stays, Loser Pays” is just as important now as it was in the 90’s, people.
I’m also hoping that, beyond inherent fun factor, Contest of Champions is also chocked full of engaging content. I want to see a sizable roster, lots of stages, and (perhaps most important of all) arcade-exclusive content. Card collecting is neat enough, but it’s not the kind of bonus I’m looking for. I want a game that I sink my teeth into—something that’ll tide me over for months on end.
But at the end of the day, I just hope we get a pretty cool fighting game out of this. As many of you know, fighters have all but vanished from the North American arcade market, and Contest of Champions may prove that the genre is still plenty viable on this side of the pond. Raw Thrills already reinvigorated the beat-em-up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This, my friends, is simply Round 2. Injustice kinda-sorta tested the waters—albeit in a heavily casualized form—but Contest of Champions is the real deal. There’s a joystick, there are buttons, and you duke it out. Sounds like a fighting game to me.
Admittedly, I don’t quite like that it’s a Dave and Buster’s exclusive, but there’s nothing I can do about that. D&B commissioned the whole project, so it’s their game. (What’s fair is fair.) However, after Contest of Champions has run its course, I do hope we see other fighters from Raw Thrills in the future. I trust them to make a game we can all be proud of. (Quick side-note: I’ve always wondered where D&B exclusives end up after they’re pulled from locations. My guess? Either a warehouse or the garbage, though I really hope they’re preserved in some capacity.)
I’m not going to throw down any conclusive thoughts just yet, as I likely won’t get to play Contest of Champions for a long while. However, I will say this: the game will either be amazing or kind of average. We’ll get a wicked cool one-on-one fighter, or we’ll get a decent card-collecting mobile port. I’m not discrediting Contest of Champions, though. I want it to be good so, so bad, because I want the fighting game to return to North American arcades. Only time will tell what happens.
In the meantime, I’d like to commend Raw Thrills for trying out another seemingly “dead” genre. Experimentation, after all, is the bread and butter of the coin-op industry. So thank you, Raw Thrills. I can’t wait to see how the game turns out.
Also, I love how the marquee is all like, “Inspired by Captain Marvel” when it’s literally a port of a 2014 mobile game showcasing the entire Marvel universe. Like, Dave and Buster’s, please—we know y’all just slapped that label on there to boost earnings. It’s like when they swapped out all the Aliens: Armageddon marquees with Alien: Covenant ones.
But I digress.