Marvel’s Second Outing in
Two Months Disappoints
While Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was grabbing the headlines this past month, another Marvel-themed franchise has rolled onto store shelves largely unnoticed. Marvel Super Hero Squad, inspired by the television show of the same name, takes a different approach to the more familiar Ultimate Alliance series.
Where Ultimate Alliance could be considered more of a “serious” game and take on the famous world of (sometimes) spandex clad do-gooders, Super Hero Squad on the Nintendo DS instead focuses on a much more simplistic and kid-friendly gameplay experience. It’s critical to know this going in; if that’s what you’re looking for, you may enjoy Super Hero Squad. If you’re looking for something with depth and polish, turn around now – this game is definitely not for you.
As in many games, the first thing you notice at startup is the menu select screen. Normally you’d be hard-pressed to find anything there to sway opinion of the game you’re about to play. Not so here. The menus look like they were done by programmers as placeholders during the development stage and never were replaced – they are as barebones in appearance as possible with zero flair – Chotchkie’s Stan would not be impressed. If you think that such a barebones menu interface could be indicative of the rest of the game, you would be correct.
Story mode pits you in the role of a Marvel hero or villain trying to succeed in a mission, generally a mission involving a Fractal crystal that everyone wants to get their hands on. If I seem to be glossing over the particulars of the game’s story it’s because the game never made an effort to make it a priority. There are several cutscenes that pop up in the middle of, and between, missions. I suspect they were also used to set the narrative for a plot, but all I was able to pick up was that everyone wanted those elusive crystals. I spent the rest of the cutscenes bewildered at the art and dialogue; something about The Hulk being given a chocolate chessboard from Iron Man as a reward for destroying a flying ship.
The graphics are reflective of the television show, erring towards accessibility for a younger audience with disproportionally cartoony characters. The cutscene art is particularly simple and kitschy. In-game graphics don’t offer much either. There are a very limited number of enemy types and environments. Once you’ve seen one plywood box that needs to be smashed, you’ve seen them all.
Music is nothing special and, unfortunately, is more on the annoying than passable background music side of things. Special effects consist of some crunches and explosions; not surprising when that’s pretty much all the gameplay calls for. Voice acting is virtually nonexistent, but that has as much to do with the DS platform as anything else. It’s safe to say people won’t be purchasing this due to its place as a modern-day, technical audio masterpiece.
Controls are extremely simple. The game takes place on the upper screen, while the lower touch screen is reserved for two huge buttons that unleash your Super Attack and Super Defend abilities. Movement is entirely tied to the D-pad. The face buttons control jumping, regular attacks, charge attacks, and grabs while the top buttons block. Some characters are able to double jump while others can fly or float for a limited time. During the course of the game the super attack meter will go up and let you unleash character-specific Super Attacks, which are quite fun, or temporary immunity with a Super Defend, which is much less fun. And that’s all there is to it; it is a very simple control scheme.
While playing single-player story mode, the game is a side-scroller of the simplest order. While controlling your super-powered mutant, you are charged with journeying from left to right in pursuit of the previously mentioned crystals. Along the way are several lackeys in need of quick disposal as well as a modest amount of platforming. Neither is a significant challenge though; the enemies are quickly and easily disposed of and the platform maneuvering rarely offers a real penalty for missing a jump.
There are only a handful of “chapters” to the story mode, each focusing on the player controlling a particular hero or villain for the chapter’s entirety, such as Wolverine or Magneto. After making it to the end of each section of the level, the game cuts in with a small load time and more of the bizarre cutscene dialogue before putting you back on your never-ending quest to travel to the right. At the end of the chapter, a boss encounter takes place against another superhero in what amounts to a scaled down Smash Bros. battle. The Smash Bros. clone sections of the game are the most fun, if somewhat easy against the computer-controlled AI.
Battle Mode is the other option for gameplay and is just the Smash Bros. clone from the story mode. Seeing as this is the best part of the game, it’s nice to have it separated out from the rest and readily available. Even better, it can be played with another DS user via Download Play for a one-on-one Marvel-themed, Smash Bros. rip off … complete with item drops and power-ups. Battle Mode is the brightest point of the product and has the most potential for the future. Even as is, it’s an entertaining portable diversion when utilized with another player.
With all that said, you can probably see where this is going: unfinished presentation, subpar audio, goofy cutscenes, slightly excessive loading, graphics that would mostly appeal to kids 12 and under, and basic controls and gameplay should equal a subpar experience. So here’s where things get weird. In spite of all these flaws, I actually liked the game a little bit. It has a very unique feel to it that somehow comes across as friendly and personable. While all the things said are true, magically (and I don’t know how else it could have pulled this off, so I’ll go with magic), the complete package isn’t as bad as it should be. There is a peculiar charm here that could serve the developer well if this continues on as a series. They have their work cut out for them, though, as nearly every area needs significant work done, but likeability is high. And I don’t know why, but I suspect it has something to do with The Hulk’s chocolate chessboard. Still, Marvel Super Hero Squad can only be recommended for young gamers who enjoy their superheroes and would do better with a simple game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
Graphics are nothing special, particularly during gameplay. 3.4 Control
Simple to the nth degree and nothing noteworthy, but responsive and accurate. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Basically non-existent, as music offers little and sound effects are run of the mill. 3.4
While there’s a whole heap of room for improvement, it is somehow inherently charming. Still, it’s best for younger children looking for an easy superhero outing.
2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.