I’ve made no secret that I love comic books. In general, I like every interpretation of the comic book characters I grew up reading about. Whether it be in television shows, live action or animated, video games and even the usual misinterpretation by Hollywood.
However, when I first heard about Marvel Super Hero Squad (the animated show on Cartoon Network), I was more than skeptical. In fact, when I watched the show with my boys I was downright angry with the way several of the characters were treated. The over-the-top “boy scout” handling Captain America received was more than I could take. Honestly, my first encounter with the animated show didn’t really set the bar too high for the game I was going to play. This is probably the best thing that could have happened for the game.
Marvel Super Hero Squad is not for everyone. This is the first thing you need to know. It’s designed with the younger audience in mind. Based on the chibi versions of Marvel’s plethora of characters, Super Hero Squad takes the idea of action figures without the fear of breaking them easily. The show itself deals with the heroes squaring off against some of Marvel’s most notorious villains, also in the chibi versions, while searching for fractals of the Infinity Sword. In the show, Doctor Doom is trying to find all of the fractals, whereas in the game he is only trying to find enough to create a smaller sword. It’s up to the squad, consisting of heroes Iron Man, Falcon, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and more, to stop him and his villainous friends including Mole Man, Sabertooth, Abomination, and MODOK, to name a few.
The good versus evil plot of the story is a strong point of the game. By keeping it simple, the younger audiences can simply tell you what is going on in the game at any point. Simplification is the easiest way to describe Marvel Super Hero Squad and it continues on into the gameplay with great results. You have two options: adventure or battle modes. The adventure mode allows you and another player or an A.I.-controlled partner to progress through each area, mashing buttons as you go.
At its core, Marvel Super Hero Squad is a button-masher through and through. You never really have to worry about what button combination will do what in order to deliver the hurt on the enemies. The combat in the adventure mode handles very nearly to Marvel’s other, more grown up title Ultimate Alliance. In fact, there are so many similarities many could confuse Marvel Super Hero Squad for Marvel Ultimate Alliance Junior. Heck, even the signature moves borrow somewhat from Ultimate Alliance. Though never really obtaining the full glory, delivering an enjoyable Hulk Smash will always bring a smile to anyone’s face. The other mode, battle mode, is an arena-style combat scenario. In adventure mode, it happens usually around the boss battles. Four players, whether all four human or some computer-controlled, square off in ring-out stages while trying to obtain a set number of K.O.’s.
Graphically, Marvel Super Hero Squad does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of the show. Never do the characters feel out of place in the playfully bright, colorful environments. Even the simplistic approach to the environment represents the show accurately. Not stretching too far to incorporate the hyper-detailed surroundings of other Marvel-based games actually allows the game to pop out more for the younger audiences. The only occasional problem that comes from the games graphically is a few instances of lag. These happen so infrequently, though, most will never notice them. One thing I do like are the comical images of a few characters. For example, there is one image of Doctor Doom wearing a fuzzy robe while holding a cup of tea with full beard on his metal face. These comical images don’t happen enough, and it would have been great to see more for some of the other characters.
Voice over work is done by the cast of the show. This is a blessing and a curse. The over-the-top nature of the show, while nicely recaptured here, leads to the over use of certain lines, which does get bothersome and even downright annoying at times. While this is a minor complaint, having certain lines repeated well after the game has been powered off by young ones can irritate even the most steeled parent. The score for the game is done in the same vein as the show but is impeccably looped.
The camera is a huge problem with the game, though. More noticeable in the battle mode, the camera becomes jerky and nauseating. It carries over in to adventure mode with its own problems. In single-player action, the camera can lose you thus creating problems for players trying to find their own way through the game. The camera also assists enemies in hiding from players, as they will hide in nooks and crannies throughout the environment that you may end up missing several times due to the flow of the camera. Plus, it is also astounding how innately stupid the enemies can be. Several times they will just stand still while you pummel them, and others will appear as if they are running toward you to avenge their fallen comrades only to jump to their own deaths in areas where that seems impossible. I again understand this is intended for a younger audience, but when a four year old looks at you and says “Why are they so stupid?” you have to start to wonder the same thing.
Marvel Super Hero Squad does not build bridges as far as game concept; however, it does give a younger audience the chance to play as some of their favorite heroes and villains without the often adult-themed story elements of other superhero games. Simplistic combat and an accessible storyline will entertain them well beyond the initial glory of their favorites in a game just for them. Even as an adult who disliked the idea of the show itself, I easily found myself enjoying the game for its simplicity. Issues aside, this is a game that should be on every young heroes Christmas list as well as a few Super Hero Squad action figures.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Solid representations of the characters and the playful theme of the show. 3.4 Control
Simplistic in execution. The audience that this is intended for will have no problems smashing through the game. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
If you can dig on the sounds from the show, then there’s no problem here for you. 3.1 Play Value
There’s not much to this game, but what is there is done well enough. The younger audiences will have hours of fun with the pint-sized heroes. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.