Is that a Hero in Your Pocket?
Marvel Super Hero Squad was originally conceived as a collectible series of action figures introduced by Hasbro that featured small, child-friendly versions of the ultra-popular heroes from the classic Marvel comics. Then three years later it was turned into an animated television series on Cartoon Network. The television series is now being licensed out as a video game across multiple platforms. So there you have it. This franchise clearly has a very storied history, and we’re here to put the game through its paces to find out if the video game version is deserving of the reverence of the popular kids television show and collectible game.
First of all, adult gamers who may not be familiar with this series should probably stay away. This is specifically designed as more of a children’s game, and although there are still many of us who will get a chill up our spine at the thought of being able to play as The Hulk, Thor, or Captain America, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is still a much better choice for older gamers and comic fans.
That said, kids will really enjoy playing as these faithful recreations of the characters from the TV series. The playable hero characters include Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, The Thing, Spider-man, Silver Surfer, Invisible Woman, Storm, and Falcon. It’s an expansive list of characters, which is great, but the shortage of female characters could be disappointing to some fans. Especially when there are notable names such as Jean Grey, Jubilee, and Spider-girl who could easily have been included.
These characters are very well presented, and each feels unique and has their own -specific moves. Some special moves can be used by moving the analog stick in certain ways while pressing the attack button. For instance, quickly spinning the analog nub in a circle then pressing attack will make Wolverine do a spin attack that hurts all enemies around him. Similarly, press a direction at the same time as the attack button, and Captain America will lunge forward with his shield raised in a dash attack, plowing over every enemy in his path.
In addition to their special abilities, every character looks great on screen. The animated series’ graphics are pretty well preserved, and each character retains their own specific vibe and personality through their voice acting and on-screen presence. This is an area that really makes or breaks a game for lots of kids. If the characters on screen don’t look and act like what they expect, then it’s hard for kids to actually feel as if they’re playing as that character, which is really the entire point of a game like this. Thankfully, the developers of Marvel Super Hero Squad put a considerable amount of care into this feature, and the characters are well modeled, colorful, and fun to play with.
Gameplay combat is actually pretty close to the LEGO series of games, although perhaps not as well tuned. Players will beat up on cartoonish henchmen of the game’s many B-list sub-villains like the infamous Mole-man, all of which are employed by the main villain: the nefarious Dr. Doom. When the enemies are defeated, they fall to the ground and release crystals that are collected by the character. However, while the system is similar to the likes of LEGO Star Wars, the combat is a bit more advanced. Characters have a few different moves to go along with the usual punching combos.
There is also a second side of gameplay. At certain times in the story, players will stop fighting the mindless grunts that populate most of the levels and will instead face off against major villains in arena-battles similar to a simplified version of Super Smash Bros. Opponents include Marvel mainstays like Magneto, Sabertooth, and Dr. Doom himself. These battles are quite fun and mix up the gameplay well. This mode can also be played in single battles, so if you don’t feel like going through the main campaign just to play one, you can start one against computer components.
Between many of the levels there are short cinematics featuring the main hero characters advancing the story and setting the scene for the upcoming missions. This will be one aspect of the game that kids will really enjoy. The scenes are pretty short, never really going any longer than one minute, but they’re genuinely funny and the characters are well-acted and well-written. Plus, all of the movies are available to watch from the main menu, which gives it some extra value to kids who just want to watch those movies again once the game is over.
Often, when these scenes end, it will transition into a quick-time event where players have to match their button presses with on-screen prompts that translate to events happening in the scene. For instance, the player might have to rapidly press a button to charge up The Hulk’s throw so he can hurl Wolverine at a nearby airship. Then the event continues with Wolverine landing on the object and climbing up with the aid of the player.
The audio in these scenes is usually good, with voice actors handling their characters well and providing an amount of comedic tone and enthusiasm that you don’t usually see in licensed games. However, the sound effects in the game could have been better. Much of the in-game sound lacks impact and feeling. When a giant truck explodes because The Hulk just smashed it with his big green fists, the result should be awe-inspiring, but due to some lackluster sound, the effect is rather forgettable.
Marvel Super Hero Squad is a capable, though simple and unoriginal, beat ’em up. Hardcore gamers won’t find anything new here at all, but younger players who are willing to overlook the game’s simplicity will enjoy being able to defeat villains as their favorite Marvel super hero. There are better super hero games available, but in terms of youngster-friendly titles Marvel Super Hero Squad does a pretty good job of bringing the fun of the TV show and collectible game to the video game world.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
The characters of Marvel Super Hero Squad all look great and very distinct, although many of the environments are boring and uninspired. 2.5 Control
Pulling off moves with the PSP analog nub can be a bit of a chore, but the controls are generally decent to work with. Not enough camera control is available, though. 2.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The theme song to the kid’s show is still as rockin’ as ever, and the voice acting is pretty good all around. 3.5 Play Value
It’s not incredibly long or unique, but Marvel Super Hero Squad will give you your money’s worth if you’re OK with an average brawler with no new ideas. The individual battles give it some longevity, and the ability to watch the cutscenes individually is a nice touch. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.