Marvel is in a precarious position. While readers of the original comic books have stayed faithful to their flagship super heroes, it has proven difficult to connect to a younger audience. The Marvel Super Hero Squad product line met with genuine success when it was first launched in 2006.
The adorable iteration of the Marvel characters with their huge, bobble-headed heads and plump body statures were an instant hit. They and has seen itself introduced on Cartoon Network, a new comic book mini-series and now, a videogame.
Despite being able to delve into the rich Marvel universe, the developers did not come up with a compelling storyline for their game. A simplistic story tells the adventures of the super hero squad being threatened by a goofy version of Dr. Doom. He is trying to collect the missing fractals of the almighty Infinity Sword that a couple of the Marvel allies blew up years ago. The squad and Dr. Doom are on a race against time to see who gets to the pieces first.
Considering the target demographic, the young in age and heart, I doubt many will find reason to complain about the light storyline. In fact, it fits right in with the general feel of the game which find a kindred spirit in many a charming and goofy Saturday morning cartoon.
Marvel Super Hero Squad’s writing and humor is warm and is filled with self-reflective undertones about Marvel’s history. One example is how the father of many of Marvel’s super heroes, the legendary Stan Lee, lends his voice to the city mayor. Another sees the Hulk getting angry, demanding a helping of ice cream. OK, it may be a bit of a stretch but it will be funny for the kids nonetheless.
Playing the hero
Despite its charm and sense of humor, it is disappointing that the game shows a lack in almost every other area. Marvel Super Hero Squad is a rather standard beat-‘m-up game with basic, linear level design and no structure to speak of. It sports only two play modes. In Adventure Mode the player completes the game’s basic story. The gameplay revolves around defeating wave after wave of Dr. Doom’s A.I.M. Soldiers which causes repetitiveness to set in rather quickly. The only thing you will be doing is punch, jump, punch, jump, and another punch again.
Battle Mode plays out like a 3D rendition of Super Smash Bros. Your aim is to knock your enemies off a large dueling platform which is fun for a short while but ultimately just as ‘thrilling’ as the Adventure Mode. The finishing moves in Battle Mode do look flashy but are a true pain to execute. There is simply too much to remember to pull this move and there is a huge delay before the game detects that you have performed the move.
The Wii remote controls of the game have the A button to attack, the B button to perform a long-range attack, and if you tap three combo buttons together, you can finish your enemies with a motion-controlled attack.
While playing alone, the game provides an AI-controlled Marvel ally. This would be cool weren’t it for the fact that the AI is poorly programmed and has your partner blindly taking severe hits from your enemies without taking any action whatsoever. Fortunately the game supports drop-in multiplayer so that anyone can join at any time and make you forget about the poor AI.
The camera adds another dimension of annoying clunks by allowing very little control and being infuriatingly imprecise. Be prepared to fall over the edges of cliffs regularly. The camera becomes especially frustrating in Battle Mode where getting a clear view of your opponent is a true nightmare.
The diverse variety of Marvel characters, both the well-known and the forgotten, deserves some credit. The game covers most of the long and rich tapestry of the heroes ranging from Spider-Man to Mole Man. All of them cutely made, kid-friendly and having their own playful cheekiness. It is a shame that the game shows erratic and dizzying graphics. The pixilated and unimaginative levels lack identity and mostly take place in uninspired labs and jungles. The character models are fuzzy with some looking like meshed together blobs.
The voicework is provided by professional cartoon ‘actors’ such as Tom Kenny and Billy West. Their voice work is predictably saccharin yet playful and lively, adding to the game’s cartoony vibe.
It is cute, but no dice
If you are willing to cope with all of the game’s aggravations, the unlockable content may give you some perseverance to trudge on. You can unlock history to each character’s past as well as additional playable team members. Young players may feel some sense of achievement unlocking their favorite hero and the content is simple, yet cleverly acknowledges the Marvel legacy.
Marvel Super Hero Squad has got the charm, the looks and the heart that the young will certainly appreciate. Provided you do not take the game too seriously, the its sweet, goofy and genuinely amusing take on the Marvel characters may be the only incentive to give the game a fair try. However, the glaring camera problems, bland corridor-inspired levels and the shallow combat ultimately leave the game too broken to truly commend to any Marvel fan, even the young.
Cute, humorous iteration of the Marvel characters and wide variety of playable heroes.
Awful, touchy and imprecise camera angles. Boring, repetitive and short (but that may be a blessing).