Superhero games have been a dime a dozen of late, and with mature games, such as Sony's PlayStation 3 exclusive Infamous and Radical Entertainment's Prototype, pulling bad guys apart like drumsticks off a chicken, it was only a matter of time before someone toned it down to make something a little more kid-friendly.
Both sides of the comic fence are gearing up for big releases, with Marvel's Ultimate Alliance 2 hitting shelves this September and its rival, DC Universe Online, due out sometime next year. To date, many super-themed games have chosen to pitch their games at established markets--that is, the people who already follow and love comics. Marvel Super Hero Squad is looking to shake things up a bit with its take on the superhero genre by offering play with established characters without needing prior comic book knowledge. The game piggybacks on the television series of the same name and offers access to some of the best known heroes and villains from across different universes without ever having to know how they fit together.
Naturally, a superhero game lives and dies by its roster, and MSHS will feature 20 playable characters, including Iron Man, Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Falcon, Ms. Marvel, Juggernaut, Dr. Doom, Mole Man, and Magneto. Each will offer his or her own specific powers, such as Juggernaut's ramming, Iron Man's repulsor fire, and Wolverine's claws and regenerative healing powers. That said, while the game will make superheroes accessible to newcomers, there are also plans to appease hardcore fans with the inclusion of in-jokes, alternative classic costumes, and less well-known characters, such as U.S. Agent, Spider-Man 2099, and Captain Britain.
Because the game's roster is made up of characters from different locales, Blue Tongue has tossed the lot together into a single space, dubbed Super Hero City. The choice allows for the chance to mash up the various universes into a single setting, and even the most lapsed comic fans will recognise such iconic locations as The Daily Bugle and the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.
Gameplay has been split into two parts: Adventure and Battle modes. Adventure mode missions see two preselected characters work their way through a scenario beating up waves of enemies. Like the Lego action series of games, you'll be able to switch between the two onscreen characters on the fly, while drop-in, drop-out cooperative play support means you'll be able to pummel bad guys alongside a friend. AI will take over the spare hero if you're playing solo, though you'll retain the ability to swap between characters if you have a soft spot for one particular protagonist. Between levels, you'll need to complete waggle-style quick time events to avoid obstacles and destroy targets. The examples we saw had us playing as Thor and swinging our Wii Remote to the left or right side of the screen when prompted to avoid falling debris as we flew through a tunnel.
Battle mode has been designed for pick-up-and-play fun with up to four players. Like Adventure missions, you'll be able to fill empty slots with AI characters, but the value here is fighting with friends. The mode plays out a bit like a Super Smash Bros. Brawl clone, and the objective is to kill your opponents by depleting their health bar through attacks or to knock them out of the ring to earn points.
Accessibility is more than simply recognising characters in the character roster and knowing their powers. Blue Tongue has gone for an ultrasimple control scheme that uses presses of the A button to perform melee attacks and the B button for ranged strikes. Pressing buttons and combining them with a short, sharp snap of the Wii Remote or nunchuk will release super attacks that deal more damage. Pointing the controller at the screen and tilting it is used to control the direction of movement for flying characters. Blue Tongue maintains that while certain characters appear to have an edge in Battle mode, plenty of balance play testing is going on behind the scenes. This is to ensure that while certain characters may be weaker in some areas, they're boosted justly in others, such as super attacks.
Blue Tongue is spearheading the lead version of the game for the Nintendo Wii, while PlayStation 2 and PSP versions will also be available at launch and are being handled by developer Mass Media. A DS version is also in the works and being handled by fellow Aussie studio, Halfbrick. If you like your colours bright, your action fast, and your Wii Remote waggling, Marvel Super Hero Squad is already showing plenty of promise for when it kicks and punches onto the scene in the last quarter of 2009.