IGN Review of Marvel Super Hero Squad
Marvel is all over the place as of late, debuting Ultimate Alliance 2 via Activision just a month back, X-Men Origins: Wolverine before that, and now a kid-friendly take on the beat-em-up genre with Marvel Super Hero Squad. Published by THQ and developed by Blue Tongue – the makers of de Blob – Super Hero Squad has a strong team behind it, but all the trappings of a quickfire licensed effort. In the end THQ's offering to the Saturday morning crowd isn't a total wash of an experience, but it is one that misses the boat on a few key areas; specifically, the need for an intuitive, easy-to-play offering for its audience.
Super Hero Squad is in all ways your average two player beat-em-up. Seriously, it doesn't get much more "everyday brawler" than this. Players can jump in solo (with a computer controlled buddy at all times) or grab a friend and bash the heck out of enemies through stage after character-themed stage. You've got a basic attack, heavy attack, jump, grab, and finisher assigned to Wii remote waggle or simple button press. Since it's a licensed kids game you've also got all the main staples players have come to expect. There's an extras area where you can get a few simple unlockables, plenty of voiceover and pre-stage videos for kids to zone out and watch for a while, and a constant tug-of-war between the developer's own attempt at pushing the game to its fullest, and the game's inherent ability to shove the hardcore crowd away. In the end though, if Super Hero Squad was a polished, mindless brawler, it'd be "mission accomplished" all around.
And while there's still some definite potential in the game – more than enough for younger players to want to jump on in and keep playing – there are also some seriously troublesome issues within the main mechanic. The game, ironically enough, is at its best when it is just a simple button masher. Once more content starts to get piled up, however, the game drops in quality.
When it comes to capturing the essence of the license, Marvel Super Hero Squad does a nice job. Characters are extremely over the top based just like the show, the humor is quirky and fun, and while the source material makes some questionable decisions – Silver Surfer sounds like Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? – the spirit of the show is alive and well in the game. If you've got tiny gamers in the house that love the cartoon, they're going to eat up the game too.
Unfortunately the quality isn't always consistent. Most of the voice acting is well performed, the story is pretty decent with some great concepts for the actual motion comics, but the actual pre-level animation is really, really basic. While some of the shots – like the Tony Stark/Dr. Doom snippet found in my video review – are conceptually great, others are way too cheap, showing a character and a flat color background. The amount of fan service in the game is a nice touch, and younger players are sure to be pulled in, but the quality suffers at times.
On the gameplay front, Super Hero Squad mixes a few nice ideas with some spotty implementation. General combat comes as basic button mashing, but the camera is extremely troublesome at times, and is a total wreck in two player co-op. When going solo, the biggest offender is the battle arena camera, which is constantly moving and shaking at a zoomed in distance rather than pulling back and showing every character with plenty of space. There are a few annoyances when playing through story mode on your own as well, but the real trouble comes when you add a friend or family member into the player two spot. The game completely ignores player two and follows only controller one around the screen, so it's the player's job to stay on camera. Even with two seasoned gamers we had trouble getting through a level without constantly losing track of the second player, and kids are going to have an even bigger issue with it.
There are some other issues that pull the game down as well. For example, some of the enemy AI is unfathomably stupid, acting almost inactive while players bash on them three or four times in a row. It looks like the team used AI only on characters near the action (just a theory), and that running to further away baddies lets you get the drop on them before they become totally active. On the control front most of the game is simple to bash around with, but the finishers on Wii are particularly tough to use, requiring you to shake the controller with no prompt from the game itself. On PS2 the same issue arises – you never quite know when you can and can't use a finisher, only figuring it out after some trial and error – but you don't have the constant shake and "Am I doing it right?" feeling. On the plus side though, the Wii version's cursor control allows you to toss items around by basically clicking on the character you want to hit, which is a nice touch. As for other motion-specific areas, quicktime events make use of some shaking and motion swipes, but it's nearly identical to the button replacements found on PS2.
In general many of the issues could have been fixed by having a better HUD for players. Missions might require you to break a set of vehicles or defend a specific point, but with no actual on-screen markers on the areas themselves you need to pay particular attention to the voiceover or read the prompts and figure it out from there. With younger gamers though, more hand-holding is needed. If something can be interacted with (mission items, doors, etc), it'd be much more intuitive to have indicators above the items themselves. Super Hero Squad is at its best when players can just turn off their brains and bash away at piles of enemies. Once specific objectives come into play though, the game doesn't hold your hand enough, and frustration can set in. For hardcore gamers it isn't a problem; for the younger crowd (this game's demographic) it will be.
©2009-10-20, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved