If you were worried that the Disney takeover of Marvel signaled a sellout, then you were wrong: That process had already begun long before the House of Mouse took over. Want proof? Take Marvel Super Hero Squad, a Saturday morning cartoon-turned-game meant for the Trix crowd. While I've never seen the show, if it's anything like the game, then it's cutesy, mildly amusing, quirky and bad.
Marvel Super Hero Squad basically takes your favorite super-powered heroes and villains, shrinks them down and makes them considerably more cute and less visceral. Wolverine looks like he could barely hurt a kitten, while Hulk is too preoccupied with constantly finding a snack to worry too much about ridding the world of evil. It's not as if evil is a big menace in the game's world, either, as the pint-sized versions of Dr. Doom and the Abomination likely couldn't take over the local mini-mart, let alone the world. Even so, the premise works for the franchise's intended audience, youngsters who aren't quite ready to see things in such apocalyptic terms as are normally found in comics.
The game's plot revolves around the discovery and subsequent shattering of an infinity fractal, a source of great power which, if harnessed by the baddies, will result in the reforming of the extremely dangerous Infinity Sword. In order to prevent the cataclysm, Falcon, Hulk, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, Thor, Wolverine and their friends split up in the hopes of tracing down the fractal splinters before the bad guys do.
Somewhat surprisingly, the game's plot and storytelling methods are some of its greatest high points. The script is competent and even occasionally funny, so kids will likely get a kick out of it, as will adults. Furthermore, the voice actors do a great job selling the lines, and young gamers will likely love the various silly voices. I don't know if the show writers had a hand in crafting the game's dialogue, but whoever did take point on it did a terrific job.
The bad news is that this is a video game and not an episode of the TV show, and all of the actual gameplay elements are a mess. Combat is very basic, with players mashing the A and B buttons to perform attacks of varying strengths. It's brawling boiled down to its most fundamental elements, and its shallow nature will likely cause gamers of all ages to quickly grow bored. The standard defense is that this is a kids' game and therefore needs to be simpler than other titles in the same genre. While that may indeed be true, there's a difference between simple and enjoyable and dumbed-down, and games like Kung Fu Panda show that you can make a good action game for kids without treating them like morons.
More troubling than the combat, though, is the game's camera, which somehow manages to be zoomed way too far out yet still makes the characters feel claustrophobic. In combat, it's very easy to lose track of your fighters in the sea of bodies on-screen, and the only solution is to wildly punch, flail and jump until you get sight of a model that looks vaguely like Iron Man or one of the other heroes. At the same time, whenever you're faced with one of the game's many flying or platforming sections, the camera seems to sit so close and at such an odd angle that it's hard to tell if you're going to make a jump or fly into a hazard. Moving the offender doesn't really work either because usually, no angle is particularly good and sometimes the game just forbids you from rotating your viewpoint at all.
All of these problems only touch on the single-player issues; things get even worse when a friend wants to join in. First off, in Adventure mode, if players start to wander away from each other, you would expect the camera to keep them both in frame, right? That's not how things work here. Instead, the camera will doggedly follow Player One regardless of where he goes. Should the other player fall behind or break off to explore, he'll just wander offscreen, apparently lost and gone forever. Keeping the party together is tough enough when you have cooperating adults playing together, but just imagine the pandemonium when a couple of kids, neither wanting to listen to the other, get their hands on this game. How long until big brothers start taking off and leave their younger siblings to die offscreen in a twisted attempt to act out in a digital world? What's up, Blue Tongue? Are you trying to destroy families?
The truly unfortunate thing about Marvel Super Hero Squad is that it's halfway to being a really solid game for kids, but it never manages to make it over the hump. While the team did a good job of recreating the look and feel of the cartoon, the gameplay elements just aren't there to back it up. It's a shame, too, because Blue Tongue has already proven that it can make a very entertaining Wii game with de Blob, so I was hopeful that the developers could work their magic again and make a kid-oriented superhero game that's worth the disc on which it was printed. The curse of the licensed product strikes again, though, and instead of a diamond in the rough, we're left with another mediocre Wii game that will take up space on shelves and trick a few unsuspecting parents into buying a "cool" game for their kids. While younger gamers who love the show might be entertained by the game for a few hours, it will likely prove to be too frustrating, too boring and too bad for them to devote any real time to it. Save your money and get the kids a bike instead. They could use the exercise anyway, right?
More articles about Marvel Super Hero Squad