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Review #313

Marvel Super Hero Squad
Developer: Blue Tongue
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Action Platformer
Release Date: 10/21/2009

I’ll admit it; even though I have read comics in a long time, there will always be a part of me that loves super heroes. That’s probably why I always volunteer to play games like this. Sometimes this nets me something awesome, like Batman: Arkham Asylum. Other times it gives mediocre drudge like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.

So when Marvel Super Hero Squad came up, I definitely jumped on it. I should point out I haven’t seen the cartoon, but I’ve seen the toys for years and found them adorable. Especially Chibi-Galactus and Sentinel. I also find the theme song incredibly catchy. Most of all, I was pretty dejected with the drop in quality with the MUA games since Vicarious Visions took over, so I was hoping this cute looking title would make up for it.

So how did Marvel Super Hero Squad turn out? Did it outshine the more “mature” Marvel franchise, or has proven yet again that THQ and quality are generally not to be used in the same sentence.

Let’s Review

1. Story

The plot of the game basically follows the plot of the cartoon. The Super Hero Squad, comprised of Iron Man, Wolverine, Falcon, Hulk, Silver Surfer and Thor, protect Superhero City from Doctor Doom and his Lethal Legion, which reside in Villainville. Now remember, this is an action-comedy series for little kids, so Marvel Purists stop your bitching before it starts because it’s surprisingly good and actually better than the plot of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Doctor Doom is trying to gather the six Infinity fractals so that he can form the Infinity Sword and…dare I say it, rule the world! I’m not sure why they didn’t just use Gems and Gauntlets ala 616, but hey, I didn’t write this thing. The prologue lets you pick any two of the main six characters as you take on a rampaging MODOK. I can’t tell you how much I love seeing Chibi-MODOK. After that the six fractals are thrown in six wildly different directions, the Super Hero Squad must split up and find them. At that point, all six chapters are unlocked and you can play them in any order you want. I really liked how non-linear this was but what I liked even more were the names of each level. You see, each level is named like this was a Silver Age Ditko/Lee/Kirby story. Thor for example has, “By My Brother…BETRAYED!” Try and tell me that’s not awesome.

After you beat those six levels, you unlock the final stage, where you can again play as any two of the six main characters you want. Now you might be thinking, “That’s a pretty skimpy character selection.” Well, actually there is more. With each of the six individual missions you get to pick a partner. Flying characters can choose between Invisible Woman, Ms. Marvel and Storm while land character can pick between Captain America, Nightcrawler, and The Thing. That gives you twelve characters right off the bat and you can eventually unlock Spider-Man. You can unlock even more characters to play as by progressing through the game although they’re most palette swaps like USAGent and Black Suit Spidey. Still, nearly everyone has three to four unlockable swaps, which is far more than MUA2 provides. Hulk even has Grey Hulk and Rulk, which was nice. Eventually you can also unlock super villains for the brawl mode, which is basically Super Smash Bros. with super heroes.

The story is hilarious from beginning to end and there’s a ton of Marvel in-jokes and homages. I found myself loving the story and the characters in the same way I felt Spider-Man: Friend or Foe was that nice mix of all ages action with classic Spidey comedy. This was a nice light hearted romp through the Marvel Universe and the game made me want to watch the cartoon to see if it’s as funny and well-written.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

I really liked the super deformed super heroes. They looked a lot like the toys and were nicely animated. You even get to take on a giant sentinel and fight on top of Galactus’ head. However the backgrounds for the game are pretty awful. For example with the Hulk’s level, which is arguably the single worst level in a platformer I have ever played, walls look exactly the same as paths, so you will get turned around a lot. The 3-D aspects are also so shockingly bad you can’t see some pits until you fall in them because they look exactly like the rest of the ground. With Iron’s Man’s level there are some obstacles you have to fly past without hitting, but when you get close things become transparent, so you can’t actually see what you’re supposed to be dodging. Again, this is amazingly awful and eventually I just memorized the timing of the moving pieces and flew through to where I knew they would be even if they weren’t rendering on the screen. I guess you can thank my years of bullet hell shooters for that.

Cut Scenes were a bit disappointing. You would think since this is based off of a cartoon that we’d get animated cut scenes. Instead we just get static images with voiceovers. This is pretty disappointing but doubly so because this is 2009 and this is a next gen system giving us this.

Thumbs in the middle for the visuals. The background are pretty bad and could have been done on the PSX or N64, but the characters are cute.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

When I first turned on the game I recognized Dr. Doom’s voice instantly but I couldn’t place. I had to close my eyes and suddenly Dr. Doom’s voice was in its proper body – Professor Monkeyforahead from Earthworm Jim! Oh my god, was that the perfect choice for a Chibi Doom! Of course then I had the Earthworm Jim song in my head and I found myself pissed that this cartoon STILL isn’t on DVD.

The rest of the voice acting cast does an amazing job as well. Steven Blum is Wolverine as he always is, but he uses a different voice for him to reflect the nature of the game. Also, he likes to say, “Snikt Bub” which is HILARIOUSLY AWESOME. Silver Surfer is played by Mikey Kelly, which was another awesome choice as you probably know him best as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michaelangelo. It’s so awesome to hear Norrin Radd sound like a West Coast beach bum. I’ll never be able to hear him as anything else. Even Stan Lee has a role in the game!

Then there’s the music. The theme song for this game is one of the catchiest openers I’ve ever heard. I had it stuck in my head for days and I actually had to find it on Youtube to try and get it out. It’s easily the best song associated with any Marvel cartoon since the 60’s Spider-Man.

The aural aspects of Marvel Super Hero Squad are easily the best parts of the game and it was great to see the cast of the game is the same cast as the cartoon. Yet another reason I need to check it out when it comes out on DVD.

Sound Rating: 9/10

4. Control and Gameplay

…and so we slide from the best part of the game to the absolutely worst. I won’t lie, depending on the level, this game can be nigh unplayable at times. Thankfully this is pretty much localized to the Hulk’s level, but it’s so bad you may just stop playing due to how bad the world looks, the inability to see pits, and the fact that at times the camera will freeze so you can progress and you have to die in order to restart the camera working. There was one time on this level when the camera shot straight up so I couldn’t see ANYTHING. Not my characters, not the floor beneath me, and especially not my enemies. This was so, so awful. Thankfully the other levels are MUCH better than this, but even then there are some severe problems.

First, let’s talk the camera. You have a stick to reset the camera, but it only works half the time, if that. This is bad. What’s worse is that the camera is completely insane and generally tends to focus in the worst way possible so that you can’t see things. It will also swivel around randomly and in doing, it will ALSO re-orient your character from the direction he was originally facing. Oops. Factor in the fact that everything looks alike and you’ll find yourself running in circles. Eventually I figured out to make a Hansel and Gretel-esque trail of debris to use as orientation. Still, this is one of the worst cameras I’ve ever seen in a game, regardless of genre. I can’t believe these are the guys that made de Blob, because honestly, this is unforgiveable.

Then there is a little something called aiming. Supposedly you are to hold the right should button to lock on to a target. You can move the target with the analog stick to change your aim. This works in theory, but not in practice. More than half the time your character will actually aim in the exact OPPOSITE direction of your cursor. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my guy shoot away from the approaching bad guys. The only time the cursor targeting works is when it needs to for a story even or mini game. Otherwise you’ll actually do better just spamming the distance attack button. It works better that way.

Aiming is not just an issue with distance attacks, but melee as well. Your character will often send limbs flying in the opposite direction from your enemies or will just run past (and sometimes through) enemies. This becomes a button masher where you simply hope you’ll actually hit your opponents.

There’s still more! Your computer controlled partner is a bit of a dick. It will steal power ups from you and will often stand directly in front of you so you can’t use your distance attacks. Sometimes you wonder if they’re being mind-controlled by Doctor Doom, it’s that bad. Half of the time I spent in Arena Battles was repositioning my guy so I could actually attack thanks to my stupid partner.

Flying is an issue too. You hit the jump button twice to fly, but then you slowly descend unless you hit the L Trigger, which sends you skyrocketing into the stratosphere. There’s no real give here which is annoying. It would have been a lot simpler, and better for the game, if you didn’t have to constantly hold down a button to fly and use either X and/or the down part of the D-Pad to control your altitude and still steer and fire.

Finally, we have platform jumping issues. For some reason, there is no rhyme or reason to how far your character will jump. This is awful because, as is usual with platforms, missing a jump is death. Although I never died from battles, I would often fall to my death because my character would jump to the left even though I was aiming to the right. There were also times where my character would only jump a few pixels and plummet to his death. It was pretty awful. Worst were the times I landed on the platform, but then fell through it or watched my character take two steps backwards without my pressing anything and falling to his death.

Other than these “little” issues, the game is playable, although it’s really an exercise in frustration. Thankfully the enemies are easy and health power ups are plentiful so you’ll be able to survive the only things that can kill you, which are the camera and horrible controls.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 2/10

5. Replayability

Well, if you can get through the game, you’ll find there are a ton of things to do should you decide to keep it in your collection. One playthrough won’t unlock every possible character, and you’ll need to play through each level three times (one with each possible partner) to get all the characters, arenas, costumes and more. There are also cheats that you can unlock via entering six digits codes and more.

If you still want to spend time with the game, there’s battle mode. However unlike console versions of this game where it is four player action, this can only be you and 3 CPU’s. Odd they didn’t try to use the PSP’s wireless connection…

Still, there’s a ton of extras in the game, which is a nice touch, especially for a budget game. The gameplay is pretty bad, but if you can get through it and find you like it, there is a lot to come back for.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Now you might think that because the game’s controls and camera angles are so broken that the game would be wildly unbalanced. Well, it is…just not in the way you’re thinking.

See, to make up for all the issues, the game has it so you can’t really die. Sure you can lose life, but when you do, you just come back at nearly the same point you left off. You have unlimited lives so you can just keep playing. As well, there are always lots of health tokens to replenish your life, so you’ll never be in any real danger. Even with boss fights, you almost always have a two on one advantage and since the computer AI is as stupid as your partner A.I, you should honestly never die unless it’s due to a jump and weird camera angle combination.

The game does mix it up so it’s not just button mashing and the occasional jump. You have those arena boss battles and also a few real time events where you have to hit a specific button at a specific time.

The end result is that the game is exceptionally easy from beginning to end except for those times where the camera freezes or you the background graphics get so bad it looks like you’re walking across the floor and SURPRISE! PIT!

So yeah, balance is thrown right out the window with this game, but even with the issues the game is plagued by, it’s still remarkably easy. There’s also an “Easy Mode,” but I didn’t bother to try it.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

It’s been a while since we’ve had a straight super hero platformer. However there have been so many over the years, it would be hard to call this “original.” I do like that the game through in Active Time Events and also had boss battles in a Super Smash Bros. format for a change of pace, but even that has been cribbed from somewhere else. In the end, this is a rather generic game, made even more so on the PSP since you can’t battle or team up with friends. It’s all one player only.

This is a pretty generic game, save for the excellent story and voice acting. It’s definitely a different take on Marvel characters, so that’s something in its favour. After the drek that was Civil War, this is a nice reminder that Marvel can still have some fun stories ala Mini-Marvels or Marvel Adventures: Avengers.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Addictiveness

As much as I hated playing this game at times (especially the Hulk world), I found myself unable to put it down. I beat the entire game in less than 24 hours and in only two sittings. Sure each level was about thirty minutes each for me and so the whole game was four hours with playing several arena matches just to test out the unlockable characters, but I was still glued to it. Call it a combination of having played far worse games this year and the fact I really loved the story and characterization. I doubt many people will be able to enjoy those aspects so much that they can overlook how awful actually PLAYING the game is, so it all depends on how forgiving you are to poorly made platformers with camera angles that spell death.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

I’m not sure how popular the toy line and/or cartoon this game is based on is, but Marvel certainly has its fans and games based on their super heroes always tend to sell well. I’ll have to admit I found this less boring than MUA2 and preferred the voice acting and story here, but that’s probably because the former was so grim and this just managed to make me smile even when this game was at its absolute worst.

I KNOW this won’t do as well as MUA2, and it probably doesn’t deserve to, but it’s still a unique and fun look at Marvel characters. The game is obviously geared for younger children, but with the way this thing plays, they probably will get frustrated by it and hate it sooner rather than later. Older gamers might show disdain for the cute and humourous antics instead of being all dark and emo as Marvel has been lately, so I’m not really sure who will actually enjoy this game. I’m torn as there are things I hated as much as I loved, and so for me, I’m just end up sticking with the cartoon which will turn out to be better than this.

Appear Factor: 4/10

10. Miscellaneous

For thirty dollars, the PSP version of the game certainly gets the short end of the stick. It doesn’t get the multiplayer option, the camera is awful, it doesn’t get all the hidden characters the DS and Wii versions get (if you buy the game from Wal-Mart) and it’s ten bucks more than the PS2 version. This is a real disappointment as once again Sony’s portable system gets the short end of the stick. I’d have to say this should be the last version of the game you should play through and go with either the Wii or PS2 version instead. I got to play the Wii version and it IS a little better in regards to controls and camera and it does let you play co-op with a friend AND four play brawl. For only ten dollars more you’re getting a lot more for your buck, but losing the portable nature.

In the end, the PSP version of Marvel Super Hero Squad has too many negatives to be worth your purchase. Sure the story and voice acting are great, but you can get that for free by watching the cartoon.

A disappointing end for a game with a lot of potential.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

The Scores
Story: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 9/10
Control and Gameplay: 2/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 3/10
Originality: 4/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 3/10
Total Score: 49
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (MEDIOCRE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Although Marvel Super Hero Squad has an excellent cast of voice actors and a charming stories guaranteed to delight children and make adults smile at this take on Marvel’s heroes and villains, you can get all this from the cartoon without having to fork over thirty dollars. You also won’t have to sit through one of the worst camera I’ve ever had the misfortune to play through along with controls that only work half the time and some horrible backgrounds whose rendering issues will be the only cause of your death. If you can overlook these issues, there are a lot of unlockables and cheats to discover. There’s no denying the game is fun at times, but my recommendation is just to watch the cartoon instead of buying this.

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