Developer: Blue Tongue Entertainment
Release date: Available now
Superheroes are big business these days. With most summer multiplexes reading like a Who’s Who in the Marvel Universe, it’s no surprise that the console market has seen a steadily increasing line of licensed properties looking to take their tights and flights to the digital domain. And while the developers can simply slap Woverine’s mug on a box and anxiously await their coffers to fill, there’s a genuine desire to mint a new generation of fervent fanboys. That’s where THQ and Blue Tongue come in, with their latest release Marvel Superhero Squad taking aim at the pre-tween set as they leave their Baby Einstein behind and graduate to big boy fare.
Marvel Superhero Squad is an action-brawler based on the weekday animated series that currently airs on Cartoon Network. The series, aimed squarely at younger viewers, takes those heroes we know and love, such as The Hulk and Spider-Man in addition to varied nemeses including Doctor Doom and Abomination, and creates caricatured likenesses of these legends. The episodes feature slapstick-strewn stories designed to delight tots and act as a gateway to the Marvel Universe. Blue Tongue has therefore crafted a game that stays close to the source material – with big, broad levels designed to showcase a handful of heroes at a time as they work against the villains to recover shards of a shattered Infinity Crystal before they can be used for no good. The story, featuring all the skin-deep complexity of its source material, is simply window dressing to place your heroes in a variety of diverse environments, including a soaring S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, and then set you off to beat the stuffing out of a seemingly never-ending series of villainous henchmen.
Blue Tongue has developed the title as a brawler, meaning players will enter a variety of locations and battle through waves of bad guys while seeking out switches or items that will unlock entry to the next area. At the start of each level, the player can choose their favorite hero with a secondary character controlled by a friend or via AI. While the majority of the game plays as a simple beat ‘em up, from time to time the game will utilize Wii-specific controls for interactive cut-scene events. In addition, there are several arena battles that pop up, usually around end of level boss fights, that play out similarly to titles like Smash Brothers, where the goal is to beat on the baddies until one side achieves a target score and knocks them out of the arena.
Marvel Superhero Squad, like the television series, is clearly aimed at younger players and is also designed around co-op play. While solo players can battle through the adventure on their own, the tedious nature of the gameplay as well as the juvenile script will wear on you long before you’ve exhausted the 6 lengthy levels. Therefore, this title is best enjoyed by parents playing alongside their children. While the nature of the game is to beat the hell out of everything that moves, the action is big and cartoony, no different than the chaste brawling found in titles such as Lego Star Wars. This game doesn’t hit the heights that the Lego series does, with their trademark blend of puzzle platforming and sublime sense of humor, but it’s enough of a distraction to warrant a play through with your Marvel obsessed moppet.
Developer Blue Tongue made a strong impression last year with their freshman release, de Blob – one of the few third party Wii titles that really exhibited quality craftsmanship and seemed built to play to the system’s strengths. Therefore, I was a bit disheartened to see the developer assigned this licensed fare in favor of something original. Their work here feels journeyman. There’s nothing glaringly bad about this title and it certainly does justice to the property, but nothing about it breaks from the pack either. Marvel Superhero Squad is simply a very vanilla take on the brawler genre and it doesn’t innovate or charm. That said, it’s a fairly harmless piece of software that is bound to entertain its target demographic. I do have a major issue with the Save system, however, as the game is hampered by a scheme that only allows you to save your game at the end of its lengthy levels, some of which can take over an hour to blast through. In this day and age, that’s just lazy development and as this game is aimed at kids, I foresee a number of more intense battles with parents as they try to complete a level while being called to the dinner table and finding themselves unable to save their progress.
Marvel Superhero Squad is a decent representation of the license that despite it’s Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic, surprisingly showcases some niche areas of the vast Marvel Universe. To that end, it works as a Trojan Horse of sorts in inviting younger players to check out the fertile landscapes of the Marvel properties. Strip away the license though and you are left with an action brawler that is best played in smaller doses as the lack of variety becomes wearisome after extended playtime. Younger kids will likely get a kick out of pairing their Wolverine up with their parent’s Iron Man, but solo players are encouraged to look elsewhere.