Review: Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet
January 7, 2011, Author: Andy Corrigan
Marvel Comics are a company that have no problem reinventing their property in multiple, self-contained universes. Hell, you only need to check out Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions to see just four of the main contenders to see just how diverse these takes on popular characters can be. One such reinvention is probably more popular with younger Marvel fans than your usual comic reader and actually started life as a way of taking Marvel’s popular characters and turning them into a line of cutesy, super-deformed toys suitable for children of younger ages.
Such was their popularity that a Saturday morning cartoon show was formed and maybe somewhat predictably, along came the accompanying game shortly thereafter. Courtesy of THQ and Blue Tongue Entertainment (or Mass Media, depending on the platform), the first game based on Hasbro’s figurines tanked, and rightly so. It offered nothing new or interesting and seemingly was a simple cash-in, marketed at getting little kiddies to beg their parents into buying it to match their Marvel Super Hero Squad bedspreads and lampshades.
Undeterred by the game’s critical and commercial failure, THQ passed the development duties over to Griptonite Games for the sequel, ‘The Infinity Gauntlet’, released last November. Being the site’s resident Spider-Man fanboy (thus making me the authority on all things Marvel, clearly), I was tasked with seeing if this game is worth purchasing for the kids (and big kids) alike.
The Marvel Super Heroes go shopping!
I am seriously shuddering about writing this section. As a big Marvel fan, this kind of storyline, while probably great in its simplicity for kids, spits in the face of all I love about the comics. The game begins with Iron Man and Hulk venturing into space to go pick up a pair of boots that Stark has bought for Thor’s birthday… Ugh… When they arrive at the intergalactic store, the shopkeeper has accidentally packed the boots in with an order currently being delivered elsewhere by Fantastic Four nemesis, the Super Skrull. Iron Man and Hulk cadge a lift on the back of Super Skrull’s ship and after spying on him after their arrival, they discover that the parcel included the order of the Infinity Gauntlet for villain Thanos. The pair learn that they must beat Thanos in finding all the Infinity Gems, otherwise he will be all-powerful and be able to stop the heroes in everything they do.
Honestly? I think that when tasked with making a game that’s suitable for children, most developers these days seriously underestimate their audience, especially when it comes to the storyline. I mean, the story, in a back-handed way, does work and still deals with the classic themes of good versus evil, but in this dumbed down version it really misses the mark. I can only think back to how disappointed the young me, dressed in a Spider-Man outfit and often found jumping around my parent’s pub saving the day (read: annoying the customers), would have felt dismayed to start an epic adventure with a couple of my icons going shoe shopping. The beauty of these heroes is seeing the them overcome all obstacles, saving the day against the odds and any urgency for doing so is removed when you realise that the heroes and villains would happily stop all their bickering if they were all offered a big bowl of strawberry ice-cream.
To a large degree, this may be more of a fault with the comedy-based tone of the source material than the game itself, or maybe I’m just jaded and cynical, but the writing is terrible. Thanks to youtube I was able to quickly determine that the game doesn’t really match up to the cartoon very well in this respect, as in the few episodes I watched, the show seemed a lot quicker on the mark, punchier, and in places, actually funny. It would make up for a lot if the humour in the game was stronger but unfortunately it’s weak in many areas. Sad when you consider that there are many kid’s games out there that offer a greater level of sophistication than this. In a game that mimics the work of Traveller’s Tales in almost every other respect, it’s a shame that none of the charm or wit could have also been replicated in the process.
Taking cues from Travellers Tales…
I discovered one thing while playing MSHS; it’s almost impossible to describe it to anyone without uttering the words ‘poor-man’s Lego game’, because it’s clear as day where the development team took their inspiration from.
You have two characters in each level that you can switch between at any time. Along with the basic, one-button attacks to help you take out most of the identikit enemies, they’ll also have a few unique abilities that’ll help you solve many of the puzzles thrown your way throughout. So, for example; you may need a strong character to move items out-of-the-way, or use a character’s ability to open portals to allow your duo to reach higher levels to progress.
The puzzles themselves are, as expected in a kid’s game, not very taxing. Hacking with ‘smart’ characters involves making a circuit out of line-covered, revolving circles, other times you might be placing certain shaped blocks on similarly shaped buttons, or using a character with telekinesis to move items to other area of the levels (think about using the Force in Lego Star Wars). It doesn’t stop there; along the way you can pretty much smash every item in the world, earning parts of the Infinity Gems to go towards the 100% completion of every level. There will be areas with items unattainable the first time around, as you’ll be able to go back through in ‘Free Play’, allowing you to switch to any character at any time to retrieve all the things that you missed.
The fact is, I could quite easily have copied most of those last two paragraphs and pasted them into the review of any Lego game and it would have fit nicely; the controls, the mechanics, hell, even the way the boss battles work in gameplay is ripped right from Traveller’s Tales’ formula; only there’s a lot less of it. Does that formula work applied here? Yes, for the most part it does, however, it’s nowhere near as classily put together. The main culprit is boring level design, which is by the numbers and lacking in both scope and ambition, almost as if the developers were expecting a low attention span given their audience. It’s a shame that the most memorable moments will resonate more with older gamers, when the game switches its perspective to pay homage to classic gaming, resembling games like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong.
To be entirely fair, MSHS does do a couple of things all of its own. To help break up the beat ‘em up sections, there are some occasional asides in the form of flight sections or tin-can alley moments. Both inclusions are pretty negligible, either being too short or just too poorly executed to be enjoyable. Secondly, each character has their own mini-checklist of tasks to perform to earn minor rewards (such as costumes and new characters, although you’ll mainly do this for achievements) and these include performing a certain requirement a number of times, collecting 100% of the character’s set of Infinity Gems or similar tasks. Whether that’ll be enough to encourage people to go back in and tackle the campaign a second or third time I don’t know, but in this respect the game’s short length will certainly be a plus point.
Super deformed heroes!
Okay, the super-deformed cutesy look isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes; it’s certainly not to mine but that’s not the reason that the game suffers graphically. We’re dealing with a game that is colourful but bland. If the visuals here were a sandwich, it would be a bread sandwich. An acceptable-looking sandwich that is ultimately tasteless. The main problem is that there is a lack of polish all round with the game looking pretty rough in places, even in the cut-scenes. The animations are absolutely terrible, with the characters walking around as if they only had one joint per limb. Again, looking at the show itself, the characters do not move like this, so why is it acceptable here? When the animation in a 2D show overshadows that of the 3D game, there are serious problems. I can’t help but feeling that maybe taking a cell-shaded route would have been the better option; it certainly would have made it look a lot closer to the visual tone of the show.
There are also some technical issues to be found, with occasional freezes at the forefront. These are especially noticeable when unlocking achievements, in some cases taking a clear second before the action resumes. It all reeks of a game low on development time and funding. It’s something of a niche title with a small demographic, granted, but a little love and attention to detail would have gone a long way in making the game more aesthetically pleasing.
Sounds a bit comical
Okay, this surprised me but the game has a pretty strong cast, with the likes of George Takei (Star Trek), Jane Lynch (Talladega Nights, 40 Year Old Virgin) and Jim Parson’s (The Big Bang Theory) as the notable inclusions. The rest of the cast you’ll have heard at some point in your life, probably without realising, as they have all appeared in classic kids TV shows and even in some of Seth Macfarlane’s fantastic output. Much like I discovered with the show, the delivery is very corny, deliberately so, and it’s here where the game probably mimics the show the closest. None of that helps with the lacklustre writing any, but hey-ho, it’s a plus point.
Elsewhere, the soundtrack is not bad (there’s something a bit ‘Mass Effect’ about some of it), albeit the (slightly stereotypical) heroic theme which is designed to rise fails to inspire and that can pretty much be said of every other audio component. Every sound effect, every track selection merely does its job and outside of wondering if you were really hearing who you thought you were, nothing here will really jump out at you.
Local co-op for local people!
In the campaign, the game features local only co-op and, for what it does, it works well. At any time, another player can turn on a second pad and jump right into the game with no need to quit out and restart the level. The downside to this is that only Player One will ever earn the achievements, which means two playthroughs if two of you are achievement hunting. What surprises me in this day and age is the lack of online co-op though I guess there may have been a conscious decision behind that, considering that the game is aimed at a younger market. Still, it’s a shame to limit an audience.
The game also features a ‘Challenge Mode’, where up to four players can take part in reliving some of the mini-games from the campaign against each other, and truth-be-told it shows them in a far better light. There is also a ‘Horde Mode’ atop the menu here but with the combat as simplistic as it is, it can only be fun for so long.
Average Hero Squad
The Infinity Gauntlet is one of those games where I feel bad in giving it this much of a dressing down. I mean, while it’s almost sub par on every level, there’s nothing that’s adversely or inherently broken about it. It is what it is; a rushed, low-budget game aimed at a very niche market. That said, I refuse to give it the precursor of ‘okay for a kids game’ as there are many better, far less patronising games that are simply more entertaining games for youngsters out there. Unless your kid is so obsessed with the show that you simply can’t ignore it, I recommend that you give this a wide berth.