Marvel Super Hero Squad Review
As you might expect, the graphics are sub-par even for last generation standards. The textures are bad, the clarity is often compromised due to some clipping and other annoying inconsistencies, and the design of each superhero squad member is barely average. The environments contain a lot of random equipment like barrels and crates that hold gems, and while you will do battle with classic Marvel enemies like Sabretooth, you’ll spend the vast majority of your time fighting faceless drones. They reminded me a bit of the foot soldiers in TMNT; if they’re a different color, they probably have a different ability or piece of equipment, and can pose a greater challenge. In the end, all you really end up seeing are a lot of repeated backdrops, the same foes over and over again, and your own characters that don’t really do anything all that satisfying. Even the special effects associated with the destructive attacks of big dudes like the Hulk don’t deliver. Maybe it’s just because the camera is too far away, but whatever the reason, nothing looks good in this game.
The sound doesn’t fare much better. We’ve got a fairly decent soundtrack to go along with our ho-hum ass-kicking, plus the requisite – and very generic – grunts and yells from the fighters on screen. The voice acting might be considered solid from a kid’s point of view, as there is a healthy dose of comedy infused into the script and it’s not entirely mangled by the voiceover crew. I can see some kids thinking a lot of what is said is funny, and even looking forward to the static cut-scenes (they aren’t FMV; just a series of moving pictures, usually), and that’s something. The targeted demographic is the most important audience, after all. Even so, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that music tracks repeat until we’re sick of hearing them, and that too many sound effects are muted and just plain boring. Every superhero game should excel in the category of sound, as they’re essentially comic books brought to life. But this one drops the ball in all areas of technical and artistic production.
Marvel Super Hero Squad’s premise is, not surprisingly, a simple one- you take two characters into any given mission and simply attempt to satisfy the given objectives. You can switch between each available superhero with the simple press of a directional button, and attacking is as easy as pressing the Square, Circle, and Triangle buttons. X allows you to jump and also grants some characters the ability to fly, which is a semi-cool idea. Pressing some buttons at the same time will allow you to use special abilities; for instance, by pressing Triangle and Circle at the same time, Thor will fire blasts of energy from his massive hammer. Pressing Circle by itself will cause the Hulk to unleash his powerful hand clap that can send enemies stumbling backwards. Basically, you just bash anything in your path, and only rarely do you have a mission objective that offers a relatively new goal.
But the problems begin to mount within the first five minutes of play. First of all, you have no control over the camera, and it doesn’t always do its job effectively. Many times, you’ll find yourself getting hit by something off the screen, and you’ll also miss precarious drops and fall direction into them. This leads me to another issue: although you wouldn’t think you could fall off a bridge into blackness – most games like this don’t allow that – it can happen easily enough. It can happen a lot in many different areas, and it’s just silly. Then you’ve got the unresponsiveness of the attack controls and you’ve got a true-blue recipe for frustration. For whatever reason, there was always a slight delay between the press of the Square button and the character’s attack, which made the entire combat mechanic feel slow and clunky. Furthermore, flying was entirely unreliable as it didn’t usually serve a purpose and was difficult to control. Like I said before, a decent concept, but it just wasn’t implemented properly.
The various superheroes available to you can hold your interest and keep you playing, if only to see how Iron Man and others do in battle. The only issue here is that too many of the superheroes feel exactly the same, and some just have unfair advantages (that Thor move can be abused from now to Doomsday). If you stack this atop the onslaught of lame enemies and extremely repetitive missions, you get an adventure that gets old really, really fast. Every once in a while, you’ll do something different: you’ll see some context sensitive commands (you know, press a button in time for the character to take the next step) and Battle Royale-like objectives will also pop up randomly. The latter basically has you facing off against two evil bosses from the Marvel universe, and the first team to hit 10 KOs wins the bout. This felt a little more intense and involving, just because it’s more fast-paced and you’re given a chance to test out more special abilities, but it’ll still get old fairly quick.
Unfortunately, just about everything gets old quick in Marvel Super Hero Squad. On top of which, due to the technical and control issues that are not only recurring but continue to hamper your progress, everything feels gimped and shoddily constructed. I suppose you could have fun with this one if you’re a big superhero fan and aren’t over the age of 12, but outside of that, the PS2 library is loaded with far superior titles, and all of which are $20 or cheaper. Playing longer allows you to see all the areas the developers could’ve shined, but instead, it’s just the same ol’ same ol’, over and over until we’re literally falling asleep. And when we’re not asleep, we’re wondering why certain attacks just don’t get executed at the moment we’re pressing the button. In the end, there are much better ways to spend your time, people.
12/1/2009 Ben Dutka