Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cutesy heroes

Marvel's got this new animated series, "Super Hero Squad" (sample video here). It's obviously targeted at the much younger set with its cutesy portrayal of our favourite Marvel mainstays rendered in the proportion of children: that is, oversized heads and extremities on tiny bodies. And they have childlike personalities to match. So I should have known better when I picked up the Wii game of the same title that I'd be getting a product that wasn't quite designed for my venerable demographic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm much taken by the premise and the characters. It's reminiscent of how kids would co-opt the superhero concept and play out their own superhero scenarios with their ridiculous and nonsensical storylines, while exaggerating their characters to the nth degree. In the game (as is presumably in the series) the children at play are versatile and talented voice-acting pros like Charlie Adler (Cow & Chicken), Tom Kenny (Mr S Squarepants, esq.), and Tara Strong (PPG's Bubbles, and a vast range of other animated characters). In their SHS incarnation, Thor is pompous and bombastic; Cap Am is more patronizing than patriotic; Silver Surfer is a philosophising surfer dude; and Doc Doom is as inept as he is maniacal. It all makes for a rib-tickling, madcap adventure to play through.

The Wii SHS is a simplistic beat-'em-up with elements of an adventure platformer as well as an arena for a tournament-style punch-up. By playing through the adventure mode (either solo or co-op) we gain points to unlock new characters and arenas for battle mode. Um, that's essentially it.

Adventure mode is a button-mash with the occasional controller flick to pull off special moves. We mash our way through a maze, punching or blasting hoards of goons and navigating annoying jumping puzzles until the end level boss battle which takes place arena style. Battle mode basically plays by sumo wrestling rules: either wear down your opponent or toss his a** out of the ring. In adventure mode, we do either 10 times to beat the boss -- before he does unto you the same. Full battle mode dispenses with all pretence of a story and pits your choice of heroes and villains against each other in team or solo combinations.

The game isn't any more complex than that. I guess I could entertain a certain someone below 10 a whole afternoon with SHS, but there isn't much else there to sustain my interest after the first run-through in adventure mode. It's cute, it's funny, it's another perspective of the Marvel Universe that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's got strong production values, but I found gameplay rather less than satisfactory. I should just have waited for the animated DVD box set to get my SHS fix.

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