Captain America: Super Solider
Developer: Next Level Games
Genre: 3-D Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: 07/19/2011
Licensed games are usually awful. Licensed games based off of movies are doubly so. Licensed games based off of Marvel movies that Sega publishes are generally considered the worst of the lot. Thor: God of Thunder is a definite contender for the worst game of the year, much like Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were. Just look at our angry reviews of Iron Man from 2008. Three different reviewers and three different scathing commentaries on it. Whether is was Mark on the 360, Aaron on the PS2 or Robert on the PS3, there was unanimous disdain for the game.
Which brings us to Captain America: Super Solider. Once again we have Marvel and Sega in the same licensed movie product, which means that the game SHOULD be so bad that by the end of it, I would prefer to be pickled alive than ever sit through this game again. However, Sega hired Next Level Games, which is actually… a really good development team. They’ve already done one really fun Marvel beat ’em up in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, which both Mark and I loved… and to say we are a mite picky when it comes to Spider-Man games is a bit of an understatement. They’re also loved by Nintendo enough that they were give the opportunity to make the Super Mario Strikers series, the Wii remake of Punch-Out!!, and they are doing the upcoming Luigi’s Mansion 2 for the Nintendo 3DS. That’s one hell of a pedigree and one hell of a company to stick on a licensed video game title, right? Well, it was enough to get ME excited about the game.
Now, if you’ve been reading us for a while, you know I’m a big Captain America fan. I own a Captain America & the Avengers Data East Arcade Cabinet that is displayed prominently in my home and I have all sorts of Capt knick-knacks to boot. I was pretty happy with Captain America Pinball, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but was it even remotely possible that Steve Rogers could star in three really well made games in a single calendar year? Especially with the Sega/Marvel movie curse looming over this game’s head? There’s only one way to find out.
Captain America is an odd game from beginning to end, mainly because it is basically Batman: Arkham Asylum with Captain America enemies and characters. The story is the one area where the game doesn’t seem to be a direct rip-off of it, but the parallels are there once you know to look for them.
The game revolves around a young WWII era Steve Rogers being dropped behind enemy lines in Bavaria at a location known as… Castle Zemo. Capt has been sent here due to strange new Hydra troops that have been deployed on the front lines against the Allies (I know… god only knows why they aren’t NAZIs, but hey). Cap then fights his way through the castle and surrounding village, taking down human experiments gone mad, faux super solider knock offs and Hydra grunts galore. The entire layout and feel of navigating through Castle Zemo is exactly like Batman: Arkham Asylum in how you progress through different areas, handle boss fights and even deal with the fact that it is a super hero all alone in cut off enemy territory (with the occasional cameo of a friend). At times you actually do feel like you are just playing a reskinned Arkham Asylum, yet the story is the least of those familiar areas, as you will soon see.
The game is one straight narrative, but it divides itself into eighteen chapters without breaking any of the action or without any set rhyme or reason. Sometimes a new chapter WILL begin after a boss fight or a loading sequence, but more often than not, one just happens. You’ll only know something has changed once a trophy dings in the upper right hand corner of the screen or when the words “CHAPTER XX… TITLE GOES HERE” shows up in the lower left hand corner.
The game features a lot of Cap’s friends and enemies. Bucky and several of the Howling Commandos (erroneously called the Invaders) show up. Enemies include Arnim Zola (in human form), Baron Von Strucker (so they can use the “Satan’s Claw”, but not Nazis?), Viper in her original Madame Hydra Form and of course, the Red Skull. Baron Zemo, Union Jack and a few others make cameos too. For a Captain America fan, this is pretty sweet, even if the characters aren’t really akin to the comic continuity and are kind of shoved into the movieverse.
Overall, the game is a pretty generic one storywise. There’s a lot of Captain America fan service, right down to the 1960s animated series theme song, but the story is just “Cap fights Nazis in a castle for ten hours” and nothing more. It’s a perfectly serviceable plot but there’s no real substance beyond the references to seventy plus years of Cap history and “kill all Hydra agents.” It’s fun fluff, but it’s fluff nonetheless.
Story Rating: Decent
It’s kind of odd that North America gets Captain America last, but not as odd as the severe frame rate issues being reported across the Atlantic about the game for the past few days. I can honestly say I’ve played through almost everything in the game (I have a challenge mission or two left to do), and although there is some noticeable slowdown in large fight scenes and some odd cut scene visuals (mainly with Madame Hydra), I never encountered any true frame rate issues. This leads me to believe one of two things. Either the game doesn’t work correctly with PAL settings, but it does with NTSC (which doesn’t make that much sense in this age of high definition) or the people reporting frame rate issues actually mean slowdown, (which is a processor issue) but don’t know the difference. As a long time fighting game fan who used to count frames back in his Geese Howard days, I honestly can’t say I noticed any actual frame rate issues. Again, there can be some nasty slowdown like you were playing an SNES shoot ’em up, but that’s about it.
Besides these issues, the game looks fine for a licensed movie game. Backgrounds are decently done and Castle Zemo really does look like something straight out of 1940s Eastern Europe. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t have some graphical issues with backgrounds though. In the jail area, if you look down, instead of seeing previous levels, you just get a gray blob that looks like PSX Silent Hill style fog. Ugh. Things like this pop up from time to time and take you out of the game. Thankfully these things are rare. Annoying and bad, but still rare all the same.
Character models are a mixed bag. Something is definitely wrong with the Madame Hydra model, as anytime she is on screen, be it a battle or a cut scene, it’s slowdown city. I’ve never actually seen slowdown in a cut scene before and that was kind of alarming. Her face seems somewhat smeared, so in almost every aspect, there is something wrong with her. Maybe she is just cursed. Most of the other character models look pretty good though, including Captain America, Baron Strucker, and Dum Dum Dugan. The rest… look okay, but their facial features and movements are a bit off. It’s definitely not the best looking set of Marvel characters I’ve seen in a current generation game, but what’s here is acceptable.
The real issue comes with most of the Hydra good squad. Nothing here looks or feels like the 1940s. Instead it’s very much modern day looking enemies, which kind of kills the feel of a WWII era game. I wasn’t a fan of the character models at all, and I really wish Next Level would have stuck to a pure WWII era game. I get that they had to because, hey, the movie has lasers and armored goons with flamethrowers, but still… it totally loses the suspension of disbelief here.
Finally, there are a few animation flubs, such as throwing Cap’s shield and seeing it disappear, hit something invisibly and then reappear on Cap’s wrist. This only happens with short throws, but it’s still a graphical flub. There are several others if you keep your eyes open, but much like the occasionally background image, they are rare.
Suffice it to say, while the graphics here are good enough for a budget title or government work, Captain America is a noticeable drop in quality from the otherwise stellar Next Level Games. You can get through the game okay, and the visuals are actually decent for a licensed game, but compared to a lot of other titles on the market, it’s hard to say the graphics in this game are good, much less great.
Graphics Rating: Decent
The voice acting and music in Captain America are top notch. Let’s get that out of the way. Chris Evans is Cap, Vanessa Marshall reprises her role as Viper/Madame Hydra from the Avengers cartoon (She’s also Poison Ivy in The Brave and the Bold, Mary Jane Watson in The Spectacular Spider-Man, quite a few characters from the Mass Effect universe and more), Grant Montiger does a wonderful Arnim Zola (again, same guy from the Avengers cartoon), and the great Steve Blum even has a cameo as the Canadian that’s “the best at what he does, and it ain’t pretty.” My favorite actor in the game might be Robin Atkin Dowes, who does Baron Zemo. He also plays Zemo’s son in the Avengers cartoon, Faldio from Valkyria Chronicles and is the voice of Mumm-Ra in the Thundercats remake. Most people, however, will prefer the tones of Mark Hamill playing the Red Skull. Here’s yet another Batman: Arkham Asylum comparison, as both games have a certain Jedi Knight playing the voice of the big bad. The music in the game is also great, although I do wish NLG had remixed a song from the old arcade game as an Easter Egg or something.
Sound effects in Captain America are wonderful as well. What I found most interesting is that different guns have different noises and everything sounds pretty authentic for a quasi-WWII era game. At the halfway point of the title, you’ll encounter these strange scrawny lumbering telekinetics, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear them before you see them with some wheezing and the clanking of the air tanks they carry. That’s pretty neat.
The audio aspects of Captain America are probably the best bits of the game. It’s great that most of the movie’s cast was willing to do voice acting in the game as well (although that’s becoming standard these days), but surprisingly, the non movie cast overshadowed them. The overall package is wonderful, and at times, listening to the game is better than watching (or playing) it.
Sound Rating: Great
4. Control and Gameplay
Okay, as I’ve said throughout this review, Captain America: Super Soldier is a huge Batman: Arkham Asylum knock off and it’s best shown in gameplay. Remember how Batman had “detective vision” to spot things in order to find items, ways to pass through the game or weaknesses in enemies? Well Cap has the same exact thing (except for no Riddler clues) as “tactical combat vision.” Throwing Batarangs? Throwing Cap’s shield (all those who oppose his mighty shield must yield)! Even melee combat is exactly the same, except this game doesn’t keep track of your hit count. Hell, outside story mode, both games offer missions/timed challenges that are almost exactly alike. The only real difference is that instead of “stealth bits” like Batman has, Cap has quasi-platforming bits that are more gymnastics under the line of fire. To be honest, this one difference was some of the most fun I’ve had with platforming in a long time, and I tend to HATE PLATFORMERS. So that says something.
So yes, the game progresses and plays like a second rate version of our 2009 Game of the Year winner, but don’t think that means the game is a clunker. The fact it is a few steps below a GotY winner simply means the game plays pretty darn well instead of being flat out amazing. Combat is tight, and the controls are simple to learn but complex combos can take a while to master. Boss Battles offer a nice amount of strategy, and aside from the occasional camera angle issue or some severe slowdown in a large battle, the game is exceptionally tight and a lot of fun to play. Is it as good as the game that it desperately wants to be? No, but what clone of a super successful game is?
Basically, if you played Arkham Asylum, loved it and you can’t wait until October for Arkham City, you’ll enjoy this for what it is. This is a 3D beat ’em up with some light platformer elements and a ton of objects to find in place of Riddler puzzles to solve. It’s not as deep, there’s not as much to do and there is some slowdown, but at the end of the day, the gameplay is still quite good and Captain America is a lot of fun to play.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
Once you beat story mode in Captain America: Super Soldier, there are only three reasons to replay the game: to get any items you might have missed in the first playthrough, to finish off the extra missions you can unlock, and to get trophies. There’s nothing about the story that will make you want to experience the game a second time, even though it’s an enjoyable licensed Marvel movie game (which has to be the first since Spider-Man 2. The characters and story just aren’t compelling enough to go back to a second time. It’s a one and done game, but a very fun one, and at least if you’ve missed some stuff or you’re looking for an easy Platinum trophy, you could feasibly go back to this game for both.
Replayability Rating: Mediocre
Captain America offers multiple difficulty modes, and each one is noticeably more challenging than the last. Basically, you take more damage and enemies take less. There’s not a real increase in A.I. or anything, but the damage changes are enough to make you play a little more defensively as you raise the degree of challenge. Missions outside of story mode also get harder the higher up the ladder you go, and getting a gold star in all of them might take a gamer some time to accomplish.
Most of the game is either exploring or small packets of beat ’em up action, but boss battles bring a different twist to things. For example, the key to the Strucker battle is to strike him three times and then dodge his incoming attack. With Madame Hydra, you either have to deflect a bullet back at her with your shield when she is above you, or wait for her to run out of bullets and then grapple her while she tries to reload when she is on the ground. Of course, in both cases, there are also grunts running around to complicate things, but boss battles do make for a nice change of pace from the regular button mashing combat.
The whole game is nicely balanced and the learning curve as the game progresses is very inviting. You encounter one of a new type of enemy, then that new type with the regular grunts, than multiple of the new type, than a mixture of all types. Repeat with new enemy type and continue on. Again, Captain America might be an Arkham Asylum wannabe, but it’s still a very well made game in most respects.
Balance Rating: Good
… I don’t know where to begin here. In one respect, it’s been a very long time since Captain America has had his own solo video game. Hell, the only one I can think of is Captain America and the Doom Tube from 1987. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best Commodore 64 game I’ve ever experienced….
On the other hand, the game is basically Batman: Arkham Asylum but reskinned and with slightly worse well, everything. There’s not as much content and the overall game isn’t as good, but you can tell that Next Level Games tried to follow B:AA to a “T”.
Again, this isn’t a bad game by any means. It’s actually shockingly good for a Marvel movie game, but original? Aside from the setting and the Captain America franchise getting used decently, this is pretty much a textbook example of how to make a clone of a super successful game by someone else.
Originality Rating: Poor
I love Captain America the character and I love Batman: Arkham Asylum, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed this game. Sure, it wasn’t as good as B:AA in a lot of ways, but the game was still a solid beat ’em up affair from beginning to end, with characters that *I* really love, even if Cap’s rogues gallery and allies aren’t the most well known to the average joe. Sure the game could have used more of a story, and the graphics could have been better, but I had a lot of fun smashing in Hydra goons and seeing all the little bits of Captain America fan service scattered throughout the game. One time where I died in a platforming bit, the game gave me “You will be the one escaping!” as my game over message, which is directly from my Data East arcade game. Holy hell, I marked out. Yes, this is a one-shot game for me and then it’s off to the trade-in pile with it, but as a long time Captain America fan, this gave me what I needed, if not what I wanted, and so I was pretty much glued to my TV throughout.
Now, give Next Level carte blanche to have a quality storyline instead of a movie tie-in, and ensure they improve the visuals, and you have a real potential winner on your hands. For now, we have a pretty fun game that can obviously be improved in several ways.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
Movie and Marvel tie-ins sell decently. God only knows why for most of them, but they do. The good news is that for once, you’re getting an enjoyable game instead of bug ridden mess guaranteed to drive you into a profanity laden rage. So the fact the game is a quality licensed title and it’s only $49.99 instead of the usual $59.99 these days is going to ensure that people will not only pick Captain America up, but there will be a positive word of mouth to boot. Factor in damn near everyone on the planet loved Batman: Arkham Asylum and this clone is only a step or two down from that instead of a half assed piece of crap like a lot of bandwagon titles, and you have the makings of a game that will make most people happy. It won’t be their favorite game of all time, but gamers who pick this up will get their money’s worth out of it before they trade it in or put it back on the shelf for another day. It’s well made, more or less, and fans of beat ’em ups, Marvel based video games and the like will be satisfied with what they get here.
Appeal Factor: Good
For fifty dollars, you’re getting a nice Batman: Arkham Asylum clone. It’s not as good by any means, and it’s missing a lot of the extra bells and whistles, but it’s a well made game (aside from some slowdown issues) and you should be able to get ten hours or so out of it if you are looking for all the hidden items and plan to complete all the challenge missions. This is the best licensed Marvel Movie game in roughly a decade, and that alone deserves some attention. It’s probably not a keeper, but it is fun for what it is, and I’m happy to see that Captain America has received the best treatment out of any movie tie-in game for a superhero in some time. Again, it IS mostly a clone of an older, better game, but as clones go this is far better than things like the crap that filled arcades and 16-bit consoles in the wake of Street Fighter II.
I’m pretty happy with Captain America. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and it won’t make anyone but diehard Steve Rogers fans giddy, but it is a solid game that plays pretty damn well.
Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Captain America: Super Soldier is definitely a Batman: Arkham Asylum clone in nearly every way possible. It’s not as good as B:AA, but it’s also not a bad game. In fact, it’s a highly enjoyable one. Sure, there isn’t much of a story, and the game suffers from some noticeable graphics and slowdown issues, but the engine is solid, the gameplay is a lot of fun and there’s a ton of fan service for longtime Captain America fans. Add in the fact that this is the first Marvel/Sega movie tie-in video game that hasn’t made the average gamer want to eviscerate themselves after playing it, and you have a game that might not be a keeper, but that you’ll at least have fun with. That makes three quality games that Steve Rogers has appeared in this year and that’s pretty sweet if you’re a long time Cap fan like myself.