Review: Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet (Sony PS3)

Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Griptonite
Genre: Action Platformer
Release Date: 11/16/2010

I’m a big fan of the Super Hero Squad cartoon, but I found the original video game to be a mediocre affair. As such, you’re probably wondering why I decided to review the second. Well there are three reasons. The first is, as I mentioned earlier, I LOVE THE CARTOON. The second is that it involves the Infinity Gauntlet, which, for my money, is Marvel’s best crossover story ever. The third reason is that the original game only came out for the PS2, PSP, Wii and DS. I played the original on the PSP and decided to be optimistic and chalk up the issues with the game to PSP issues. I was crossing my fingers in hopes that the series would perform better on a next gen console.

So did the Super Hero Squad “HERO UP” or did they fail like Abomination trying to beat MODOK at a game of chess?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

The plot of the game is basically an alternative version of the second season of the cartoon series (which hasn’t finished airing yet, so it does kind of spoil things). In this version, Iron Man and Hulk are in space going to an inter-galactic Wal-Mart in an attempt to buy Thor some truly gaudy boots for his birthday, Unfortunately, the store mixes up their order with that of Thanos, who ordered something called an Infinity Gauntlet with six holes in it. In a good natured attempt to return the gauntlet, Iron Man and Hulk discover Thanos is pretty evil and that he plans to fill those holes with the Infinity Stones and conquer the universe. Because of this, Iron Man and Hulk steal (Yes, I know they’re the good guys but they have good intentions.) the Power Stone from Thanos and then reunite with the Super Hero Squad and assorted friends to collect all the stones.

The game spans twelve episodes (which is about four too long to be honest), with each one giving you a different pairing of characters. For example, you’ll use Wolverine and Iron Man in the hilarious game show themed Grandmaster level in an attempt to collect the Soul Stone, or Spider-Man and Reptyl in a level against Abomination where you try to get the Reality Stone. The game is pretty funny from beginning to end and there are a lot of in-jokes for longtime Marvel fans. Characters are portrayed really well, and the plot is surprisingly deep, with multiple factions going against each other. You basically have the Super Hero Squad Vs. Thanos and the Skrulls Vs. Doctor Doom’s army Vs. Nebula and Annihilus Vs. Loki and the Enchantress. Even the end boss is a pretty big surprise (although the game gives you some obvious build-up towards it the closer you get to the ending) and you’ll find yourself really having fun with the whole thing save for a particular boss fight that will drive you nuts.

Best of all is that the game doesn’t stick to the main Super Hero Squad seven of Iron Man, Falcon, Wolverine, Thor, Reptyl, Scarlet Witch and the Hulk. Characters from outside the team get story development too (unlike the original game) and the choices are awesome. You’ll get to play as Quicksilver, NOVA(!!!), The Invisible Woman, Black Widow, She-Hulk, and Spider-Man. Each character is put into one of six “factor” classes allow them to have unique abilities or interactions on the screen. Spider-Man, who only gets a cameo on a single level, is a different unique factor, but he’s also literally useless on any level outside his own, so he’s not even worth having in the game. If you pre-ordered the title you also get three unlockable characters in Captain America, Bucky and The Red Skull, but you can only use them in freeplay mode or in challenges.

The game has three distinct modes. The first is Story Mode, where you progress through each level linearly in an attempt to save the universe from Thanos. The second is Freeplay mode where you can play through previous levels with any characters you have unlocked. Using different characters may access hidden objects and stone fragments that only matter if you are trying to collect trophies or complete feats that unlock extra Challenges or costumes for your characters, such as the War Machine armour for Iron Man, the Nomad costume for Cap, the Winter Soldier costume for Bucky and so on. Finally, there is Challenge Mode, which can be divided even further into things like Survival (last three minutes against a never ending onslaught of enemies), Hack (moving circuit puzzles), Races (self-explanatory), light gun style battles and more. There’s a ton of stuff to do here and everything in terms of story and/or modes is vastly superior to the original game.

Story/Modes Rating: Great

2. Graphics

I love seeing the Super Hero Squad characters in high definition. Although the game obviously doesn’t try and use the animation style of the cartoon, the characters look exactly like the little toys that the TV show (and thus the game) are based on. It’s a lot of fun to see super-deformed versions of classic Marvel characters running around on my screen fighting super villainy. It’s hilarious to see how adorable characters like Thanos and even Galactus look in this game, but that just adds to the charm.

Unfortunately, as great as the actual characters look, the rank and file bad guys you will be pummeling are pretty dull and nondescript. Each level’s cannon fodder is limited to, at most, two or three designs, so you’ll be fighting a lot of the same enemies over and over again. Even worse, the same enemies repeat on multiple levels making for pretty boring visuals when you’re not in scenes that actually progress the story. Backgrounds are pretty repetitive as well, and they also suffer from lack any real detail or texturing, so going back and replaying these levels for hidden items and extra fragments that you might have missed can be a bit boring. It’s a bit of a weird mix to see these really detailed characters on the screen mixed with things that well… aren’t. As the average gamer is really only going to be concerned with how the actual Marvel heroes and villains look, this is passable, but I still wish that things would have had a little more detail, especially in a high-def game like this. What’s here is enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t be able to call the graphics “good” with any sort of a clear conscience.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

I was a bit disappointed that the actual theme song from the cartoon wasn’t used in the game, but there are a few wordless remixed versions of it if you listen closely. That’s really the only complaint I can make about the audio. The entire game is voice acted by the cast of the cartoon and they do just as good a job here as they do in the T.V. series. I was even happily surprised to see that the DLC characters are voice acted as well. Mark Hamill plays The Red Skull, George Takai is Galactus, Jim Cummings (best known for playing Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Darkwing Duck) voices Thanos, Charles Adler (Professor Monkey for a Head/Cryptkeeper/Buster Bunny) plays Doctor Doom, Steven Blum plays Wolverine (as always), Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants) is Iron Man, and so on. The cast is A-level voice acting and it’s great to see it transfer into the video games.

The music to the game isn’t as good as what is in the cartoon (and as such, the first game), but the score is nicely done and it provides enjoyable background noises when your characters are just progressing through the game. The sound effects are pretty nicely done too. Each character has their own unique attacks and sound effects, and the same is true for villain types. There’s a plethora of sound effects and you’ll be very impressive with the aural aspects of the game, no matter which part you choose to look at.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control and Gameplay

I really hated the controls in the original SHS game for the PSP and although the second game lacks the freezing issues, the severe camera angle problems and the inability to properly aim which plagued the original game, you’ll still find that playing Infinity Gauntlet can sometimes be an exercise in frustration.

The controls are pretty easy to understand. One button is your normal attack, and if you hold it down, you do a charged attack. Another button is your ranged or dash attack, and if you hold it down, you do a different attack. You have a jump button and a block button, and finally, a button that you can press once your special meter is full (you can hold two special attacks at a time) that unleashes a special attack that hits multiple (or every) enemy on the screen. The problem is that there is noticeable lag between the time you press a button and the time an effect occurs on screen. This is triply true for the special attacks which take quite a long time after pressing the button. This is more than a little annoying.

As well, you will learn to hate flying characters. You see, characters that can fly do so if you hold the jump button a little too long when you press it. In the original game, you could keep flying by holding down a trigger. Not only is this no longer an option, but flying is actually half the speed of walking, which neither makes sense nor is very helpful. Most of the time a flying character will stay flying when all you wanted to do was jump, making them little more than a target for your opponents to take down with ease.

Like in the first game, you’ll always have a CPU partner on the screen to help you. In the first game, the CPU controlled character was an asshole, always stealing power ups and kills from you. He was a jerk, but at least he was a helpful jerk. Here the CPU is just pretty stupid. Most of the time he or she will just stand there and take damage instead of helping you out. This is extremely frustrating in boss fights or in missions that are timed, like the light gun games. When you have twelve opponents on the screen and you’re playing tower defense, only to notice your computer controller partner is just sitting on its ass letting enemies attack what you are supposed to be guarding, this will drive you nuts. Honestly, I’d rather have the partner that steals from me but keeps me from dying than one that causes me to lose a battle. I should also add that in the second level, an asteroid dodging level, your partner will often fly right in front of you or constantly zig zag in your line of vision, preventing you from seeing what’s coming up ahead, including those Power Stone fragments you’ll want to pick up. Grrr!

Speaking of partners, you can switch back and forth between the two characters on screen at will and you can also revive your partner countless times, so the only time you’re ever in real danger of having to start a battle or level over is when your CPU partner is knocked out and you’re too low on health to survive getting to them.

Basically, the game is playable and it’s usually fun – but when the game is bad, it’s really bad. The lag between button pressing and attacking is the worst issue with the game, while your computer controlled ally being all but brain dead is merely a frustrating one. Infinity Gauntlet has minor issues compared to the original game and is far more fun to play through, but it still has its moments of profanity inducement.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

If you don’t care about trophies, unlocking the bad guys in the game or collecting all the extra costumes that you can use outside of story mode, then this game is pretty much a “one and done” for you. However, Griptonite has provided you with a lot of other options to fool around with if you’re so inclined. As mentioned in the Modes section, you have a lot of challenge maps you can play with, and Freeplay Mode lets you retry Story Mode levels to collect items and fragments to finish your collections off. I will admit that the only reason I’ve found to play the challenge options are if you are a completionist or trying for a Platinum trophy. Some of the character’s feats are pretty hard to achieve though (Scarlet Witch and Black Widow for instance), so you’ll have your work cut out for you to get everything. Otherwise, the challenge maps are just kind of there and dull. It also sucks that you can’t use the alternate costumes or DLC characters in story mode, which is what the vast majority of gamers will be playing this game for anyway. Disappointing.

So, although there really isn’t a reason to keep playing Infinity Gauntlet after you beat Story Mode, at least the game has provided you with options to do so. Story Mode is also entertaining enough that you might come back to it every few months or so – especially if you’re a big fan of the cartoon or just want to compare how this game ends with how the second season ends once it is finally finished.

Replayability Rating: Decent

6. Balance

This is easily the one category where Infinity Gauntlet falls apart. We’ve already talked about the problems the game has with your teammate’s A.I., but there are a few other issues to discuss here.

There are three difficulty settings, but honestly, there’s no real noticeable difference between any of them. Even on “Challenging,” the game is amazingly easy, and the only time you should ever die is due to control lag or your partner just sitting there on the sidelines. In the latter case, since you have infinite resurrection power, you can just go up to them and revive them at nearly full health. As such, you’re never really presented with a challenge. Sure, this is a game geared for kids, but that doesn’t mean you have to hold their hand through the entire game.

Then there is the Galactus battle. This is a complete 180 from the rest of the game and it still doesn’t make any sense. In this battle two characters drive flying food trucks (one ice cream, one tacos) and you shoot Galactus with them to keep him from eating the Skrull homeworld. Cheesy as hell, but it’s also cute and it fits the game dynamic perfectly. The problem is that Galactus has an unblockable insta-kill attack and it happens randomly. I’m not sure if the game is on a time limit for this battle or its just bad programming, but when it hits, it’s game over no matter what and you have to start the battle over. I have to lean towards it being a bad programming issue, as it once hit ten seconds into the battle. Honestly, the only way to get through this is through sheer luck that the Big G doesn’t use this attack. It took me over a dozen tries to get through it, and it was frustrating beyond belief. Even after beating it, I went back to see if there was some rhyme or reason or even a trigger that causes the attack, but I couldn’t find one. This is a truly awful oversight by the developers and it will drive children to profanity.

So yes, if there is one thing both Marvel Super Hero Squad games have in common, it’s that they are poorly balanced and either offer no challenge or have one issue in each where what appears to be bad programming screws up the game something severely.

Balance Rating: Poor

7. Originality

Super hero games are a dime a dozen, and most are pretty poorly done. We’ve also seen a lot of games where you command a “team” of characters, although most of them have been by Activision with their X-Men Legends or Ultimate Alliance titles. Still, god knows Infinity Gauntlet is vastly superior to the incredible underwhelming (and poorly made) Ultimate Alliance 2, but being a better game doesn’t necessarily make it more original.

Sure the story is well done, and it’s great to see a lot of these characters in a video game for the first time (Playable Richard Rider! Playable Red Skull?), but the game’s core is pretty much the same as the first title, right down to the basic mechanics. Hell, the game is basically a generic action platformer with punching and kicking instead of stomping on things. Again, it’s cute, it’s one of the best uses of Marvel characters on the PS3 that isn’t Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and the story is a lot of fun, but the game isn’t very original or innovative. It gets points for the two character system (which was also done in the first game and Justice League Heroes), and the excellent adaptation of the cartoon series into video game form, but in truth, there’s nothing here that stands out as original. It’s simply a game that has tweaked what the original Super Hero Squad game did, and for the better.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

Thanks to my love of the cartoon, the characters and the specific story in this game, I beat this game in two sittings. Of course, it also helped that I was leaving on vacation in a few days and I wanted to beat the game before I left so I could do this review. Either way, I had a lot of fun with Infinity Gauntlet and had a hard time putting the game down. It also helped that I beat the original game last year and could see how vastly improved this was over the original title.

Sure the controls have issues, and the game is pretty much a cakewalk, but the story and characterization goes an enormously long way and the laughter it induces just makes you want to play the game all the more. It’s great to see a Marvel game that doesn’t take itself uber seriously. With a great cast, a fun story, and decent enough controls, Infinity Gauntlet is a surprisingly hard game to put down.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Now I know some comic book fans with sticks up their butt dislike Marvel Super Hero Squad for the same reason they dislike The Brave and the Bold – because God forbid their super heroes be anything but GRIMDARK angst-ridden clichefests. I won’t moan about the respective stupidity I’ve seen under both the Quesada and Didio regimes and the direction comics have taken under them, but I will say I’m very much a JLI/early Claremont and Davis Excalibur fan, so Super Hero Squad fits right in with the type of comics I liked as a kid. It’s a refreshing change of pace from things like Countdown andCivil War, and I honestly think that most people would get a kick out of this game, even if characters aren’t necessarily exactly like they would be in 616. It’s a funny Marvel action-comedy series for kids. Take it for what it is and have fun with it already.

I will say that the one thing that actually might keep people from enjoying this game story-wise, is that the game is written specifically for fans of the cartoon and it inherently expects you to know everything that happened in the first season, who is on the Super Hero Squad and continuity nuances within the show, so people new to the Squad might be a little lost at first as to who everyone is and why, say, MODOK is Doctor Doom’s sidekick. Still, if you give the game a chance you’re guaranteed to crack a smile or two at the story.

Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

There’s one thing about the DLC pack that I find both hilarious and potentially offensive to many people at the same time. Remember how I said Red Skull is a playable character in the game and that you can use him as a Squad member? Well besides being a Nazi (and the game doesn’t hide this fact at all from children), his special attack may give parents pause. Skull’s special attack is a wide range hitting gas cloud that suffocates and kills multiple opponents on screen. Yes, an E rated game has a playable Nazi with a gas chamber attack. It’s so awful and yet so funny that this got past the ESRB that I still don’t know what to make of it. Now I’m pretty sure this was, in fact intentional, as the game and cartoon both have some very adult in-jokes, but overly cautious parents may have a big issue with this, even though it will go over their children’s heads. So just a head’s up about that.

Also, you did get the $2.99 DLC pack for free if you preordered the game, which is awesome. Factor in that Infinity Gauntlet is only a $39.99 game and is much better than a lot of $59.99 titles for the PS3 and you actually have a winner on your hands here.

Miscellaneous Rating: Very Good

The Scores
Story: Great
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Poor
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Very Good

Short Attention Span Summary
Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet is a vast improvement over the first game released last year. The story is fun and hilarious, the Squaddies and Baddies look great in high definition (even if they are the only things in the game that do…) and the voice acting cast from the series gives just as good a performance here as they do in each episode. The downside is that the game is far too easy, there’s a buggy boss fight where only luck can get you past it, and the controls suffer from a bit of lag. The game is still playable, though, and if you look past the flaws, it can be a lot of fun to play. Infinity Gauntlet is one of the better platformers of 2010 and its makes excellent use of the Super Hero Squad license, so if you’re a fan of Hulk, Iron Man, Wolverine, Falcon and the like, you’ll enjoy the game for what it is.



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