Clearing Out the Backlog – February 2012: Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat and Sam & Max Season 2: Beyond Time and Space

I really didn’t to get clear out much of my backlog in February. I had to review three new releases, but I had only planned to do one of those – that being PokePark 2: Wonders Beyond. The other two, Zen Pinball: Epic Quest and Magician’s Handbook: Cursed Valley were games I literally had to review because I was the only staffer with Zen Pinball and a Kindle Fire, which was needed for the latter. As well, I was gone for a week in Barbados for my wedding/honeymoon. While I do have eight different portable games in my backlog I ended up only playing Zen Pinball 3D and Pokemon Rumble Blast on the few occasions when I actually played a game on that trip (mostly on the plane), and I’ve already reviewed those games. I mean, video games or tropical paradise? It’s not much of a choice…

Anyway, I did manage to finish off two games out of my backlog. The first was Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat and the other was Sam & Max Season 2: Beyond Time and Space. Technically that makes this six games as there are five episodes of Beyond Time & Space, but we’re going to cover the entire season as one game.

Marvel Super Hero Squad Comic Combat

I took a look at Studio Artist which was bundled with THQ’s uDraw tablet experiment in last month’s column. I got the uDraw for free and so I was happy to fool around with it, even if I didn’t find it very impressive. I did, however, go out and pick up Comic Combat for ten bucks new because I’m a big fan of the Marvel Super Hero Squad cartoon series. I reviewed the first game for the Sony PSP in 2009 and then the PS3 version of the second game, The Infinity Gauntlet, in 2010. I had fun with both games (I even platinum’d the second) and knowing that this would be the third and final game for the series, I really wanted to see if the third and final Marvel Super Hero Squad video game was a reason for people to pick up the PS3 version of the UDraw. Well, it did indeed turn out to be the best game for the tablet (out of all three choices), but it’s not really a game I can recommend to anyone unless they are a huge fan of the cartoon series.

The game takes place over five levels. Each level has a different setting and lasts about thirty minutes or so. Each level is made up of “panels” a la comic books. In fact, Comic Combat takes the whole comic book motif literally, as the entire game is meant to unfold like one. Even the character you play as, the “Secret Squaddie” wields the “Pen of Power” which you use to unleash special effects on each panel. These effects range from sending a giant bowling ball after enemies to creating decoys which enemies will attack instead of the actual Squad members. The controls can be a bit wonky for special moves and it’s not the most instinctive way to play a game, but I did appreciate the originality of the thing.

The game is an atypical beat ’em up. I say atypical because it’s not a button masher. Instead you use the uDraw to direct the Super Hero Squad to attack specific enemies. Then they’ll keep on attacking until the enemy is knocked out, the hero is knocked out, or you give them a different direction. There are three heroes on the screen at once and so you’ll have to master being able to control all three at once (which sounds harder than it really is) and defeat a wide range of enemies.

Instead of going for a high score, your points are supposed to represent a number of issues the comic has sold by your actions. It’s a cute twist on an old idea and unlike a lot of games, score matters as it can net you trophies, alternate costumes, and even new powers.

Comic Combat is a VERY easy game. Unlike the previous Super Hero Squad games, there is never even a hint of challenge here and it’s probably the easiest game I’ve ever platinum’d. The boss fights are often interesting, but a cakewalk. The game is definitely more of a uDraw demo than a full fledged video game, but it’s also one I actually had fun with. The uDraw might have done better had this been the pack in game.

The one area where I was most disappointed was the story. I loved that the game broke the fourth wall regularly and in fact, the whole premise of the game has the Secret Squaddie as a person from “our” world helping the SHS extradimensionally (is that even a word?). Doctor Doom is trying to breach our world to steal the pen of power, which he actually does in the final boss fight of the game. Unfortunately, the sense of humour that pervades the cartoon and the previous games just isn’t here. There’s a good one-liner here or there and I definitely chuckled at times, but storywise this is the weakest I’ve ever seen the Super Hero Squad and I was a bit saddened to see much of the story fall flat simply because there was so little of it. I realize beat ’em ups focus on the action, but the previous two games were beat ’em ups and well and it was the plot that made them memorable. With Comic Combat, the opposite is true. At least the game uses all the actual voice actors from the cartoon.

All in all, for ten dollars, I’m glad I played Comic Combat and it is the best of the uDraw games, but it’s not worth picking up a uDraw just to play this unless you are seriously after platinum trophies. It’s not a bad game, but it is sad that the final Super Hero Squad game is not only the weakest but also one that so very few people will ever get to play. Stupid uDraw.

The Scores:
Story: Decent
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Bad
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: DECENT GAME

Sam & Max Season 2: Beyond Time and Space

I hesitated to put Sam and Max Season 2 in this column as this is actually the third time I’ve played this game. The first was on the PC and the second was on my Nintendo Wii (published by Atari). The one we’re talking about here is the PS3 version that came out towards the tail end of 2011. So why did I pick this up when I have the two other versions? Well, there are several reasons:

1) I wanted to support Telltale
2) I especially wanted to support Sam and Max. I own the cartoon series and the graphic novel and god dammit, I want a HD remix of Hit the Road or a fourth season for this, the 25th anniversary of the franchise.
3) I wanted to see how the game looked in HD
4) I prefer gaming on a console (I know…and I’m the main PC game reviewer on the site.)
5) I only keep twenty physical games per console and by having this digitally, I could dump my Wii version (Which wasn’t the best PC port to begin with) and free up a spot for something else (perhaps Xenoblade or The Last Story).

All in all, it was the right choice and the third playthrough was just as fun (and funny!) as the first. It was a little easier, though, since I remembered a lot of the puzzle solutions. The game looks great and it was MUCH easier to do the driving portions of the game with a controller than with a mouse and keyboard. SO MUCH better. It’s also noticeably better than the Wii controls as well. Out of all three versions of Beyond Time and Space, the PS3 version is definitely the best overall. Of course, like most Telltale games, regardless of system, it is a bit buggy and there are some glitches. You can run into slowdown, which is such an odd thing to say about a point and click adventure game, but luckily most of the glitches are weird visual ones like Max floating across the ground in “aiming gun mode” instead of just walking normally.

The five episodes are loosely connected, but each can be played as a stand-alone…more or less. I add that caveat because Beyond Time and Space does make more sense if you have prior experience to the Sam & Max franchise, but it’s not necessary. “Ice Station Santa” takes the intrepid twosome to the North Pole where they have to save a demonically possessed Santa Claus. “Moai Better Blues” takes them to Easter Island where they discover the Fountain of Youth and have to stop a volcano from exploding. This particular episode is the best for pop culture jokes as it references Lost, Duke Nukem, Metal Gear Solid 2, and The Secret of Monkey Island. “Night of the Raving Dead” is a tribute to all sorts of monsters movies and introduces us to Jurgen, who later shows up in Season 3. I loved this episode for the goth and vampire jokes. “Chariots of the Dogs” introduces Mama Bosco, lets Sam & Max time travel, and explains the weird mariachi singers in the game. It’s the weakest of the episodes, but still manages to be funny. Finally, “What’s New Beelzebub?” takes Sam & Max to hell and the hilarity ensues.

All in all, Beyond Time & Space is a wonderful season. The tacked on and somewhat lame driving segments aside, Sam and Max continues to prove why they are the funniest duo in video games. There’s a reason why fans still clamor for more Sam & Max titles twenty five years after Sam & Max Hit the Road was released. Despite the lack of coverage from most mainstream video game sites, point and click games are still extremely popular and are one of the biggest genres in gaming. Millions of gamers love these. Just look at the Double Fine Kickstarter as an example. The Sam & Max franchise has always been one of the most memorable thanks in part to the Lucasarts era. Telltale did an amazing job reviving the series back in 2006 with Season One and Season Two still holds up more than three years after its original PC release.

With a great story, excellent voice acting, and timeless gameplay that nearly everyone can enjoy, Sam and Max Season Two: Beyond Time & Space is one of those games I can happily recommend to everyone. If you can’t appreciate this series, then you’re lacking either a funny bone or a soul – probably both. It’s cheap and one of the best downloadable titles for the PS3. Pick it up and then play on through to The Devil’s Playhouse. Now when are we going to get a high def version of Season One or Hit the Road? Come on Telltale, you’ve got nine months. Give something special to the faithful who have been part of the Sam & Max cult since 1987.

The Scores:
Story: Classic
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Good
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: GOOD GAME

So that’s in for February. March has already been a crazy month with reviews of Shadows On the Vatican and Nickelodeon Nicktoons MLB 3D. I’ve got a “10 Thoughts” on the new Facebook game Marvel: Avengers Alliance and an eventual review of the re-release of The 7th Guest? So what games will I clear from my backlog/ We’ll have to wait for next month to see what I manage to get through.



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