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Hero Up!

Richard Cox Posted:
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I have to admit, I was extremely excited to be assigned to review Marvel Super Hero Squad Online. Sure, most people get stoked about the huge budget big name games, but I was all about this one. Now let me explain: I’ve played a number of “kid” MMOs over the years. There are some great ones out there with a surprising amount of depth. I also have three boys, ages 13, 11 and 4 who are all hugely into video games and anything superhero related. And finally, I’m a huge Marvel fan myself. Even if I don’t really read the comics much anymore, I keep up with what’s going on in the universe as much as possible and I love the movies. For the purposes of this review, I’ve enlisted the help of my four year old. Trust me, he didn’t mind. He’s been watching the Super Hero Squad TV show through Netflix on his tablet for the past couple of months and has been on a full on superhero kick lately. He may be a little below the developers’ target audience, but once he saw me playing it the first time, there was no keeping him away. Keep in mind, I’m rating this with children in mind as well as their parents.

Aesthetics - 9/10

The game version of Marvel Super Hero Squad Online does a great job representing the corresponding show graphically. When my boy first walked past me while I was playing it, he stopped and did a double take and asked if I was watching his superhero show on my computer. The graphics are bright and colorful and really pop off the screen. Super powers are big and flashy and well done. They’re also instantly recognizable as what they’re supposed to be. I love the way the characters look and move. Sure, it’s not super-realistic like you’d see in a console title marketed towards older kids and adults. But they’re perfect for the target audience and are instantly recognizable.

The sounds of Marvel Super Hero Squad Online are a mixed bag. They’re all very well done, mind you, so that’s not what I mean… there’s a good bit of juvenile humor in the random sound effects with a good number of burping and farting and such. But well, you have to keep the target audience in mind for that kind of stuff. Some of the voice overs sounded really cheesy and goofy, but it felt more like it was done on purpose than just unintentional badness. It can get really repetitive over time though, especially if you tend to play the same character all the time. You’ll be very inclined to turn off your sound after hearing Cyclops say “It’s a good thing these X-Men uniforms are waterproof!” after the 1000th time you’ve stepped in a puddle or fountain. But if you’ve unlocked a number of different heroes and tend to bounce around between them like I do, it’ll take longer to get to that point.

The UI manages to stay out of the way for the most part while still serving its purpose. Most everything you want to do can be accomplished either by finding the appropriate portal or console in the game world or by clicking on the appropriate button in the action wheel on the UI. So basically, if you want to go to your headquarters, or start a mission or whatever, you can either wander around one of the various hub zones (Baxter Plaza, The Daily Bugle, Villainville or Asgard) and find the appropriate console if you’re into the realism side of things. Or if you prefer the quick and dirty style of playing, just click around in the UI.

Mini-Me’s Verdict: Loves the way it looks and sounds. It reminds him of the show, which was an obvious goal with the art and sound style. Instantly recognizes the different heroes, even if they’re in alternate costumes, etc. He recognized the iconic super powers used by his favorite superheroes and was suitably impressed by them. The way his face lit up the first time he figured out how to make Spiderman swing across the map was absolutely worth it.

Gameplay – 8/10

First and foremost, there’s a lot to do in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online. Most of the time you’ll be running around one of the hub zones mentioned above, interacting with other players or doing fun little activities built into the environment. Next up you’ll run missions. There are currently approximately 30 missions in the game. Unfortunately most of them are locked initially. The rest can be unlocked through the in-game shop with currency that you can buy with RL money or slowly earn over time. Or if you’re the more patient person, you can slowly work your way through them as they come up in the ‘Daily Mission’ rotation. The game selects a mission to be designated as that day’s mission.

When you get bored running missions you can pop over to your Squad’s Headquarters, which you can furnish and decorate with items bought from the cash shop or won off of the ticket prize wheel. It’s really more of a fun, social aspect of the game than something serving any real purpose. All of the heroes you’ve unlocked for your Squad are there hanging out and doing various silly things.

After swinging by your crib to check out what your squaddies are up to, you can head to the local arcade to play some mini-games. There are four of them ranging from a memory game to others which are more skill based. You can win tickets for playing, which can be cashed in for spins on the prize wheel to win more coins and items for your headquarters.

After spending some time in the arcade, maybe you’ll want to spend some time playing the built in trading card game. I’m not normally all that into card games, but this one was pretty fun. It’s not overly bogged down by rules and needless complications. Your deck and your life points are one and the same: you run out of cards first, you lose. Damage inflicted upon you from your opponent causes you to discard that number of cards. Some cards have special abilities where you can discard additional cards to do extra damage and such to your opponent, so there is some level of strategy involved, but for the most part, you just play cards, hoping your opponent can’t block the damage, etc.

But all of that other stuff aside, the majority of your time will be spent running missions and destroying bad guys, which brings us to the combat system of the game. This is probably the simplest combat system of any MMO you’ve ever played. Basically, you run around and click on enemies with your mouse, which will cycle you through several different attacks or powers. You can also right click on them, which will cause you to spend star points for slightly more powerful attacks. And finally, if you let your stars fill all the way up you’ll get a big flashy ‘Hero Up’ button appearing on the screen. When you click that your character will perform his super attack.

Overall the system works. It feels a little shallow at times, but I can see how it would work out really well for the target audience. My only real complaint is that it is entirely too easy to get trapped… Let me explain… There are times when you’ll get knocked down, which is all well and good, it happens. But if an enemy happens to be nearby, he’ll keep attacking you while you’re down, causing a kind of juggling effect where every time you try to get up, you get hit and get knocked back down. This can last uncontrollably until you die and re-spawn. It frustrated the hell out of me on several occasions. It frustrated the Mini-Me a couple times as well.

Mini-Me’s Verdict: Loves running around the hub zones finding all the different little activities that are built into the environment such as being able to turn yourself into gold in Asgard or launching the rocket at Baxter Plaza. He can also access the Mission menu and launch missions on his own and has a fun time running through those. He hasn’t really shown much interest in the arcade mini-games or the card game though. But to be fair, he is only four, so those things might be above his level at this point.

Innovation – 7/10

There really isn’t much new being brought to the table here. I didn’t feel like The Amazing Society and Gazillion Entertainment have taken any steps backwards with Marvel Super Hero Squad, I just didn’t feel like there was much innovation to speak of. There isn’t a wide variety of mission types, but there are other non-mission things to do with your time.

Polish – 9/10

The game is very well polished and well-made for a browser game. Not to knock the genre needlessly, but I have to admit browser games haven’t always been the most stable for me historically speaking. There are just a lot of different components that have to come together perfectly to make things work well: browser of choice, Unity engine, game code, etc. On my desktop I had absolutely no problems running the game. It also ran fine on my laptop. On the Mini-Me’s laptop however, he ran into the occasional hiccup, but it is an older rig.

Longevity – 8/10

As I stated a couple of times previously, there is a lot to do in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online. Unfortunately you’ll burn through a lot of it quickly and can easily get to the point where things become very repetitive. The devs have been good about adding content, and if they’re able to keep up the pace they’ve been on so far, it can help in this regard. I would like to see some variation in the mission types though. Right now everything seems to follow the same formula: accept mission, fight through 2-3 linear zones/stages, find final stage where you fight/defeat the main villain (Magneto, Venom, etc.) of the story. I don’t know exactly what else you could do without moving the game out of the target audience’s range without overcomplicating things, but something would be nice.

Social – 8/10

Social aspects are really hard to judge in a kid’s game. A lot of it has to be stripped down to protect the children from online predators and such, I get that. I want those kind of things in place to protect my own Mini-Me when he’s playing. But to be fair, it does take away a lot of the aspects of the game we’d normally talk about here… There are plenty of very well done and extremely fun emotes that are laid out for quick access across the bottom of the screen.  And speaking of protecting the kiddies, there are some settings which I felt should have been included which, if they are, I couldn’t find. I admit, I didn’t spend an incredible amount of time digging, so at the very least I wish they were more intuitive if they don’t exist, but from my digging I couldn’t find them. First of which was an option to auto-decline friend/group/etc. invites. Some parents, myself included, might be ok with their Mini-Mes playing an MMO but not so comfortable with them interacting with other people. I know, that may sound silly, it is an MMO after all, one of the biggest points of said games is interacting with other people. Heck, even my older boys who are 11 and 13 and play more “grown-up” MMOs still have the folks they interact with in game vetted. Primarily they just play with myself or other family members and friends.

I was also very surprised the first time I saw someone walk across my screen with a chat bubble above his head. I had just assumed as a kid’s game chat like that would have been disabled by default, but I guess not. I never found a way to disable it either. I haven’t seen anything offensive in the chat bubbles I have come across so far as I’m sure they have some fairly intensive filtering software attached to the chat system, so that’s a positive. Overall though, the social systems which are in the game are very well done. It’s very easy to group up if you want to for missions and such.

Value – 9/10

There is definitely a lot of fun to be had in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online. You get a decent amount of bang for your buck right out of the gate. You start with four superheroes, which isn’t bad really. My only complaint there is I wish they’d let you pick your starter heroes, or at the very least be able to pick one of the four. If you have a favorite hero that you’d really want to play, if he or she isn’t one of the starting four, it’s kind of deflating, especially for the little ones. My Mini-Me was quite sad initially until I got Spider-Man unlocked for him.

And once you’re past the initial free stuff, you have a couple of options going forward. You can choose to “Join SHIELD” (read: become a subscriber) for about $10 per month or just buy in-game gold with RL money. You can then spend that gold on unlocking new heroes, new missions, items for your HQ, packs of cards, etc. As a subscriber you get access to subscriber-only heroes, a 500 gold stipend per month among other benefits.

There’s a lot to do as a free player. It may take longer to get to everything, but with the exception of a handful of special heroes, there really isn’t much you can’t see or do eventually as a free player. I think the subscription price is a little high for what you get (and for the record, I am subscribed out of my own pocket, no freebie review account here) and think it would feel better at the $5-6 per month range.

In Closing…

There are kid MMOs out there with more depth and more to do, but if your little tyke is going through the superhero phase that all little boys (and a lot of girls) seem to go through, you really can’t go wrong with Marvel Super Hero Squad. It’s a blast to play, it lets them interact with a lot of their favorite heroes, you don’t have to drop a dime on it if you don’t want to, etc. I can see me and my Mini-Me spending some quality time with this one over the coming months.

8.3 Great
  • A lot of bang for your buck
  • Great bright, colorful graphics
  • Great collection of recognizable heroes to play
  • Lots of different activities & things to do
  • Combat can be overly simple
  • Missions get a little repetitive
  • Subscription fee feels a little high


Richard Cox