Reviews

Marvel Super Hero Squad

Deciding whether or not to buy this game is mostly a decision based on who you want to play the game with.


Marvel Super Hero Squad

Publisher: THQ
Players: 1-4
Price: $39.99
Platform: Wii
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Blue Tongue Entertainment
Release Date: 2009-10-20
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If there’s one thing that can be said about the Marvel canon, it’s that numerous interpretations, reboots, and style changes don’t really effect the basic appeal of these characters. A guy who regenerates and can pop metal claws still comes across as cool whether it’s an actor representing these powers or set down in ink on a comic book page. In terms of comic book interpretations, Marvel Super Hero Squad represents a much more light-hearted take on the super hero mythos. The mid-90’s cartoon’s darker tone is gone, replaced with wise-cracking heroes and silly villains that break-up the monotony of long brawls. It’s a game inspired by a toy series and animated show that is intended for younger audiences, and it compliments them decently.

The game is a brawler that borrows several pages out of the Smash Brothers playbook. All characters are handled by a basic set of controls. A attacks, A plus direction tap performs a different attack, B is used for a special attack, etc. Each character has their own unique attacks, though a lot of them fall into the same categories for shoot or dash. There are also a lot of characters that aren’t quite re-skins, but their moves overlap quite a bit. Gameplay consists of a multiplayer battle mode or a two-player co-op campaign. Like Smash Brothers, most battles occur on a high platform, and it’s a kill if you fall off it. Falling off before your health is terminal results in just a penalty and a re-spawn. Some characters can fly, others can’t but make up for it with stronger attacks. Again, like Smash Brothers, there’s enough characters and moves provided that the variety makes up for curious imbalances in the system. You just play as all your favorite super heroes.

The campaign itself is what you make of it. Each one features a defining character like Wolverine or The Hulk who is then paired with another super hero picked from a small pool. There’s a tiny bit of strategy to this selection. For instance, if you’re working with a flier who mostly relies on projectiles, you want to make sure you’ve got a brawler to keep people back. Missions consist of beating up never ending swarms of robots until you hit a marker or unlock a door, the formula of which is broken up by QTE’s (Quick Time Events) and brawl sessions. Level design is a bit rough, though. You just roam around a large area smashing things until the game tells you that it’s time to go, and the camera can be a bit wonky at times because it’s trying to orient around two characters. You’ll be arguing with the person on the other controller a fair amount trying to get them to stand somewhere so you can look around. This problem is magnified by several moments where you have to knock over a distant pillar or shoot a floating mine. You can’t get a decent shot because you can’t see the target, which is assuming the camera rotated around enough for you to even notice the target. All that being said, most of the time it works, and other than the awful QTE’s, it’s not terrible.

It’s hard to really gauge a multiplayer experience in these games because if the gold standard is Super Smash Brothers Brawl then quantity is the chief selling point. The game pulls this off, I’m just not sure competitive play isn’t going to devolve into just playing the same couple of characters. Most of the projectile reliant heroes and villains don’t last in fights. The heavy brawlers like Hulk or multi-skilled characters like Iron Man hold out the best because they deliver more damage. Dodging projectiles is not too difficult if you zig zag around. Like Smash, I mostly found myself setting the character to random and just playing with whoever you get to keep it entertaining.

The plot is actually funny if you’re willing to let yourself go a bit. Wolverine mutters “Snkkkt” every time his claws extend, Bruce Banner is a wimpy geek once he loses his Hulk form, and word puns are scattered throughout. This isn’t the version of serious heroes dealing with deep psychological problems that are prevalent today, but younger audiences will find something to enjoy here. A meteor has deposited a bunch of crystal fractals and it’s up to the Marvel team to find them before Dr. Doom’s minions can track them down. Playing the campaign unlocks most of the levels and characters, which includes everything from Magneto to Lady Marvel. To give you an idea of the tone of all this, I think the image of Dr. Doom drinking tea in his night robe during the pause menu sums it up nicely. Smashing things in between jokes is what you should expect from Marvel Super Hero Squad.

Deciding whether or not to buy this game is mostly a decision based on who you want to play the game with. It has enough design issues that I’d say it’s probably not worth it if you want a sophisticated combat experience. However, if you want a way to share the Marvel universe with a younger child, it’s a solid game. The subject matter stays light while making enough sly jokes about the Marvel canon that an adult player might crack a smile. The controls are easy to master and there are enough playable characters that it always stays entertaining to see what weird moves a super hero can pull off. Battle mode is fun, but if someone was concerned with winning instead of relaxing, it’s a bit unbalanced. Marvel Super Hero Squad is a game that goes with the Marvel universe, but it does not add to it.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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