What a great time it is to be a fan of Marvel comics. We currently have access to two downloadable arcade-style games that came out at the end of last year – Marvel Pinball and X-Men (a port of the 1990s beat ’em up) — while Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is just around the corner.
So while we wait for the next crop of comic-book blockbuster movies to come out later this year (Thor in May, X-Men: First Class in June, and Captain America: The First Avenger in July), I figured it’d be fun to take a look at how each of these game offerings can hold us Marvel fans over.
Marvel Pinball, an expansion to Zen Studios’ Pinball FX 2, takes the worlds of Wolverine, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Blade and translates them into pinball tables. From the looks of it, Zen wanted to play it safe by pulling from the more successful film franchises (sorry Daredevil).
Each board features a few classic enemies from each hero’s storyline, and that’s a big part of what makes this game engaging. Even though I was just trying to keep the ball in play by shooting whatever ramp, switch, bumper, etc. that I could, once I hit the right combination of doodads, my character – usually Wolverine – would fight one of his supervillains.
From there, it’s just a matter of hitting specific spots of the table in order to attack. I usually was unsuccessful. Despite that, the taunts of the foes, fast-paced gameplay, and unlimited digital quarters kept me coming back for "just one more round."
The characters' campy one-liners could definitely wear on some people, but any true superhero aficionado knows to expect an array of silly and iconic catch phrases.
It was definitely easy for me to appreciate the Marvel themes, since I’m typically not the biggest pinball fan. I tried some of the other boards that Zen Studios offers in Pinball FX2, and nothing really kept my attention. Even though juggling a metal ball within the confines of a colorful slanted board doesn’t seem like the most heroic activity, the overall ambience of the game translates the feel of the comics nicely.
I’m a firm believer that one of the finest simple pleasures in life is running around with a digital mob of mutants while plowing through waves of Sentinels. This conviction stems from my fond memories of playing six-player X-Men (alongside Sunset Riders) at the Skate Depot near my elementary school. For this reason, when this title came out for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, it was really a no-brainer for me to pick it up.
It’s a pretty straightforward beat em that features the mutant roster of the ill-fated Pryde of the X-Men cartoon pilot. You get one button for melee attacks, one for mutant powers, and one for jumping. The U.S. and Japanese versions (both included) differ in the way your use of mutant powers affect your health, but with an endless stream of continues, using this info to come up with any kind of strategy is a bit overrated. Feel free to mindlessly mash buttons, which frankly makes this the best kind of game to play with your friends and family, especially if they’re not hardcore gamers.
Whether it's six players online or two to four locally, co-op is what X-Men is all about. Sure, you miss out on standing shoulder to shoulder with your teammates while huddled around the novelty three-screen cabinet, but at least you don’t have to worry about ending up with a joystick that doesn’t quite move in every direction.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Though MVC3 is likely to fit in nicely with the competitive-fighting-game circuit, I’m a bit past my fast-twitch-reflex-muscle prime to really get excited about that aspect. Thankfully, for those of us more interested in seeing our favorite comic book characters come to life, this title has plenty to offer.
Aside from the series’ regulars, this installment introduces quite a few new crowd-pleasers. The most obvious example is Deadpool who saw a resurgence in popularity after appearing in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film. Apparently, the loudmouth assassin is in such high demand that Capcom saw it fit to also add a somewhat obscure nemesis of his, Taskmaster.
The buff, green-skinned She-Hulk enters the ring and brings up nostalgic yet confusing memories for me from my hormonal adolescence. Another female brawler I’m interested to try out is the adamantium-skeleton-bearing X-23, who is essentially to Wolverine what Street Fighter’s Sakura is to Ryu.
Perhaps one of the more peculiar combatants this time around is the hideous M.O.D.O.K., a giant floating head with tiny appendages. I have a hunch that because he looks so ridiculous, he’ll be a choice selection for hardcore players seeking to humiliate their opponents.
These days, even though I’m not caught up with the latest story arcs of all my favorite Marvel Comics series, I love being able to still participate in their fictional realms via my current favorite pastime, video games. I’m confident these titles can satisfy other fans until the aforementioned summer blockbusters come out — at which point we should see the usual licensed game tie-ins that, ironically, I typically avoid.