PS3 Review: uDraw Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat



Note: This game requires the uDraw Game Tablet accessory.

Ever read a comic book and wished you could take part in the superheroic action you were seeing? Ever put pen to paper and imagined what it’d be like if your doodled creations could come to life? Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat aims to toss both of those ideas in a blender and serve you up a game that puts you directly in control of the action like never before, with the help of your uDraw Gaming Tablet. But while it’s naturally never as creative or as inventive as it thinks, the resulting game – a stylus-based hack-’n'-slash Marvel superhero game with a little dash of Okami and a fun, sharp sense of humour – is an engaging and entertaining kid’s action game that unfortunately suffers thanks its simplicity and paltry length.

Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat takes its cues from the Super Hero Squad children’s animated TV series, which re-envisions the roster of Marvel heroes as short, chunky action figure-looking (the cartoon was itself based on a Marvel toy line) do-gooders battling their way through a Saturday morning cartoon. Infinitely less serious than their comic inspiration or even familiar ’90s Marvel cartoons, the show aims for light-hearted, colourful, tongue-in-cheek mirth over gritty heroics; Thor’s ye olde speech is comically overdone as he adds ‘eth’ to the end of everything, while Dr. Doom is constantly harangued by his overbearing mother, who also wears a Doom mask. The game follows the Super Hero Squad as they take on Doom as he strive to conquer the world and destroy the noble heroes with the help of Abomination and Modok. With your reality-altering Pen of Power, you’ll be using the uDraw Tablet to interact with the Squad’s world, but Dr Doom has his eyes on the pen and will stop at nothing to claim it from you.
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Comic Combat is essentially a Nintendo DS game writ large. Taking a top-down perspective, you’ll use the (required) uDraw Tablet and stylus to control your superhero squad through a system of tapping, dragging and scribbling. Tap anywhere on the environment and your characters will move to that point. Tapping on enemies and destructible objects will send your heroes to attack and destroy them. You can also perform slightly more creative attacks and manoeuvres, too. Tapping and holding the stylus on any of your heroes charges up a powerful ‘Hold Attack’, causing Wolverine to spin and slice people nearby, Iron Man to send out a small radial repulsor blast, Scarlet Witch can heal nearby allies, and so on. You can draw a line from any of your heroes all around the room, then release it to send out an attack that follows the path you drew (Hulk runs around flailing his arms, Captain America tosses his shield, etc.).

Drawing an ‘X’ on the screen drops a bomb which can be detonated by tapping on it, drawing a circle conjures up a powerful orb which you can flick in any direction with the stylus to bowl over enemies, while drawing a triangle summons a decoy to distract enemies. Special single use collectible power-up weapons make fun use of the tablet’s features too. A time rift attack is activated by using a ‘pinch and spread’ finger motion on the tablet’s drawing pad to unzip a black hole in the floor of the game world, sucking in smaller enemies. An earthquake attack is triggered by tilting and shaking the tablet back and forth. All of your abilities, save for the one-use power-ups, are fuelled by ink. Smashing objects and destroying enemies drops vials of ink for you to collect, which fills a meter on the screen – the more attacks you use, the more ink you’ll burn through. It’s a fun combat system that turns what is in essence a simplistic kid’s button-mashing hack-and-slash game into a rather more enjoyable and unique little action game, and the tablet controls are as fluid and responsive as you’d hope.
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The same isn’t always true of your squad’s AI, though. You’re given control of three characters, each with their own unique attacks (Hulk is more resistant to attacks, Iron Man can attack from long range, Invisible Woman can conjure shields for the team), and you can select one of the trio with the D-Pad or control all three at once. Either way you choose, your characters have an annoying habit of just running off to attack enemies even when you’re in direct control of them and instruct them to stay put, usually resulting in them dashing into dangerous laser defence beams like suicidal morons. It also means that when you’re powering up a ‘Hold Attack’, they’ll dash out from under the cursor and you’ll have to start charging the attack again. The game’s easy and forgiving enough that you’ll never lose much progress even in the incredibly rare event that all three characters die (tapping and holding on downed team-mates revives them at the cost of ink), but the sometimes aggressively dumb AI can be frustrating.

Visually, the game replicates the TV show’s cartoon look well, and the jump from 2D animation to 3D sort-of cell shaded graphics is an attractive, stylish one (though cut-scene close-ups of faces aren’t as forgiving – the character model for The Invisible Woman’s looks pretty nightmarish). The light-hearted plot is slight and forgettable, and clearly aimed at kids, who’ll lap it up, but the game’s self-referential fourth wall-prodding streak of humour also sneaks in plenty of surprisingly fun gags, pop culture nods and random jokes for older gamers, too. There are choice references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Mommie Dearest that’ll sail over younger players’ heads, but will illicit giggles from adults, while the deliriously out-of-touch Captain America (voiced by Spongebob’s Tom Kenny) skews closer to the fun buffoonery of Deathspank than the familiar, earnest red, white and blue butt-kicker we know and love. It’s very daft, sure, but intentionally so, and the spoofery is often smarter than it has any right to be, and left me eager to check out the show itself.
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Unfortunately, the game is painfully short and incredibly easy. There’s six levels, but they’re incredibly linear and over in no time, and with precious little challenge, you’ll tear through the entire game in just a couple of hours with ease. Though you can go back and replay the levels with different characters once you’re done, there’s very little incentive to do so, outside of sparse collectibles and a couple more trophies. And while the game makes enjoyable enough use of the tablet to separate itself from the usual cookie-cutter superhero action outings, it’s never as inventive as the technology allows, and the untapped potential on display is staggering. Imagine, say, a DC Green Lantern game crossed with Scribblenauts, where you could draw Hal Jordan’s conjured ring constructs for him – whatever your imagination and artistic skill allows, within reason – then work through the game using your own imagination, initiative and creativity to solve the game’s puzzles and defeat enemies with weapons and tools you drew. It’s a far more exciting idea (even if the natural result would be players having Hal Jordan attack Sinestro with glowing green boobs and penises) and there’s the seed of a much more imaginative game in Comic Combat, but instead it opts to be a very simplistic, albeit fun hack-’n'-slash game.

Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat is certainly an incredibly fun little action game, and its use of the uDraw Tablet is smooth, responsive and helps elevate it above the usual generic action games aimed at kids. The game’s tongue-in-cheek humour of the cartoon proves surprisingly effective for children and adults, too, lovingly poking fun at familiar characters and slipping in plenty of well-placed pop culture gags. Sadly, it’s also an incredibly short game with no worthwhile replay value, and its never as inventive or imaginative as the concept and technology allows. If you or your children have a uDraw Tablet, then it’s an enjoyable, well made game well worth playing, but while you won’t feel short-changed by the quality, you might just feel cheated by the lack of longevity.

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uDraw Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat is available to buy now on PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii.
Click here to buy it from Amazon.co.uk.