I can’t remember when I’ve ever anticipated a movie more than this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Based on the comic book adventures of a misfit outlaw gang of super-people, GotG is a shift in tone for the Marvel movies, and one that fans have been waiting impatiently for over the past couple of years. Now, just before the movie’s release, Marvel Entertainment has unveiled a new mobile action game featuring the Guardians themselves. It’s a great arcade brawler, but runs into quite a few snags that keep it from being as fun as it could be.
Players who are already familiar with the comics won’t care much, since GotG is written in part by Dan Abnett, who also scripted the 2008 Guardians series that reinvented the team. The story is pretty standard space-adventure fare: the team must collect all five parts of the legendary Universal Weapon to keep it out of dangerous hands. Along the way, they meet and recruit various other Marvel characters to help in their fights. The story isn’t very complex, but it’s a lot of fun, and captures the spirit of all the characters involved. Some of the characters won’t make much sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie or read the books, which as of this writing represents 90% of the general population.
But it’s still a good story for younger players, and the art in the comic-style cutscenes is very expressive and fun. Marvel has chosen a “super-deformed” art style for its mobile games, which is an interesting move. We first saw this in Marvel Run Jump Smash not long ago, where characters all had large heads atop their tiny bodies. It’s starting to become almost a house style now. But even a simple, cartoony approach can pack a lot of detail, as GotG proves handily with its rich sets and character designs. It’s a great game just to look at, and the music (featuring clips from “Hooked on a Feeling,” centerpiece of the movie’s soundtrack) makes the whole experience totally immersing.
As brawlers go, GotG is actually one of the more complex games you can find on the market right now. You control a team of four characters at a time (which unfortunately means you’ll never have all five Guardians on screen at once). The controls are based on tapping and dragging on all the characters to designate targets and use special powers and combos. The combos are tons of fun to watch, but laggy graphics mean you won’t always get to see Star-Lord jump in the air and perform a rapid-fire takedown while Gamora performs a classic run-by stabbing. Characters also frequently stand near one another, especially after a combo—so close, in fact, that it’s often impossible to make one character move without first moving the other. When you’re in the middle of a firefight, there’s not a lot of time for moves like that, making GotG’s combat system occasionally maddening. On average, though, the interface works well enough to provide a dynamic battle experience that gives the player a huge amount of freedom.
Each character has different strengths—some are melee fighters, some are ranged, and others are just healers. Each character does damage in a different way, and there are different categories for different weapons: characters can attack physically, psychically, explosively, with energy weapons, and more. All these types of damage have different strengths and weaknesses, but the game never really explains what’s good against what, leaving you to muddle through as best you can. It’s not a big problem overall, but I was still very frustrated at my inability to understand the damage system.
I compensated by just going for the highest overall numbers I could get and leaving it at that. Upgrading weapons, buying new gear, and using chips of ISO-8, a cosmic isotope that increases attributes depending on its color, can increase stats. Without these upgrades, you won’t be able to beat the campaign (a series of moderately difficult battles until the very last level, which is incredibly tough). Other, less scrupulous studios might force players into a pay-to-win scenario where key upgrades were locked behind a paywall, but GotG boasts no IAPs whatsoever. I can definitely get behind that, and it’s worth buying the game just to support this kind of practice.
Still, GotG’s five-buck price tag might scare away a host of players that are used to getting this kind of game for free. The story mode isn’t all that long, three to four hours at most. That puts the onus on GotG’s arena mode—in which you can face endless enemies with any characters, including defeated villains—to make the game worth the price. If you’re an achievement completionist, this will be tons of fun. If not, you won’t get much enjoyment out of GotG after the last level.
I fall somewhere in the middle. As a Guardians fan outside the game, I’m redisposed to liking these characters, and leveling them up to their maximum potential is its own reward. (Rocket Raccoon was my first character to reach the level cap, because he is the best comic character ever.) Your mileage is definitely going to vary on that one, but there’s so much complexity in GotG’s mechanics that brawler fans are certain to find something that catches their interest. And don’t forget that buying this game strikes a blow against IAPs everywhere. That’s a lot of power for five bucks—just the right amount of power for the galaxy’s most loveable super-team.
Is it Hardcore?
It’s got its flaws, and it sure ain’t cheap, but Guardians of the Galaxy is a well-thought-out brawler that brings its source material to life.