Marvel Contest of Champions seems like a comic book nerd’s dream come true. An open-ended story premise brings together every Marvel character known to man in a series of tournament bouts for supremacy. At first glance, it seems like Marvel’s answer to DC’s Injustice: Gods Among Us; a fast-paced all-star brawler, with slick graphics and loads of content. But while there may be lots to unlock, there aren’t many other reasons to keep coming back.
Contest of Champions represents a new direction for Kabam, long known for their many social strategy titles cut from the same template. Their newest brawler shares none of that heritage, instead focusing on flashy fighting game action. The intensely complex movements, positioning, and timing can often be a challenge to translate to touch screens, but Kabam has opted for a tap and swipe scheme that is simple and elegant. You can dodge left and right, block, attack heavy or medium, guard break, and charge up a single-use “super” attack.
All of this goes off without a hitch, but it leaves the game feeling a bit like a middle point between a fighter and Infinity Blade. There are combos, but they don’t require much in the way of timing and execution, and most of the challenge comes from reading the opponent’s animations and knowing when to block and when to attack.
There is an absolutely massive roster of characters to unlock and, as you’d expect from a free-to-play game, you unlock them by purchasing “crystals” with in-game currency that randomly drop characters. This mechanic is pretty similar to the one popularized by Puzzle & Dragons, and it means you’ll be taking a lot of spins to win those hotly desired top tier characters.
Of course, you’ll spend time upgrading the characters you already have too. Completing quests gives you experience points to distribute to your various champions to boost their stats, and help take the edge off of more difficult fights. It’s the basic grinding mechanics you’d expect in a game of this sort, and the pacing of rewards doesn’t seem too punishing.
The real killer here is the utter lack of depth and variety. While each character animates differently and has its own unique special use, in practice, there’s very little to differentiate one character from the next. The same basic rhythm and technique applies regardless of if you’re Juggernaut or Spider-Man. Some characters are more powerful than others, and some character types have an advantage over others, but these statistical boost don’t make any difference in the heat of battle.
This leaves little for Contest of Champions to stand on outside of the strength of its license, and here too, it falls short. The story here is far too thin to be of much interest to anyone, and the characters don’t get to show off much personality. Not only is there no character-specific chatter, there’s very little voice at all. It’s especially striking, watching the victory animations where you feel like there should be voice and there’s none.
If there’s any good news, it’s that the freemium mechanics don’t have much opportunity to be intrusive here, since the simplistic, repetitive gameplay usually wears out its welcome long before obnoxious timers and a slow, grinding pace have a chance to rear their ugly heads. Contest of Champions is most frustrating because it could have been so much more, if only someone cared to put some meat on its bones.
Contest of Champions looks and feels great, but before long, it becomes apparent that there’s really nothing there.