There are very few games about play. Maybe that makes sense. The appeal of a game world is to live out experiences that one can’t in real life. Least among those experiences would be recreating the act that the player is already performing. Still, there’s something about childlike imagination-based play that video games are well-equipped to replicate. That’s one of the major strengths of Playworld Superheroes.
In Playworld, you take the role of a child playing around a treehouse on surprisingly nice city lot. At the start of the game, you select your character from all mixes of race and gender. As you enter the lot, you’re tasked with picking up pieces of cardboard and other recyclable materials. These materials are taken into the treehouse, where you can use them to craft your own superhero armor.
At the treehouse workbench, you can color and customize your armor using crayons, scissors, and accessories like cardboard tubes and soda cans. You start with your helmet, arm blaster, and insignia. This was probably my favorite part of the game, making my character look like some satanic cardboard Snork. The insignia is particularly cool, since it becomes the load screen for the game and is fully replicated once you enter the superhero world.
Once your armor is complete, you gain access to a tree stump which transports you to a futuristic city, besieged by aliens. Through the power of imagination, your cardboard armor is transformed into an Iron Man-like suit, matching in general color and chest insignia. It’s a cool effect, but I wish more of my helmet’s idiosyncrasies were replicated.
The real game begins once you’re fighting the aliens. The controls are simple, tapping monsters to shoot at them, swiping left and right to move in and out of cover. Some monsters will lob bombs that you can throw back by tapping them in midair, and if a monster gets close enough, you can engage them in a hand-to-hand minigame that will recover some health.
Unfortunately, it feels a bit too static to be exciting. Getting through each level’s six waves can take five to ten minutes, and it only gets longer as enemies with more health are introduced. Shooting feels a bit sluggish, with an undisclosed cool-down period between each shot, and enemy projectiles are often lost in the background, making them hard to avoid. As the levels get longer, it actually becomes quite difficult to survive, a strange feeling in a game made for kids.
Further pieces of armor are unlocked by collecting “playgems” from defeated enemies. Around the completion of level four (about one hour into the game), you’ll unlock the jet boots, which in turn unlock a set of on-rails shooter levels, using similar controls to the on-foot shooting. These levels reel in the difficulty, but they remove some of the depth as well. Honestly, I’d be surprised if most players even stuck around to see them.
I appreciate the austerity with which Playworld Superheroes treats the idea of childhood play, but it fails to capture the limitless feeling of imagination. As great as it was to design my armor and see it transform, I don’t think the game behind it is worth as much time as they ask.
Inclusive and imaginative trappings hide a mostly standard shooting gallery.