Captain America: Super Soldier (3DS) Review
Captain America: The First Avenger was an enjoyable movie. Although it was light on a lot of detail, and contained the same ham-fisted approach moviegoers are accustomed to when it comes to character development and the like in a superhero movie, it was a fun romp. Explosions, baddies and fistfights made the experience a vibrant, heroic affair. Of course, with every superhero movie comes a swathe of video game tie-ins, and Captain America is no different. With Super Soldier released for pretty much every platform under the sun, developers from all over had a go at recreating the movie experience. Every iteration of Super Soldier features the titular hero trudging through a Hydra installation to complete a series of objectives. While Next Level Games handled the 360/PS3 versions (which were somewhat enjoyable diversions along the lines of Batman: Arkham Asylum), Griptonite Games produced a 2D side-scrolling platformer/beat ’em up for the DS, which I found rather pleasing, and well within the range of the DS’s limits. With Super Soldier for 3DS, we find developer High Voltage Software not quite sure of the handheld’s capabilities and end up delivering a half-baked product that attempts to capture a console-like gameplay experience, but fails miserably.
As soon as you load the game, you are treated to several logo screens and a lovely big “Loading…” superimposed on a black background. This can’t be skipped, and in fact, we have to read the “Loading…” text every time the player suffers a death. This may seem like a nitpick, but when most 3DS games load the menu in under a minute, this only adds to what is already a subpar experience. But I digress.
Super Soldier is a mix of platforming sections and combat along the lines of Batman: Arkham Asylum, much like its console-based siblings. Only, both of these sections are unpleasant to play. Combat, which is what you’ll spend most of the game doing, boils down to a simple system: punch enemies until you need to counter, and then resume punching. A cynical observer might say that this could be said of Arkham Asylum; however, this isn’t entirely true. Arkham Asylum, and the recent superlative sequel, mix things up with stun abilities, dodge attacks, takedown attacks, gadgets which are usable during fights, and of course cinematic animations which are great to look at. Super Soldier harbours none of these attributes. You simply punch enemies until they hit the ground, and when attacks come towards you, you simply counter. That’s it. Using the shield during a fight is unwieldy and leaves you exposed from behind. I admire the concept behind the combat—after all, it worked so well for the Dark Knight—but it just isn’t enjoyable, at all.
Platforming is even more simplistic. Almost all control is taken away from the player. Cap simply needs to step within range of the target platform when a white arrow appears on it. You simply press B to jump, and Cap somersaults towards it. The next arrow will either appear on the next platform, or you will need to move closer for it to appear. You then continue to press B. Perhaps I am a little bit too cynical in this regard, but after the platforming masterclass that is Super Mario 3D Land, these bland sections are unbearable. In some attempt to spice up the formula, puzzles were inserted into the game, which revolve around pressing switches and hitting them. This varies little throughout the game. One major frustration arises from the fact that the player often needs to stand on a switch, hold the X button to deploy the shield while a turret fires at Cap, and aim the reticule using the stylus in order to shoot a switch and disable the turret. This is an incredibly convoluted way of doing things, and only serves to pad out the game length (you’ll be doing this a lot) and frustrate the player, as they struggle with the controls. It’s not enjoyable at all.
Of course, perhaps all of this could be swallowed more easily were it for a more inspiring graphical presentation. Unfortunately, the game suffers from an absolutely terrible mix of poor textures, boring animations, noticeable artifacts (with 3D on or off), frequent pop-in, frame rate issues, severe camera problems and generally uninspired design. I may have been willing to partially forgive the stock-standard gameplay, but combined with a bucket list of graphical issues, it is almost impossible to salvage a single redeemable aspect from this train-wreck of presentation. Textures are bland, cloudy and look generally bad, as is shockingly evident when some cutscenes zoom into the low-res assets. It’s also a pain when some assets don’t appear until you are three metres away from them. An AA turret was invisible until I came within arm’s reach of it. Animations can be rather impressive sometimes (such as Cap’s slow-motion attacks when finishing off an enemy) but are quite clunky on the majority.
At several points in the game, the camera decides to go crazy, resulting in the player being unable to see where they are going. Since you cannot manually reposition the camera via conventional means, I had to aim the shield and slowly rotate around to a door I was facing. I took a few steps and the camera whipped back around to the old position, so I gave in and ran towards the camera, which then proceeded to quickly circle Cap as I ran down a hallway. This was both perplexing and frustrating. Thankfully, it didn’t happen too frequently. The most heinous of the problems is the screen-tearing and frame rate issues. These problems are widespread and I encountered them consistently in every gameplay session. The screen tears vertically at the edges, with vertical swathes of screen real estate duplicated, making it hard for the player to concentrate. I must emphasise that this is happening 80% of the time. It also occurs in 3D mode, which adds to the fact that 3D mode is like staring into a Magic Eye picture. I couldn’t keep it up for over a minute, so I had to play in 2D to reduce eye strain. Suffice to say, 3D mode looks terrible. Add this to the frequent frame rate dips (which seem to happen for no immediately apparent reason) and you have a game that looks just awful.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The game is of a fair length, with 5-6 hours of gameplay available for the patient player. As well, the game features full voice acting, although the script is sorely lacking. One expects Captain America to punch Nazis and blow up buildings, so the character development is hardly Pulitzer-winning material. But hey, it’s there. To the game’s credit, it is a somewhat tolerable Arkham Asylum-lite, but it’s a stretch to even mention those two games in the same breath.
In short, Captain America: Super Soldier for the 3DS is everything that you’d expect from a movie tie-in: a dull, listless affair which ought to entertain your five-year-old nephew for about 20 minutes. Although, I wouldn’t wish it on any kid to put up with this sort of tripe when there are system sellers like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 doing the rounds. It’s a shame that High Voltage Software has failed to deliver on what could have been a fine brawler. Just do yourself a favour and avoid this terrible mishmash of dated gameplay and bland presentation at all costs.