Captain America: Super Soldier (DS) Review
I didn’t expect much from the video game tie-in for Captain America: Super Soldier. Keen to see the movie, I was looking to find a copy of the 360 or PS3 version, hearing that the similarities to Batman: Arkham Asylum make for a surprisingly fun brawler. However, I have settled for the DS version, developed by Griptonite Games. Griptonite have brought us a series of licensed games for portable consoles, such as Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters; Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Cosmic Destruction; Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions; X-Men Origins: Wolverine; and other popular franchises. These games have traditionally received a mixed reception from most outlets, so it was with an air of skepticism that I approached their latest commission job. However, I am pleased to say that the experience is a mostly pleasant one, with a number of small to notable issues throughout the experience. Read on to find out how Cap stacks up on the Nintendo DS.
Captain America: Super Soldier (SS) is presented as a sidescrolling, 2.5D beat-em-up. A series of missions, or as the game calls them, ’Operations’, are presented in a linear manner. Unfortunately, you can’t select particular missions from the menu; if you want to play through a favourite section, then you have to start a new file due to the autosave feature. The game lasted about 4-5 hours for me, which I completed in one day, on and off. I wouldn’t call the game necessarily short, as it did start feeling a little overlong near the end, with some repetitive sections. But I’ll get into that later. For most, however, a 5 hour game is going to be tough to justify, even with an RRP of $49.
The primary gameplay of SS revolves around combat and some light platforming and puzzle-solving. Our titular hero has access to a range of functions: A for a shield throw (which can ricochet off several enemies), B for jump, Y for attack, and X for grapple. Throughout most of the game, the main button you’ll be using against enemies is Y for a standard attack; unfortunately, enemy attacks are repetitive and quite brutal towards the end of the campaign. I found myself against overwhelming odds several times; this is especially worrying when the enemies are not shy about beating you while you’re on the ground. A lot of deaths were had on the count of being surrounded by two enemies; unable to escape, I was pummeled to death countless times. Thankfully, holding R allows Cap to reflect incoming projectiles and block attacks with his shield, which is essential in many fights. The grapple function is also handy to make space between Cap and the baddies.
As the game progresses, you are forced more and more to rely on your shield to dispatch enemies – its stopping power is useful when you need to get rid of attackers on your rear and continue to repel enemies on your front. Cap can also use uppercuts, sweeps and air combat to his advantage – this makes the brawls quite enjoyable in my opinion, moving it farther away from a mindless button masher. When you’re in real trouble, tap the L button to unleash a series of guaranteed hits on the enemy or boost Cap’s attack power – which one you activate depends on how full your meter is, which is filled by attacking enemies. Furthermore, you will encounter about 5 bosses throughout the entire game. The combat in these exchanges is fairly straightforward; memorise your enemy’s attack pattern and attack when they are vulnerable. Although they devolved to simple ’jump and attack, retreat’ patterns, I still feel that the boss fights were fairly well-thought out, even though the battle can be punishingly difficult. Ultimately, I feel that the combat is mostly enjoyable throughout the game, but cheap tactics on the part of your enemies can lead to frustration.
SS is also quite keen on the platforming and puzzle front, but to limited extent. Almost every room in the game requires the player to traverse horizontally and vertically via a series of jumps and switch-pressing. Moving platforms are frequent, and wall jumps ala Super Metroid are a commonly used technique. Holding down and B charges a high-jump, which is reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 2. Overall, I felt that the platforming was fairly well executed, but had some flaws. For example, later missions require Cap to knock down stalagmites from the ceiling to use as platforms to cross rivers of toxic liquid. This would be fine, but for the fact that the controls can be somewhat imprecise, causing me to fall to a lot of deaths I would have preferred to avoid. Thankfully, the game is fairly lenient when it comes to player punishment, merely restarting the player at the start of the area they were in following a death. Mixed in with the platforming is some very light puzzling. Cap jumps around and presses switches, which open doors somewhere in the area, which have another switch in there, which will disable a nearby security camera, allowing player progression, etc. It’s all very straightforward, and is an obvious attempt at padding out the game length. I wouldn’t call it bad, but the puzzle design is hardly something I’d applaud.
There are also two other notable gameplay segments in SS. First we have the fast platforming sections, which I would liken to the minecart stages in the classic Donkey Kong Country games. These sections, of which there are several in the game, are cordoned off from the rest of the gameplay. For example, you might think you’re about to progress to another room, and you will find yourself suddenly faced with another racing challenge. They all take place in the sewer, so it’s often very jarring. The premise is that Captain America is continually running forward under HYDRA fire (the big bad terrorist group), and you have to jump him over gaps, enemies and collect medals on the way. It’s not a particularly offensive diversion to the run-and-gun gameplay, it’s just not that great either. These sections seem to be procedurally generated and get faster every time you play one. The other type of gameplay is the cliché forced stealth section. Although these sections of the game can be tough, and rather frustrating (if a guard or camera spots you, the player must retry the entire area), I found them rather enjoyable. These areas had some decent puzzles, and with a little more work, could have been rather intelligent. However, it’s rarely more than ’kill that guard, avoid that camera, flick switch, proceed’.
There are also a few other notes to the gameplay worth mentioning. Cap can collect vials throughout the levels, which are scattered in out-of-sight areas for collectors and used to upgrade your health (which you will need later on). You can also upgrade your shield, although the purpose of these upgrades was not apparent to me. Other collectibles include dossiers (which are accessed in the start menu, containing dialogues between important characters) and P.O.W.s. The more prisoners you rescue, the more costumes you unlock – simple texture swaps, but nonetheless appreciated additions. All these collectibles are pretty fun to collect, but don’t really provide an incentive to replay unless you’re a hardcore completionist. On a final note – every now and then, Cap is required to either test his strength or his dexterity. You know what that means; mindless touchscreen minigames. Sometimes, entering a code on a computer terminal will require the player to input a series of timed presses on the touchscreen. There are three circles on the screen, and you have to press them in time with a cursor. It’s a bit fidgety but you can get through it. Another little minigame requires you to rotate a big circle so Cap can turn a wheel. The most frustrating of all is the one that makes you scribble the stylus up and down on your screen. I really thought game developers had moved past this sort of thing, but apparently there are people out there that still delight in forcing this sort of tedium on players. Thankfully, you don’t have to do this too much, bar a protracted section at the end of the game.
In regards to the environmental and character design, this is where I feel Griptonite have truly delivered. Due to the 2.5D sidescrolling format, every area has a massive depth. Several times I found myself staring into the backgrounds: the castle area has huge, arching doorways and scarlet banners; industrial areas feature hooks, processing lines and girders stretching out into the distance; a village area featured quite the extensive backdrop of European architecture. I found this particularly pleasing. Character models are well detailed, which is fortunate as the camera enjoys zooming in for some sections and cinematics. The camera was also useful in a lot of areas; one example is a large hole which I was unsure about dropping into. The camera automatically angled down and showed me what was underneath, which was appreciated. I also feel that the inclusion of voice-acting was a pleasant surprise; in a game which has barely any story to go on (Captain America gets angry at Nazis, kills as many as possible to stop the detonation of a superweapon), the voices helped to give a little more insight into the characters. I especially liked the voicing of Baron Zemo, who was portrayed by veteran Steven Blum. His mock German accent and loathing of Cap was quite enjoyable, but sadly, there were precious few exchanges between the two characters. Overall, SS performs quite well in the visuals and audio department; however, a superficial story and few incentives to replay let the overall product down.
In conclusion, without much to expect from a licensed tie-in, Captain America: Super Soldier starts off with an advantage in my eyes, and even does a little more to justify the price tag. Griptonite Games have taken the movie and made quite an enjoyable little spinoff. Although I feel more could have been done in some areas – such as more in-depth puzzle sequences, tighter platforming, a better upgrade system (like an in-game shop) or a more thoughtful story – the game is quite well put-together for what it is. It’s a decent brawler, with quite superb visuals and voice acting, a fun combat system and fairly enjoyable stealth/racing sections. Worth a rental, or good for a birthday present for those with a younger brother or son, it’s easy to recommend Cap for those with a little extra cash.
Environments are very detailed, stretching out into the distance. It is easy to see a lot of effort was made in several areas. Character models are fairly respectable, although I feel that the environments have had more work put into them.
Although none of the gameplay is particularly bad, its very straightforward and often frustrating in the later missions. Its good that the combat system works fairly well, since most of the game revolves around it.
I came away quite impressed with the voicework in the game, with some rather memorable lines from Baron Zemo. It would have been nice if the game featured some more memorable music, but its all rather generic stuff.
At 4-5 hours with no compelling incentive to replay the games only mode, its a little tough to say youre getting a lot of bang for your buck with Super Soldier. However, whats there is fairly enjoyable.
Even though niggling issues and restricted longevity hold Super Soldier back, I still enjoyed what was offered enough to plow through the game and finish it.
Despite some questionable design choices and somewhat repetitive gameplay, I still feel that Captain America: Super Soldier is worth checking out for fans of the franchise, or just for the younger gamer. A decent tie-in at an affordable RRP of $49, pick this one up on the cheap for a fun ride over the weekend, or at the local rental store if thats your thing.