Saturday, May 09, 2009

AdVantage Point: Marvel Super Heroes War of the Gems (1996)

Give an idiot a scanner and a comic book and let him pick out all the advertisements for video games.
This is AdVantage Point -- a chance to document the winding timeline of comics/gaming history as it was canonized by the adverts. Musings, rantings, observations, stream of consciousness.

In only a handful of articles we've already discussed several examples of games making good use of a licensed comics property [Dragonball, Catwoman, Wolverine, X-Men], but while most have done well to adequately represent the recognised characters attached to specific brands, few games before 1996 could boast the scope of today's Capcom platforming beat 'em up feature -- Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems.

As this generation's movie goers are fast discovering, superheroes from Marvel (and DC) are part of an expansive universe that goes far beyond the human/mutant socio-politics of the X-Men, corporate espionage of Iron Man, and government experimentation of Hulk. The great creative attraction of borrowing the established properties of the Marvel Universe is not only the implied sales base it comes with, but also several decades of creations and ideas ready to be drawn upon!

Borrowing the six cosmic Infinity Gems from Infinity Crusade, and evil doppelgangers created by the Magus in Infinity War; War of the Gems leaves behind the various X-Men and Spider-man games in an effort to touch upon the Marvel Universe at large!

Fans will recognise the protagonists summoned by Adam Warlock (to obtain the scattered gems) as various heroes from Capcom's 1995 arcade fighter, Marvel Super Heroes. Iron Man, Spider-man, Captain America, Wolverine, and Hulk, all appear as playable options.
Like War of the Gems, the traditional beat 'em up also featured the Infinity Gems, allowing players to obtain various power-ups via their application. One or two pieces of art from the fighter were reused for the SNES exclusive, but for the most part, this did benefit from being a newly created game. Representing the Marvel Universe are villainous doppelgangers of previous Capcom absentees; Daredevil, Hawkeye, Puck, SasquatchShe-HulkSilver Surfer, Thing, Vision, as well as traditional antagonists, the Magus, Nebula, Blackheart, Dr. Doom, and Thanos.

In a period where comics and the SNES were in decline, you could note that the advert makes great usage of the established heroes of the Marvel Universe. Cross-promotion meant cartoons had already exposed audiences to the popular feature heroes, creating a self-perpetuating engine that could only benefit from the exposure of narrative direction that gave War of the Gems a greater point than many of it's 8 and 16-bit predecessors.

I might be inclined to be more critical of SNES games than most, but the 1996 release dates shows all it's benefits in colourful screenshots showcased in the ad. Quite unlike many games in the console's prime, War of the Gems shows off the four-colour glory of the recognisable icons of print. Level design struggles, as most games do, to be a trademark of the game, but locales like Latveria at least enfuse each stage with an imagination unique to established comics properties.

Though primative, these games represent the sustainability inherent to characters that have endured over forty years of publication. Problems encountered by the likes of the recent Wolverine film tie-in ( X-Men Origins: Wolverine), treat the properties with a short-sighted perspective, offering little to set them apart from alternate releases in the same genres. Wolverine succeeds on the unlikely premise of developing technological and conceptual platforms, but as increasingly evident in the current market of gaming, those aspects are becoming a diminished factor to any sales pitch. The leap in graphics and function simply isn't the same as it was in the medium's early days.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 promises to capitalize on storylines introduced in Marvel's Civil War, offering up the next available opportunity to gauge how comics can use their experience as a sequential medium to blaze a trail in gaming's philosophical search for existence. One can't help but feel the eagerly anticipated virtual console release of Marvel vs Capcom 2 might just challenge the action-RPG, continuing this generation's disregard for the value of story. Disappointing, but a perspective that might just lend extra oomph to the future's change of heart.

Marvel vs Capcom 2 was the popular culmination of Capcom's Marvel license.
Thus, we come full circle. Hopefully the value of story in gaming can do the same.

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