Straight out of the gate I have to admit that I am a life-long DC comics fan, which I try to not let get in the way of enjoying the recent insurgence in Marvel based products. Would the game be better if the focus was on the Justice League rather than the Avengers? Yep, but then there’s not a major motion picture driving interest in that material yet. That Avengers Alliance has appealed to me not just on Facebook but on my phone too should speak for its quality.
Fusing the world of Marvel comic books with the turn-based combat and ‘catch them all’ nature of Pokemon is a genius formula that should appeal to the inner comic book geek in adults and fans of the recent movies. It’s not a perfect game, there are some glaring flaws that we will get into in the overview, but honestly as Social RPGs go it does tick a lot of boxes.
Graphically the game incorporates 2D art drawn specifically for the game rather than co-opted from old comic work, which is a massive boon because everything shares a linked visual identity rather than be drawn by over a dozen different artists with their own styles. Backgrounds appear to be edited photos for the most part, but are basically just small details upon which the beautiful character art can be displayed. Similar in execution to the sprites seen in Odin Sphere, the characters in your party are animated 2D artwork at its finest, each with their own complex series of movements and animations that really build up a sense of character. These are the high-point of the game and collecting a new hero or heroine really adds to the sense of wonder. Other assets fail to live up to these however, with the exception of conversation/character portraits, menus drive most elements of the game and with city-scapes re-used for every scenario things fail to jump out at you as the player. Some smaller details are nice though, such as weather effects and clouds scrolling above and below the Shield Helicarrier which makes up your home base.
Sound is passable with solid use of original effects not seen in other titles on release. The game is largly menu-driven so expect to hear a lot of clicks and buzzes as options are selected and equipment slotted into place, but combat maintains a broad selection split across multiple character types. Musically the game is somewhat lacking, with a few looping synth tracks to set a tone for a level rather than anything inspiring or heroic. Really there are so few musical tracks that you’d be forgiven for assuming that the game only used two themes, one for combat and one for everything else you do.
The story uniting all of these characters is well realised considering it is an excuse to draft most of the Marvel universe into one campaign. You play an agent of SHIELD trained under Nick Fury and supported by Agents Hill and Coulson throughout the game. After passing your combat test your set up as a liaison with the Avengers just as a mysterious unknown element known as Iso-8 begins to appear around the world. Iso-8 makes super powers even more powerful, and ultimately all the villains want it, leading to a knock-down fight out across the globe between every hero you can draft and the rogue’s gallery of the combined Marvel franchise. Where this works best is that it’s based on the comics and not the movies, allowing you to draft characters from properties not owned my Marvel/Disney in a film sense. Spiderman, the X-Men and even Excalibur are all available to fight alongside Iron man and the other regular Avengers right out of the gate. Seeing the lesser used British characters such as Union Jack coupled with Captain Britain and his sister Psylock is a particular treat, and noting the bonus you get for an all British team (groups of characters of different comic backgrounds and histories triggers different exp bonuses) as well as other small touches makes the world seem like it has more history. There is a lot of dialogue in this title for something primarily combat orientated, and the effort is very much appreciated.
Gameplay is, as mentioned, basically turn based combat and little else. Luckily it is one of the richest and deepest turn based systems I’ve seen in years. Taking into account four special attacks for every Marvel character and literally hundreds of pieces of equipment for your lead character to equip and use in a battle, the system plays out quite traditionally but manages to give every individual their own flavour and sense of power. Passive abilities, buffs and de-buffs, boosting stats with Iso-8 and equipping special Iso for additional power all play a part, but I found that the status-effects were the most gripping part of the combat system, with a massive selection not seen in other titles alongside the more traditional Final Fantasy style choices. Bleed a character and they lose a small amount of damage every turn, stack that five times and they’re in trouble. You can then make that even more powerful by adding an additional effect that means they take that damage at the start and end of their turn, and couple that with dealing an attack from an ally that crits when the target is bleeding. Radiation is another good one, stacking in a similar manner to bleed but some characters can absorb it to heal or power large attacks. Anger similarly builds in characters like the Hulk every turn to charge their regular attacks. There’s also a rock/paper/scissors effect with heroes falling into different classes that fare better or worse against others and a range of exotic items to fall back on in your inventory. Sadly outside of combat the game isn’t nearly as imaginative, from your hub you choose a mission from the list, embark and fight as many easy, medium and hard battles as you can in the area you’re visiting before your energy for the day runs out and you require premium currency to refill it. The game’s major failing is in the multiple currencies it uses, with Shield Points earned from friends and cash used in conjunction to level up characters, Command Points to buy new characters and gold in place to purchase more of the other currencies of some premium items. Gold isn’t cheap and you get 1 piece for levelling up as a guarantee before having to really work for it. It’s also relatively expensive to buy with real money and some items marked as limited edition cost a huge amount of it. Social aspects of the game work well, with item gifting, requests going out, group bosses and the ability to summon a friend into battle in a similar manner to an early Final Fantasy summon to deliver an attack before vanishing. You can also send characters out on missions in real-time while your offline to generate cash for later. Special missions, PVP tournaments and limited time events are a regular fixture of the game which is constantly being updated.
Overall this may be the best battle system I’ve seen in a turn based title, but it would be great to see it patched into a meatier less ‘freemium’ game. A paid title or DS game would flourish under such a brilliant system and the Pokemon aspects add additional depth to the wealth of options available to you. If you start however you won’t want to stop for fear of losing progress and hard won characters and as of 2015 there’s no shared support between Facebook and mobile versions, leaving the two oddly separated even when the mobile version plugs into Facebook for social features. If you enjoy Marvel comics or turn based combat it’s certainly worth a look.