Hands-On with Super Hero Squad Online at E3 2010

The super hero genre is finally stepping out of the shadows of fantasy and sci-fi to become a staple of the massively multiplayer scene much like it has in Hollywood over the past decade.

The super hero genre is finally stepping out of the shadows of fantasy and sci-fi to become a staple of the massively multiplayer scene much like it has in Hollywood over the past decade. Now that a handful of the Marvel characters whose adventures I spent an obsessive amount of time collecting and reading in the 80s have finally begun to break the mainstream barrier thanks to the likes of the insanely successful Spiderman, X-Men and Ironman films, these same beloved characters are familiar enough with most of the western world that creating an MMOG experience based on them seems like a no brainer.

As I made my way to the Gazillion Entertainment meeting rooms at E3 2010, little did I know that one of the biggest surprises of the show awaited in the form of a little game called Marvel Super Hero Squad Online. Don’t let the kind-friendly nature of this game fool you – it’s easily one of the most fun gameplay experiences I had at the show, which left me wanting more by the time our hands-on time had come to a close. Between the superb graphics, simple control scheme and clever combat system, this is one title that’s sure to bring out the super hero obsessed kid in all of us, regardless of age.

Developed by the Amazing Society, Super Hero Squad Online will allow players to collect and play as their favorite Marvel characters. While the game is based on the animated series of the same name and bears more than a few graphical styling elements in terms of the look and feel of the various heroes and villains, thanks to some incredibly crisp graphics, intuitive controls and socialization tools SHSO players won’t really need to be fans of the show to enjoy the overall gameplay experience.

The Game World and Socialization

Gameplay is neatly broken up into large social zones and combat zones. One thing I really liked in the larger city zone is that there are plenty of exploration elements and minigames waiting to be discovered, making this more than just a lobby where you wait around to find a group. For example, clicking on any of the doors might lead you to the roof of the building where another door might actually lead you to a “secret area” of some sort. Travel within the city is also a breeze thanks to flight markers scattered throughout the zone. A simple mouse click will send you flying towards another marker allowing for hands-free flight. Thanks to the use of depth of field, traveling along these flight paths still looks and feels epic even if you’re not in direct control of your chosen hero.

Speaking of the heroes, rather than creating a generic hero that gets to play alongside the likes of the Hulk, the X-Men or the Fantastic Four, you’ll actually be able to collect and play as each of them. They will all have a unique combat style with both normal and powered attacks based on their character’s standard abilities.

As you travel around the city, you’ll have the chance to participate in a number of shorter mini-games as well as socialize with other players. On the socialization front, Super Hero Squad Online aims to make emotes a more prominent aspect of gameplay, essentially allowing you to use them to communicate with other players with a single key press. One emote that was particularly awesome was the Thing creating a snow angel… in concrete. Each hero you collect has a pile of different emotes that they can perform, and thanks to the simplicity of combat and movement these can all be triggered by a single, simple key press on the keyboard.

Mission Combat

Combat in Super Hero Squad Online is deceptively simple, but is still an incredibly rewarding experience. In fact, it reminded me of 2009’s kickass Torchlight or similar dungeon crawlers. This is due to the fact that movement, combat and even interaction with the world can all be accomplished with the mouse rather than being mapped to the keyboard. So while the gameplay and camera may deviate from being a true dungeon crawler experience, the way you interact with it will feel right at home for those of you who enjoy that style of gameplay.

To move you simply left click and drag your mouse and your character will follow. Combat is then just as easy to navigate, with left clicks used for basic attack combos and right clicks unleashing bigger attacks. During our hands-on time with the game, Ben and I also got to experience group play in one of the combat zones which ended up being incredibly fun as we dodged giant claws dropping down from above as we battled our way to Dr. Octopus for a final confrontation.

Overall Impressions

Super Hero Squad Online is one of those few titles at E3 where I walked in unsure of what to expect, but by the time I left I knew that I’d be looking forward to playing more. The Amazing Society isn’t quite ready to release info on pricing, though given the collectible nature of new heroes to place in your squad I wouldn’t be all too surprised to see SHSO as a free-to-play title with players able to purchase additional, rare heroes to round out their collections.

As things stand currently though, I’m much less concerned with pricing models and more excited to see the title launch. While it may not be a “hardcore” or even “core” MMOG experience, Super Hero Squad Online delivers plenty in the fun department to be worth a closer look.

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