Retro Respawn – Captain America and The Avengers

I wasn’t sure what game to play this week, but then I went to the cinema to see the new Avengers film, and three exciting and emotional hours later, I decided that I’d go back to look at a game I first played in the arcades over two decades ago in the form of Captain America and The Avengers.

Like Superman: The Arcade Game a few weeks back, Captain America and The Avengers is a side-scrolling beat ’em up that sees you take control of one of four superheroes so that you can aid them in their quest to stop the villainous Red Skull from blowing up the Earth with a ruddy, big laser cannon (so just an average Tuesday for The Avengers, really).

The four Avengers you can pick from are Captain America (obviously), Iron Man, Hawkeye and Vision, with all four of them having their own special moves. The game has a simple two-button control scheme, one for punch and one for jump, and if you press the two buttons together, then your Avenger will unleash their special attack. For instance, press the two buttons with Vision and he will fire a laser at the assorted goons, whilst Hawkeye will shoot off an arrow.

One good thing about the special attack is that it doesn’t use up any of your hero’s life bar, which normally wouldn’t be the case in a beat ’em up. Normally when you have a special attack of some kind, the game punishes you by taking away some of your life bar for using it, which in turn causes you to ration it. Captain America and The Avengers does limit the effectiveness of the special attacks though by requiring them to have pinpoint accuracy to connect, which does mean that spamming them isn’t an easy route to victory.

The gameplay is pretty simple, and your hero’s basic attacks often feel like they lack range, which means you have to get in quite close to do damage to your enemies, which in turn leaves you open to counterattacks. Thankfully, you can pick up quite a lot of the scenery to chuck at the rampaging enemies, ranging from small things like cans of soft drink to missiles that have just been left lying around in a space station (I hear that happens quite a lot actually, Captain Kirk used to complain to Chekov quite loudly about how he’d always leave his nuclear vessels lying around. He nearly ended up in a formal disciplinary meeting over it, actually).

Captain America and The Avengers are made of somewhat sterner stuff than Superman in his game at least, as it takes a bit more to dwindle down their health bar, but sometimes it feels like they are pretty weedy considering how easy it is for the baddies to give them a good kicking. Ultimately, the main attacks just don’t feel that powerful, and when you get swarmed by a gaggle of enemies, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed.

One good way to take on the vast array of enemies is to pick one of them up and fling them at the rest of the swarm. Not only does this kill the enemy in question, but it also splits the herd, allowing you to refocus and move around to a more advantageous fighting position. Getting swarmed like this probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue in two-player mode, but I played this one on my lonesome, and it can certainly be an issue in single-player.

As part of the story of the game, Red Skull has brainwashed a bunch of classic Marvel villains, such as Ultron, Juggernaut and the Mandarin, to aid him in his treacherous scheme, which at least leads to some fun boss battles. It can again feel almost too easy for the bosses to drain your health sometimes, but once you get used to each boss’s pattern, then it’s more than possible for you to deal with them without losing most of your health bar. A lot of it comes down to patience and picking your spot, which can sometimes lead to tense battles, but it’s ultimately very satisfying to get through the fight mostly unscathed.

Graphically, the game looks nice overall with a general comic book feel to everything, including Adam West Batman ’60s-styled “WHACK” and “BANG” graphics when you slap away at the baddies or happen to blow something up. The character sprites are a little on the small side, but that does have the benefit of making the bigger bosses (such as when you get to fight a Sentinel from the X-Men series at one stage) look even more scary and imposing. A quick cutscene of a couple of still pictures plays before each stage, and they look really nice and are drawn in a pleasing comic book style.

There’s the odd issue with translation as sometimes happens when a Japanese company creates a game for English-speaking consumption. For example, the classic “Avengers Assemble” line ends up becoming “Avengers Unite”, and there are a few other instances of sentences not making exact grammatical sense as well. This doesn’t happen that often, however, and when it does, it’s humorous more than anything else, so it hardly ruins things.

As with most arcade games, Captain America and The Avengers doesn’t really lend itself to a home gaming experience. You can blow through it pretty quickly, and the gameplay is hardly original or ground-breaking. However, for what it is, it’s a perfectly serviceable beat ’em up, and it certainly crams as many characters in as it can to get as much out of the license as possible. It’s not a classic or anything, but it’s hardly awful either. If you’re a big fan of Marvel and like yourself a beat ’em up, you could do far worse than giving this a go. It saw ports to the SNES and Mega Drive, so you could always hunt one of those copies down if you have one of the systems in question.

Thanks for reading and, until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!

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