I've been meaning to do this one for a while, pretty much ever since the Avengers movie came out. But then something else happened, probably a new game, and I forgot about and wandered off to check out the new shiny thing. However, with Injustice out this week, it got me thinking about superhero games and some of my favourites, and I figured it would be a good time to bring up Captain America and the Avengers.
It's important to note that the game of which I speak is the side-scrolling beat 'em up that hit the arcades in 1991 before making a jump to the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1992, rather than the 1991 NES version of the same name. In the latter, the only two characters you could play as were Captain America and Hawkeye, as Iron Man and Vision had been kidnapped by the Mandarin.
No, we're talking about the former: a game that managed somehow to release in the shadow of the vastly superior Streets of Rage and its sequel, dealt with Red Skull controlling the minds of a whole bunch of nefarious Marvel villains including Ultron, Klaw, the Living Laser, Whirlwind, the Mandarin, and Juggernaut, and let you play as any of the four characters to unload cans of whoop-ass on innumerable goons.
Even as a child I realised that Hawkeye and Vision were crap, so I was always Iron Man and my friend Alex (who owned the Mega Drive) would always be Captain America. The controls were simple, move about side-scrolling parallax recreations of various American locales with the D-pad, with one button to jump, and one to attack. The SNES version suffered from godawful hit detection but it did at least have a separate button for chucking your shield about or firing your Unibeam. In spite of the Mega Drive having more than two buttons, Data East decided that mashing two together was easier than assigning the command to a third button.
I remember Captain America and the Avengers for the hours of my childhood whiled away in merry button-mashing abandon. There was little by way of strategy when it came to the goons themselves, but then these games were never really meant to be enormously strategic brawlers, part of the reason we loved them dumb fun was that you could hold a conversation about something completely different whilst playing (see also Dynasty Warriors).
I liked the little touches such as the exclamations that would issue forth from a henchman's broken body when you landed a good hit such as FLAM! and KRAK! and THWOK! Whenever your hero went down he'd cry "Nooooo!", though admittedly after the 50th time it did start getting a little trying. The synthesised voices were all done by the same guy as far as I could tell, probably for budget reasons, which explains why there's not a single female character in the game.
There are plenty of hilariously obscure cameos from the likes of the Wasp, Quicksilver, Wonder Man, and Namor the Sub-Mariner, who leap into the fray at times to either deliver delicious powerups to the player or briefly fight at their side. Hell, there are even a couple of SHMUP sections where Captain America and Hawkeye jump atop what look like the bastard children of a hovercraft and an elderly person's motorised scooter, and Iron Man and Vision simply fly about the place, gunning down similarly airborne foes, and dishing out punishment to Sentinels.
Mechanically-speaking, this game is awful, at least most of the home ports were. But you had a good number of bosses and sub-bosses, a meaty roster of cameos from heroes and villains alike to keep comic fans happy, and it was a good way of spending several hours in the company of a friend. Plus, who could be solemn and depressed when in the of such diamond dialogue vignettes as this:
That's some meaty smack talk from those bizarrely shaped goons.
Erm... what?! What does that even mean, Cap? What are you trying to say?!
Mind you, is wasn't just the heroes who got a little tongue-tied. Here's what Captain America has to say when he finally manages to track down Ultron, who for some reason appears to be wearing the tank-top version of his armour:
Fairly good start, Cap.
What kind of a comeback is that?! That's totally non-threatening! That's Ultron foreshadowing his own destruction! Is he mad? Has he just had some sort of breakdown and a crisis of confidence? I'm just glad the good Captain didn't make a Yo Mama joke.
It was cheesy and glitchy, and your slide move made you relatively invulnerable, and hitting an enemy made them briefly invulnerable, in fact it was almost laughably broken in places. But it was also a lot of fun, and it put a smile on your face, and you didn't have to think about it too much. The early decades of gaming are filled with games that fall into the "so-bad-they're-good" category, and this has to be one of the standard bearers. I fired it up again the other day, and was laughing almost constantly. I played it for five hours straight with a friend: we had an utter blast and simultaneously got to have an awesome catch-up chat too.
Can't say fairer than that.