The latest venture based on the popular television show based on the popular comic book series, Marvel Superhero Squad Online is now maturing in a way that its audience isn’t intended too. A videogame designed for children (while sister title Marvel Heroes is firmly targeted at mature gamers) Marvel Superhero Squad Online has reached an audience of over four million registered players and more than a year of service, Marvel Superhero Squad Online is at the top of it’s game, packed with content and offering young gamers a stepping stone into the daunting world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs).
First things first: Marvel Superhero Squad Online does its utmost to promote safety online. No personal information is ever shared with any other players online, and even the player’s tag is generated randomly to avoid young children giving their character their own name or any other personally identifiable information. Players can become ‘friends’ with one another in-game, but even then there is no way of identifying other players without them manually revealing such details: which an effort on behalf of the parents is surely the not just the only but also the best preventative measure.
As a free-to-play MMORPG designed for children, Marvel Superhero Squad Online ticks all of the expected boxes within the first hour or so of play: click-based combat, levelling-up, exploration, hidden items and in-game bonuses. There is no ‘kill ten boars’ or ‘deliver this package’ mission, there is no ‘must complete this before you can travel out of the starting area’ system. Players enter the world and are free to participate in nearly any activity; and there are a lot of activities to participate in.
Marvel Superhero Squad Online is an MMORPG in respect to the genre, but it’s not a slave to the label. Each server hosts s small playfield: a series of towns based around famous Marvel locations. Each of these towns can host tens of players (rather than the thousands commonly expected of modern MMORPGs), and within these towns players can collect items, explore new locations and various other activities, such as shopping (with in-game currency) or taking a spin on the Prize Wheel with tickets earned from various other activities. It’s a rich tapestry of interactive elements which feed into one another: kill a dozen enemies in the city and you might find a Prize Wheel ticket, spend that on a spin of the Prize Wheel and you might win some coins, spend those coins in the shop and you might be able to unlock a new hero, take that hero out into the city and you can collect some new hero tokens, and so on and so on.
Of course, on top of all of this comes the actual missions. Missions come in two forms: Daily Challenges and instances. Daily Challenges are varied tasks ranging from finding a specific location on the city maps to defeating a set number of enemies, each of which offers a reward for completion that is not to be sniffed at. The instances are the more traditional affair, offering short bursts of linear combat-orientated gameplay for up to four players (either friends or randomly assigned) typically culminating in a boss fight. As wonderful as the design of Marvel Superhero Squad Online is in near every other area, the combat does feel paper-thin, with the only true depth available in the variety of characters (of which there are many that can be purchased/acquired). This is a real shame as it makes the character progression the least rewarding aspect of Marvel Superhero Squad Online, the exact contrary to the vast majority of MMORPG experiences currently on the market.
Running on the Unity engine, Marvel Superhero Squad Online is playable in a browser via the plugin alone (with a full screen mode also available). However, players can download a package of files in order to enable quicker loading times. Elsewhere, Marvel Superhero Squad Online is a technical sound videogame product: bright and colourful, solid looking characters and environments create a believable world. There are occasional issues with connection speeds when engaging with other players during the instances, but nothing you wouldn’t forgive and forget just as quickly as it rectifies itself.
As a free-to-play videogame Marvel Superhero Squad Online offers plenty of activities for all players, locking away on a small portion of the experience for paying members. Joining the Jr. S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent program gifts you with the ability to unlock new characters, additional missions and better prizes on the Prize Wheel, amongst other offers. It’s a statement made against the fabled ‘pay to win’ videogames which, in actuality, are far fewer in number than many would have you believe. Whether or not you choose to pay for Marvel Superhero Squad Online you’re in for a welcoming, light-hearted MMORPG experience which does very well in its efforts to protect children, essentially achieving the majority of its goals.