Griptonite did some neat things with Comic Combat, including breaking the fourth wall right off the bat. Characters in the game, both the Super Heroes and Dr. Doom, address the player directly. Certain cutscenes have a character looking right at you from behind the screen, and in battle you will often hear the characters call to you for assistance or to offer praise for helping them fight off numerous Doombots, Imps, and other villains.
The way this is explained is fitting for the Super Hero Squad universe. You are a secret squaddie — and you also possess the Pen of Power. The player is literally positioned as a comic book artist, and the presentation of the game is built around that idea completely. It’s a neat idea and it was pulled off very well.
The Story mode consists of six levels, presented as comic books, whose stories are interconnected. At the outset, Dr. Doom is just up to his usually mischief; but when he realizes that the Squad was helped by you, he decides he is going to get that Pen of Power from you as part of his plan to rule his dimension and yours. To do so, Dr. Doom requires the help of MODOK, Abomination, and few other villains. To combat them, the heroes have you, and your secret squaddie powers, as well as what I believe to be the full cast of the Squad. You do not get to pick which characters to use in a level, that is predetermined, but I thought it was good of Griptonite to include this large of a group of characters. Most characters make only brief appearances, with the bulk of the load going to Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor.
Gameplay is simple and compelling. The game begins with you controlling Wolverine for a few minutes. He tells you a few basics, such as getting characters to move, which is done by simply selecting them with their assigned d-pad button (shown in the upper left corner of the HUD). You can also press Up to select all active characters. Then, just move your stylus to the point of interest and tap the Gametablet. Attacking and switch-interactions are similarly simple — just look for the red fist icon and then tap to send your currently selected hero(es) to attack.
Each character has a special ‘hold’ attack (hold the stylus on the character for about three seconds) that is meant to give you some room by doing damage in a 360 degree perimeter. To use these special powers, and other powers, you must have ink. Ink, which is the meter on the right side of the screen, is used to execute special moves and to also draw on screen (more on that in a sec). You get ink from bottles that appear out of fallen enemies or destroyed boxes, and you can even permanently upgrade the amount of ink you can carry by finding upgrade powerups. Running out of ink is usually not a problem; now if you abuse your special moves too much, then sure, you will be out of ink quickly, but the combat is easy enough in most parts that you can simply use generic attacks to achieve victory.
As the game name suggests, this game is about combat — all about combat. There are no puzzles to solve or anything less than constant moving of your units and assigning them foes to attack and objects to break. Sounds like it would get old fast, but it actually does not, and I think that’s in large part due to the Gametablet controller. The controller is comfortable and moreover, Griptonite used every feature of it, from its multitouch ability (to create spacetime rifts), to its gyro sensors (to launch powerful earthquake attacks), to the constant drawing and button pressing. I felt like I was always engaged with Comic Combat. Other than the opening few minutes with Wolverine, you are always controlling at least two, usually three characters. Call it micro-management if you will, but the constant switching between one and all characters is actually a lot of fun. Certain enemies have shields, some objects can only be destroyed with certain characters, and a few other reasons encourage you to switch between the individual characters and make them their most useful, rather than relying on their AI.
Something else to keep you busy and locked into the gameplay is your own abilities. To make a character do a powerful running attack, simply tap and hold them and then drag a line out to create the (short) path you want them to go. It’s great for closing distances fast or attacking multiple foes that are too far away and too far apart to reach with your hold attack. You can also draw an X to drop a bomb in the world, which is great for those shield toting enemies or some of the tougher brutes. You can create a decoy of one of the Heroes by drawing a triangle too, which will fool certain automated defense systems you encounter along your journey to confront Dr. Doom.
Comic Combat does a great job of not being too strict or too lenient with your stylus commands, either, meaning that yes, you can make mistakes, and sometimes it might read your intended Triangle as a Circle, or vice versa, but you don’t have to make things symmetrical or even necessarily get the endpoints to touch. I think this type of forgiveness is perfect for the target audience, and heck, I welcome it too.
This ‘forgiveness’ extends into the general design of the game. On Normal, Comic Combat is an easy, but nonetheless fun, game. I was able to play through it in 6-7 hours without having to restart any levels, or stages within those levels (there are about seven per level). That is, except for two boss fights in which the boss got ‘stuck’ and was no longer responsive. Fortunately, the game auto saves in between comic panels, aka stages, and it didn’t take but a few seconds to restart the boss fight (and in both cases it only broke once). That said, whenever a character does die, which will happen (quite possibly a lot), reviving them is a piece of cake. As long as one of the other team members is alive, you can tap and hold the stylus on the fallen heroes’ body for a few seconds to revive them with full health.
From a presentation perspective, I love what Griptonite did with the whole fourth-wall thing as I mentioned earlier. The animations are appropriately cartoony, and the humor and voice acting are spot on from the show. You do here too many repeated lines of dialogue though — for every command you give a character, they have some kind of aural acknowledgement to spout out, which can get old over the course of the game, or even level.
Now another aspect of the presentation that was really cool was the transition effect between panels. The game does a sort of fly over of your artist’s desk, and you can literally see a 3D wall separating one comic book frame from the next. Other times you will see a ruler or pen, or other artist object, laying on top of the 3D world, during these brief flyovers. I thought that was a commendable attention to detail and overall cool idea.
Overall, Comic Combat is a treat. The action is fun, the pacing is great, the controls work great, and it’s clear that Griptonite stuck very close to the actual cartoon, which has proven itself a favorite amongst many.
To the summary…