Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems is one of those games that’s difficult to categorize. It shares the name of a popular arcade game, also by Capcom, that came out in 1995 though it’s a 2-D action plat-former and not a tournament fighter. It also can be considered a sequel of sorts to 1994’s X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse by Capcom as the two are structured similarly in how you have a roster of five Marvel characters, this time Avengers instead of the X-Men, each with their own moves performed with Street Fighter-like button combinations.
War of the Games plays loose with the classic Marvel story “Infinity Gauntlet.” Adam Warlock senses the descending of the five Infinity Gems to the planet earth and assembles a team of the earth’s mightiest heroes to gather them before they fall into the wrong hands or attract the attention of even greater cosmic threats that would be considered too large a threat for even earth’s champions.
As stated above, War of the Games follows a similar formula to X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse but with a few tweaks. In X-Men you started off with five X-Men, each with their own corresponding stage, but in Marvel Super Heroes you’re presented with a choice of five heroes (Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Wolverine) but you can complete each stage with whomever you choose. This switch up brings with it some perks as well as problems. It’s great that you can play as whoever you want, for example in Mutant Apocalypse I only used Psylocke because I had to, and certain pathways are blocked off depending on what character you select, creating some replay value. Spider-Man and Wolverine can climb walls while Iron Man can double jump, giving them a slight advantage in traversing a level over a behemoth like the Hulk who more or less ploughs through barriers.
The problem with this freedom is that it eliminates having levels designed around a character’s abilities. I would’ve given up the choice to play as Spider-Man in every level for one level that was designed to be played with Spider-Man and his moves. What made the opening intro levels so much fun to play in Mutant Apocalypse was learning to adapt to each of the five mutant’s powers and move set. The heroes in War of the Gems each have their own series of moves, much like how they play in the arcade game actually, but I was better off using the attack button and jump kicks then Iron Man’s repulsor blasts or Spider-Man’s web-shot. Contrast this again with Mutant Apocalypse where not mastering Cyclops optic blast or Beast’s ability to remain in the air to jump while jumping on enemies heads meant certain death.
Much like how you could use the Infinity Gems to change the tide of battle in the arcade fighter, so to can you here. When you uncover the Infinity Gems upon completing a level, you can equip one to your character before they embark on a mission. They come in various flavours: one increases the availability of items, another speeds up your character (great for lumbering characters like the Hulk) while another increases your attack power (great for characters who AREN’T the Hulk.) My Gem of choice is the one that grants an additional life bar, as that extra meter often meant the difference between completing a mission or having to trade in one or more of my valuable items and start over
Capcom stacked the odds against the players in War of the Gems. In X-Men each character had three lives per mutant, but the heroes here only have one shot before they need to be brought back with a recovery item found in the games stages. Each of the heroes health also doesn’t recover between missions, though recovery items are abundantly found so you rarely run the risk of setting off to a level with anything less than either full or almost full health. Given this, it makes you wonder why Capcom even bothered to add in this handicap.
One explanation I can hypothesize is that Marvel Super Heroes is an incredibly short game. You open with four levels that need to be conquered, a buffer mission before another four choose your order stages, and then it’s on to the final fight against Nebula and Thanos. Thanos is the only boss character that offers any type of challenge to your skill as most bosses are just regular stage enemies with a bigger life bar or a partner. The stage enemies themselves are boring evil renditions of Marvel heroes, and some are even just different versions of the character in your roster. You do tangle with Marvel villains Blackheart, Magus as well as the infamous Victor Von Doom, but the latter two feel like regular enemy encounters. Compared to Mutant Apocalypse’s tussles with the Brood Queen, Magneto and the various forms of the Sentinels, the enemy design just comes across as lazy.
Is Marvel Super Heroes a bad game? I’m kind of painting it as one but no, it’s just a step down in all regards from the game that came before it. Perhaps this late in the SNES console life cycle (this game came out the same season as the Nintendo 64) Capcom didn’t have the passion they once did for the antiquated hardware. I’m more of a Marvel universe fan than an X-Men fan, so I’d rather play as the group presented here, I just wished the game treated the roster better than Marvel’s Merry Mutants. That being said it is still a solid 2-D action plat-form action game from a company that was no slouch in that department. They’ve made better games though, so I’d definitely put up a caveat that non-Marvel fans need not apply.