Hero up with Marvel Super Hero Squad Online

Nestled in the heart of San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood, the Isotope is one of the premiere destinations for comic books in the country. Over the years, the Isotope has been the host of countless events spotlighting everything from hand-crafted mini-comics to top-name creators (even a film premiere or two), each time the store packed shoulder-to-shoulder with sexy comic nerds from all walks of life. But this last Tuesday the Isotope was invaded by video game developers Gazillion and retrofitted with a large flatscreen TV, a table full of laptops, and large banners featuring adorable pint-sized versions of Marvel superheroes all across the store. Here in the original comic book lounge, the press (and therefore, the world) would get it's first in-depth look at Super Hero Squad Online. And like any good first look, it all started with a trailer. When you have a great niche site, you can use some tips here at Niche Edits Blog. Check it out.

Watch what happens when Dr. Doom puts all his cards on the table.



The video feed then switched over to show Super Hero Squad in motion. The first thing I noticed was how much the in-game graphics look like the cartoon show. Using complex shaders and other technical jargon you're probably not all that interested in, the development team really captured the vibrant and colorful world of SHS in great detail. We were shown a scene of Iron Man standing idle on a rooftop, and the demo driver quickly took the reigns and had the 'ol shell-head take flight. In the background, the Daily Bugle building was in plain view and eventually an OSCORP building appeared. We're in what's called a “social area”, where players can meet up to go on missions, show of the heroes they've acquired, or just chat with one another. While this social area obviously belonged to Spider-Man, there will be other areas based on unique characters as well.

A big selling point of Super Hero Squad Online, and what sets it apart from other superhero MMOs, is that YOU play as the Marvel heroes. And you'll collect those heroes as well. Much like LEGO Star Wars or Pokemon, as you complete missions and level up your character you'll unlock more heroes for you to control, each with their own unique skill sets and emote animations. The whimsical nature of the Super Hero Squad franchise means these characters also have a lot of personality: The Thing makes snow angels in concrete, Wolverine does his best interpretation of Edward Scissorhands on nearby shrubs, War Machine fires all his weapons and “BANG” flags pop out of the barrels, and Ms. Marvel blows super powered kisses. It's all amazingly cute and I couldn't help but smile as Gazillion showed off all these little emotes.

But lets get to the nitty gritty, shall we? How does the combat work?

Super Hero Squad Online is an action based game, meaning traditional MMO tropes do not apply here. There are no cooldowns or waiting periods before you can attack, you can simply go into a mission and start kicking MODOK ass right away. After joining up with up to three of your friends, the squad is then sent to their own private mission area. Combat is handled by using combinations of the right/left mouse buttons and the space bar: simply click on an enemy and your hero will attack. Successful hits will fill up a star gage under the health bar, which can then be used to unleash even more devastating special attacks. Some of these are downright hilarious: In one mission, Iron Man used his “memorize” ability in which speakers popped out of his armor and began blaring his namesake Black Sabbath song, stunning all the enemies nearby. As is the case with RPGs, as you gain levels you'll unlock new attack moves and character emotes for that hero.

Missions are designed to be short, lasting anywhere from five to fifteen minutes each. The developers stressed that they wanted the game to be as fun and accessible as possible, with no backtracking required and little downtime. Missions will be linked via the stories they tell, similar to the story arcs of comic issues. At the end of each mission players will be ranked with a medal for their performance, ranging from silver all the way up to Adamantium. If you run out of health during a mission you will respawn instantly and stay in the action, but your ranking at the end will take a hit. Missions will be infinitely replayable, though, so the you can always try for a better score later on.

The number of characters shown at the demo was quite impressive. Gazillion has been allowed to pull from Marvel's entire 5000+ roster of characters for use in SHSO, even bringing in heroes and villains that have yet to make an appearance in the show. While Gazillion worked closely with Marvel for the initial batch of characters, future additions to the game will be community driven. After the game launches, the community manager will be looking closely at what the players want to see added to the Super Hero Squad universe and the team will make their decisions based on that feedback. I think Ron's already started his petition to get a playable Nova in the game.

I've got some bad news and good news though, if you were the type of kid who used to fight on the playground about who got to be Spider-Man during recess. When entering missions, no two players may choose the same hero. This isn't the Clone Saga, so you can't have four Spidey's running around the same mission. However, there will be variations of heroes that you can unlock, say Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor for example, and those alternate characters may adventure together freely. Best of all, these variant characters are not just simple costume swaps and will have their own unique powers.

Gazillion wasn't ready to talk about the business model for Super Hero Squad. Judging from the way the game is focused on collecting characters to use in-game, I'd be very surprised if Super Hero Squad Online followed a traditional subscription-based plan like World of Warcraft. The title would seem to lend itself well to a free-to-play model, where you could put in a ton of hours to unlock your favorite hero, or you could pay $2.99 to unlock that hero instantly.

Oh, and did I mention the whole game was running in a web browser? Super Hero Squad Online was built using the Unity Engine, which allows 3D graphics to be rendered in most standard browsers. This could be dangerous for comic-fan productivity at schools and workplaces across the country, since basically almost anywhere you have access to a computer you'll probably be able to play.

Super Hero Squad Online is slated for release sometime in 2011, but during the event Gazillion stated that they want to get the game in player's hands before the end of the year. The word “beta” was mentioned. Marvel is pushing the game hard, with big announcements planned for E3 and SDCC so I would expect any solid mention of a public or private beta to happen until those conventions. So until next time, True Believers, check out these screenshots from the game!



Additional Links:

Super Hero Squad Online Official Site

Super Hero Squad Online on Twitter


Josh Richardson isn't afraid to admit that the Super Hero Squad comic is on his pull list. You can read his thoughts on video games and comics daily on Twitter.


  1. O boy, that looks insanely cute and fun.

  2. What an odd way to make toast. I would hope Spidey would wipe the web goo off of the toast before he ate it.

  3. I’ve enjoyed the show for it’s childish humor and fun take on some of my favorite heroes. This game looks like it holds true to the SHS that I enjoy. Can’t wait to play it!

    One question, what makes this an MMO? It says you can play with 3 of your friends?

    Favorite SHS quote "Mr. Abomination tear down that wall!"

  4. Mac compatible?


    the Tiki 

  5. If this has low or no subcription fees then I’ll be definatly be playing this. Can’t wait to HERO UP!

  6. Hmm…. somehow I just don’t feel like getting called a noob by a 3 year old. It would crush my self esteem.

  7. I love you guys, but what’s next? Will you do an article on new Superman underroos for babies 6-18 months? How about an article on Spiderman diapers? I hope Marvel is paying you for advertising for this stuff.

    But maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. There are a lot of 45-year-olds who buy Tiny Titans and Disney comics, so maybe a lot of grown men want to become baby cartoon characters in a video game too. If that’s their thing–whateva.

  8. the trailer made it look like a card-based, pokemon/magic the gathering’ish game.  I hope it’s not that…