Marvel's The Avengers debuts on Blu-ray and DVD September 25, and to get fans pumped, the comic book juggernaut released an iPhone and iPad beat-em-up called Avengers Initiative, an episodic series that begins with the Incredible Hulk, and will later feature chapters starring Thor, Captain America and Iron Man. That said, the company took much of its inspiration from Chair Entertainment's Infinity Blade titles. In fact, Marvel Initiative plays almost exactly like those games, which is fine, because you'll love being able to pummel villains like Wendigo, Abomination and The Kronan with everyone's favorite green superhero. Hulk smash, indeed.
Story-wise, Nick Fury sends the big lug on a mission to roundup these enemies after they escape from The Vault, a top-secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility located in the Rocky Mountains; meanwhile, Fury goes to round up the other Avengers, hence the episodic nature of the game. That's the basic gist of it, and quite frankly, this is all you need to know, though Marvel peppers brief cut scenes throughout the game, and also litters the environments with dossiers that provide additional information.
The general flow of the game, meanwhile, will feel instantly familiar to anyone who's played Infinity Blade. Avengers Initiative transports Hulk to different environments, whereupon which some oversized bozo halts his progress. Tap the opponent, and both combatants butt heads. Here, you simply tap the right or left arrows to dodge incoming attacks, then, with the enemy stunned, rapidly swipe the screen to deliver bone-crushing punches. Link a few together, and Hulk unleashes a double-fisted combo upon his foes; you also have the ability to block and deflect (think parry) strikes. Through it all, the controls remain very responsive and satisfying to use.
Thankfully, battling goes a bit deeper than pressing arrows. A Rage meter, when full, lets Hulk pulverize monsters with dangerous thunderclaps, earthquakes and gamma radiation. In addition, a tap-the-screen mini-game lets you win a critical test of strength, or simply dodge and then counterattack. You may even receive the opportunity to throw bad guys through walls. Finally, when Hulk emerges victorious, the game presents you with three unique finishing maneuvers, each one different, depending on the character Hulk squares off against. For an example, look no further than the K-Series Humanoid, as Hulk grabs the bot by its elastic arms and flings it around.
Beyond that, you can upgrade Hulk's abilities a variety of ways. Purchasing different outfits, like Gladiator Hulk or Ultimate Hulk, increases the likelihood of medkit drops, or imbues the hero with an XP boost, among other perks. On top of that, equipping special augments do all manner of things, from adding +375 health to +96 damage and +10 stamina. You also stand to unlock other powers, such as Unmatched Might (Hulk roars, then stuns enemies with gamma radiation) and Neverending Fury (a punishing array of blows).
As for the presentation, we think it's superb. Marvel did an outstanding job capturing the feel of the universe, with voice actors that channel each character's intensity, dramatic music and some of the coolest visuals we've seen in an iOS title. From a damaged aircraft carrier to a more peaceful town, there are plenty of sights to take in, along with hidden medkits, rage packs and the game's virtual currency, ISO-8, to find. There's even an ISO-8 mini-game that brings to mind the classic car bonus level from Street Fighter II, as Hulk decimates a large chunk of crystal to gather loot. Great stuff.
On the downside, the story mode is relatively short (we beat it in less than two hours), though to be fair, Marvel sends the Hulk on his way to beat up more enemies. That, however, may not justify forking over $6.99 to download the game, especially when the publisher also throws in-app purchases into the equation to level up and acquire more ISO-8. It comes off as being just a tad bit greedy.
Otherwise, we think Avengers Initiative is one of the best fighting adventure games on the App Store, as well as the best Incredible Hulk title we've played in years. Marvel fans will love every second, and with the promise of at least three other characters, we have a feeling we'll play this one for quite some time.
Review code provided by Marvel.
What's Hot: Infinity Blade style combat, impressive voice acting that captures the essence of Hulk and classic Marvel villains, plenty of special attacks and abilities to augment, highly detailed graphics that bring The Avengers' world to life.
What's Not: Story mode is too short, $6.99 to download the game.