Movie-based games often follow the plot of the films, but SEGA, publishers of "Thor: God of Thunder" and "Captain America: Super Soldier," chose to go in a different direction when tackling their summer blockbuster tie-ins. "Our approach with regard to story was to create [scenarios] that were original to the video games; not the same as the movie," said Alan Pritchard, SEGA of America Executive Vice President before a preview of their "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" games. During the event, which took place in SEGA's US hometown of San Francisco, CBR News spoke with the games' developers and tried out the titles on the various gaming platforms.
While the stories of both games diverge from the films, they are firmly set in Marvel's cinematic universe and feature both the likenesses and voices of the film characters. Versions of the titles will be available on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles as well as Nintendo's Wii and DS handheld system. According to SEGA's director of development Todd Hartwig, Nintendo 3DS versions of the games are currently in production and the next-gen releases feature stereoscopic 3D modes to take advantage of the new wave of 3D televisions currently hitting the market.
"Thor: God of Thunder" is a third-person actioner that takes players on a journey across the Nine Realms to face foes familiar to longtime readers of the adventures of Marvel's Norse god in Ulik, Ymir and Surtur. "It's rare you ever get to see these characters in a game," said Bernie Terrie, a developer at Liquid Entertainment, the team charged with bringing "God of Thunder" to the next-gen platforms.
In order to enhance the gameplay experience, the current writer of Thor's comic book adventures, Matt Fraction, was recruited by Liquid to assist in creating the game's storyline, and particular attention was paid to giving the controls a real sense of Thor's strength and abilities. "He's one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe," said Andrew Rubino, another developer at Liquid. "Everything you see in the movie -- everything you see in the comics -- we want you to be able to do in the game."
In the playable demo, that sense comes through as Thor issues lightning storms, throws Mjölnir at his enemies and uses a special grapple system to initiate complex, rewarding combo attacks and quick time events. "We want you to have the feeling that [your character] is strong enough to wrestle these guys, to meet them on their level," Rubino explained.
The Wii version utilizes the same storyline and third-person action scheme, but the system's motion controls offer a different, unique experience for the player. "One of our main goals was to bond the power of Mjölnir with the Wiimote," said Red Fly Studio's Chad Barron. The result is specialized combo moves and a cyclone feature that allows Thor to save civilians from fires and other hazards. The deep variety of attack options gives the player a choice in how they approach the game. "For the older players, they can go for the more strategic combos. For the younger players, they can just waggle away," said combat designer Chris Frechette. The Wii version also features exclusive flight levels in which Thor can level everything in his path. "It's all about mass destruction," Barron explained. He also mentioned the game will feature its own special ending.
Both the next-gen and Wii titles include upgrade systems and special collectible items that augment Thor's visual appearance. The player can also unlock his various costumes, including the Destroyer armor.
The Nintendo DS Thor title, "God of Thunder," is a side-scrolling action game that once again emphasizes the strength and power of the title character. "You're imposing your will by taking on multiple enemies at once and keeping the action going" explained developer WayFoward's Austin Ivansmith. Thor is free to power-jump between both DS screens, attacking enemies with a variety of melee, ranged and combo moves -- and in throwback to classic side-scrolling, there is no block button! One particularly satisfying move is a grapple technique that allows Thor to latch onto and hammer away at the Warbeast, one of the many bosses the player faces. Other foes include Ymir, Surtur and an original character named Verma. "I wanted to have a female troll in the game," Ivansmith explained. "You always see trolls, but there's never any women."
Demoed on the DSi XL, it is quite a good-looking game, featuring specially created artwork by Mark Brooks with colors by Sonia Oback used in the cinematic cut-scenes and available for viewing in the menu system. "['Thor: God of Thunder'] is a love-letter to the DS," Ivansmith said.
Where "Thor: God of Thunder" emphasizes the character's godly powers, "Captain America: Super Soldier" brings Cap's near-physical and mental perfection to the fore. "We wanted to give the player the experience of fighting like a super Soldier," said Next Level Games Brandon Gill. The game, also a third-person actioner, features its own storyline as developed by comic book writer Christos Gage. In it, Cap must infiltrate a Hydra-controlled castle during World War II. To accomplish this, players must engage in close-quarters combat, negotiate platforming zones and solve puzzles. One particular puzzle features the player using the controller's analog sticks to short-fuse various devices. If the wires get too close, Cap takes a shock and the player gets force-feedback on the controller. Fail three times, and the device blows up in Cap's face. It is a well-executed example of the thought and detail put into the game.
In the castle, Cap also gets help from an unlikely person: Baron Zemo. "Christos actually suggested we bring [Zemo] in," Gill said. The game also features such characters as Madame Hyrda, Baron Strucker and Iron Cross. Infiltrating the fortress will also bring you into confrontation with The Red Skull himself.
Cap also enters the Hydra Castle on the Wii release, but the game features its own distinctive character design and motion control implementation. "We didn't want to try to compress high-definition details onto the system," said SEGA's Beejay Enriquez. "Instead, we have a more playful art style that better suits the platform." That cartoonish sensibility extends into one of Cap's sneak attacks, which illicited laughs the first time it was executed correctly.
As in the Xbox and PS3 versions, Cap can counter, attack and shield-throw using a combat system that grows in complexity throughout the game. The results, as seen in the demo, are fun and lead to satisfying combat encounters. While the game can be played as a straight brawler, it also rewards the player that changes up tactics and makes good use of Cap's shield. To that end, the game features a slow-motion mode that allows the player to target several enemies or objects, unleashing a single, powerful shield throw.
The Wii version features an upgrade system and plenty of collectables. In the next-gen version, the upgrade system is a much as search for information as it is an item-grab. "The more Cap knows about his enemies, the stronger he gets," Gill explained.
With the Nintendo DS version, the emphasis is speed. "Combat is fast and fluid," said Griptonite Games' Michael Byron. The game -- which scrolls in all directions -- features plenty of combat, combos and puzzles, all of which invite the player to move at a breakneck pace. Even the jumping and climbing feels unusually fast. "We have these bite-sized levels that really mix up classic platforming and fast-paced action," added SEGA's Matt Hickman. Adding to that feeling are a variety of puzzles that build on the player's understanding of the game.
Cap also has a few moves specific to the DS version that get their charge from melee attacks, one of which is "smart shield bomb attack that basically does a screen clear," said Byron. A further special attack is Cap's "Super-Serum Mode" allowing the First Avenger to plow through enemies.
Byron told CBR News that the graphics and speed push the hardware to its upper limits. "We have spinning propellers and snow [animation]," he pointed out. Those background elements, combined with the quick action, add up to an exceptionally enjoyable experience.
Actors Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans provided the voices of Thor and Cap on all versions of their respective titles, while Tom Hiddleston lent his voice to Loki in "God of Thunder" and Hayley Atwell appeared as Peggy Carter in "Super Soldier." Their contributions strengthen the link between the games and the films while giving the developers the flexibility to expand on the properties. In each case, the team at SEGA and the various developer studios expressed the hope that their efforts offer fans unique experiences that reflect the core concepts of each character. From the demonstration levels we played, "Thor: God of Thunder" and "Captain America: Super Soldier" certainly capture their respective feels, but the true test obviously lies in the public's reaction when the games are released this summer.
"Thor: God of Thunder" arrives on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii and DS on May 3
"Captain America: Super Soldier" lands on all platforms July 19