Back in the ’80s and ’90s, every big movie that came along had a terrible game to go with it. But with modern technology and more considered, careful game design…nothing has changed. Big movies still get crappy licensed games built to hit you up for cash at every turn. Guardians Of The Galaxy: The Universal Weapon, however, is both a game you want to play and an obscene gesture from Star-Lord towards how mobile games are “supposed” to work.
To start with, you pay for it: $5, for iOS, Android, or Windows Phone. But you get a lot for your $5; a huge roster of characters to unlock with more on the way, an arena mode, and a huge pile of levels with a lot of replay value taking you everywhere from prison to the Kree homeworld.
In play, it’s essentially RPG combat in real-time: You assemble a party and apply lasers, blades and Groot to ass. It’s a well-considered mobile game in that it’s built for touch screens, each level is short, and it’s fairly intuitive. Tap a character, draw a line to an enemy, and start kicking adorable big-headed ass:
It’s also brutally old-school in the sense that you have to grind; in order to advance in the main game, you’ll have to hit the arena to bulk up your characters, and play through previously beaten levels to find status buffs and gear. There are also little sidequests you can fulfill for cash, generally involving killing a certain number of enemies or using a special skill a set number of times.
The grind is worth it thanks both to the cute art style and the clever writing. Cosmo the dog is writing the blurbs and serves as the voice in your ear during the game, and he adds a lot of humor to the proceedings, a welcome relief from the terrible writing of most of Marvel’s mobile and F2P gaming experiences. The RPG mechanics also are surprisingly deep; you’ve got status buffs to forge, gear to buy, and, of course, characters to level up as the game goes on. It’s not Final Fantasy, but it’s reasonably complex and you’ll spend a lot of time noodling.
It’s an odd game because it was clear that right up until release, it was designed to be free-to-play. Players of Marvel Puzzle Quest or Marvel Avengers Alliance will see the term “Iso-8″ and probably reflexively chuck their phone across the room. It’s just a status buff in this game, thankfully, but the F2P mechanics are there, just essentially excised.
Truthfully, you don’t miss them: Who would? The only drawback is that the game could stand to be more optimized: iOS easily had the best results, and it chugged a little on other platforms, even on my Samsung Note 3.
It’s worth buying just to send a message to mobile game companies that if a game is good, we’ll actually pay for it. And, as bus companions go, adorable little Marvel ass-kickers make for some excellent ones.