Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
In 1991, developer Data East published Captain America and the Avengers as an 8-bit video game cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console, and loosely based on a coin-operated arcade cabinet using licensed characters from the universe of Marvel Comics. In this case, the Avengers roster of superheroes, which is this version is comprised of Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and Vision.
In a thin plot concerning Marvel supervillains capturing Iron Man and Vision while in pursuit of vaguely powerful energy source(s), the player is left to control Captain America and Hawkeye in hot pursuit across the American landscape, starting around the Tampa area and traversing through New York, Omaha, Boise, Salt Lake City, Avengers Park, Houston, and various other locales on the overworld map. Sometimes movement will encounter a “Red Alert,” which looks like a tornado icon, in which enemies must be bested in a trippy interstitial one-screen stage before advancing.
The basic controls are correct: A jumps, B attacks. From there, though, a variety of different moves are available to the player depending on whether Captain America or Hawkeye is being controlled. For example, pressing down from a high jump will make Captain America lower his shield for either a devastating attack or to bounce off of otherwise-harmful spikes. Hawkeye, meanwhile, can fire arrows, including straight upward or at an upward diagonal. Additionally, Captain America can throw his shield (which boomerangs back) and double-tap left or right to dash forward in a faster attack. Both characters can crouch, attack from a crouch, and punch while their projectile is in flight.
Throughout the stages are red-hued capsule pods, which can be hit to reveal an item; or, in some cases, several. These pick-ups range from the useless 5-point bonus to extra lives to health hearts that can replenish the hit meter per hero. There are two especially important items to hunt down: Every level actually requires an Exit to be found before the stage can be left behind, and there are Power Crystals that, when enough are collected, enhance the collecting character’s attacks. For example, Captain America’s shield will go back and forth across the screen in a longer arc when he collects 100 crystals, whereas when Hawkeye collects 200 his arrows become explosive and thus more powerful.
At first, Cap and Hawkeye are apart, and travel across the overworld map with separate icons. However, once they are in the same city together, the player can switch back and forth between them at any time, similar to the functionality of the first NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. In this cause, the primary usage is like just to switch to Hawkeye to shoot otherwise hard-to-reach items. Otherwise, Captain America has more attack variety and quicker movement. Also, his shield can actually block certain projecticles when being held.
With several stages, many boss fights, and interstitial portions, Captain America and the Avengers is a tough, meaty game, designed to provide a Marvelous (pun intended) experience. However, it certainly has its flaws: Walking speed is a tad slow, Hawkeye feels weak with only one arrow allowed on screen at a time, it can be argued that the Red Alert sections are utterly useless, and overall this side-scrolling platformer seems to recycle many of its design elements (for instance, the jet-propelled moving platforms) a little too often. For a game that would have made sense to develop and market as an action-packed adrenaline-pumping non-stop superpowered thrill ride, the slow movement speed combined with tedious aspects serve up a challenging gauntlet that does not stand out amidst the NES library of top-flight video games.
Nobody can knock Data East for the visuals here at least, with lushly details backgrounds meeting fun foreground detail, and the two primary heroes that, indeed, look like their comic-book equivalents. The three-color sprite limit does tone down the enemies a bit though, which waters down the appearance of signature villains such as The Mandarin and Ultron; although, it could be supposed, Ultron is mostly just metallic sheen anyway. The animations are a tiny bit stilted, but otherwise smooth, and while minor flickering occurs, the gameplay proceeds without a hitch for the most part, which certain specific scenes managing impressive 8-bit looks.
The background music and sound effects are professional programmed, appropriately accompanying the on-screen action. Some of Data East’s signature effects can be heard, like their pause effect and the “thud” impact, as experienced in other license titles like RoboCop. At times, the overall audio can seem a little underwhelming; the sounds could use a little more punch, and sometimes the music seems like it is only taking advantage of two channels, and even then using repetitive notes. But in other moments the music swells with gravitas and drama, nicely complementing the game’s theme. The soundtrack has its fans, and never comes across as annoying or detracting.
Again, this NES game is based on a prior arcade game which was based on licensed characterizations, so it is limited in how mind-blowingly inspired it can be. That being said, some of the design decisions are worth nothing, like Captain America’s nifty shieldplay and dash attack. For better and for worse alike, Captain America and the Avengers does not quite play like any other NES platformer; others may have multiple moves, character selection, and necessary item-finding, but not quite in the same combination as the formula that this cart presents. This adventure is worth checking out for old-school fans; and even if it is not among the best games, it gets a rating of three stars out of five.