Marvel has become quite the marketing monster. No one outside of regular comic book readers had heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy a few years ago, and now the buzz around the imminent release of their movie has my six-year old treating Rocket Raccoon and Groot like old friends. Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon is a cog in the hype machine, but one made by enough people who care about the characters that it’s genuinely enjoyable in its own right.
Not every mobile game based on comic book heroes gets an original story written by one of the men who knows them best, but this one does. Dan Abnett, who teamed with Andy Lanning to put the lineup of misfits used in the movie together in the Guardians’ ongoing 2008 comic series, is the architect of this tale too, much of which is told through comic panels. No prior knowledge of Star-Lord and company is necessary, as he is joined in short order by Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Rocket and Groot, each of whom have their distinct personalities come across.
They also play differently in the game’s action-meets-strategy battles. In each stage, the Guardians find themselves attacked by enemies who can come from either side of the screen or simply be teleported into their midst. Simply dragging a line from a hero to a bad guy will start them out on automatic basic attacks, and you can move them to avoid environmental hazards and the like in the same way.
Since you’ll end up with a team of four, that’s already plenty to keep you on your toes. But there’s also strategy to keep in mind, since ranged attackers like Rocket are more effective against melee-minded opponents, while bruisers like Drax do more damage to enemies with guns. Every Guardian has special abilities activated by virtual buttons at the top of the screen, and including certain character combinations on your squad also opens up the potential for potent combo attacks. Groot can also heal damaged allies, giving you some more versatility in battle.
The end result is simple but frantic fun, though at times it’s easy to have characters stacked on top of each other and find it hard to move the one you want. Boss fights pop up every so often, some of which unlock additional characters from both the movies and the comics. I can’t reveal most of them without spoiling some of the fun, but suffice it to say that Abnett deftly juggles multiple sagas from the comics in ways that will reward diehard Marvel fans.
So are these the movie, comic book or brand new versions of characters like Drax? As Abnett told Gamezebo in a recent phone interview, it really doesn’t matter.
“It is, as it were, as user-friendly to the moviegoers as it is to the comic readers,” he said. “I think if we’ve done our job properly, the game will introduce these concepts to people who aren’t familiar with comic continuity. I think things will make sense, and how it all fits together will make sense.”
It does make sense, from the comical dialogue to the all-ages-appropriate art, which is cartoony in the comic parts and almost a super deformed style featuring oversized heads and small bodies during gameplay. Really, one of the lone bummers in The Universal Weapon is that it’s pretty short. You’ll be drawn into leveling up different Guardians and taking on non-stop waves of enemies in Arena mode only to find that the story builds to something of a climax and just kind of ends in one impossibly tough battle.
More scenes and characters are “Coming Soon,” so you can add “leaving them wanting more” to the things that Marvel has learned to master. Even if you haven’t been caught up in Guardians-mania yet, it’s a game with a heavily armed raccoon and a talking (sort of) tree, it’s easy to get into and has a cool story written by the guy who is basically the godfather of the game’s protagonists. As the movie posters say, “You’re welcome.”