This is what kids ate their vegetables for. Well, I did, anyway. I don't know what it is about this game, but I've played it countless times. Clearly I am a sick person.
The fact that I will always get a kick out of the dialogue and weirdly muffled digitized voices probably doesn't hurt. Long a staple of laundromats and local pizza joints in the early '90s, Captain America and the Avengers is a pretty typical beat-em-up; roaming the city streets, beating goons to a pulp, getting beaten unfairly by bosses in lazy attempts to extort more quarters from your greasy hands. These games were designed - like all arcade games - to drain your quarters. Bragging rights were won, not by who had the most quarters at the beginning of the evening, but who had the most at the end.
Except that it's not entirely typical of the genre. For one thing, you don't last long in the city streets; soon enough, you're cruising high in the skyline in the game's surprisingly not-frustrating shooting segments, and you're headed down to a secret underwater base, and then outer space and the moon. Hardly the locale for Final Fight or Streets of Rage or TMNT.
I mean, I'd like to think that I haven't played this game dozens of times out of pure nostalgia. I'd like to think I could make a case for it - so bear with me here.
Despite its shoddy attempts at English, its rote gameplay, its iffy mechanics - it simply never feels lazy. Faint praise, I know, but I think it's something the Marvel fan can appreciate. I wouldn't claim the journey is epic, exactly, but the way the battles zip from new location to new location just makes it all go down so easily. There's no backtracking, as is common; very rarely does a new wave of thugs appear on the same screen. The game is always pushing the player forward; in a genre that usually outstays its welcome 15 minutes in, this is a welcome relief.
And it gets the bosses right. The game has very, very little variety in enemies, but at least the bosses are different, and their attacks are (mostly) in character. Whirlwind... well, you know what he does. Crossbones attacks with bombs, knives, and guns; Ultron shoots his robot-y blasts, while Mandarin has an array of attacks to match his rings.
Occasionally other Avengers make cameo appearances: Wonder Man shows up to give Cap or Hawkeye a little air-go-kart; Quicksilver brings health, and Wasp gives you a sort of temporary shield (OK, maybe that's not quite accurate...).
Ever the polite superhero.
Yeah, this jerk.
Still, the gameplay itself is nothing special. Pretty standard punch combo, throws, jump kicks. No room-clearing, health-draining specials, either - which might have been a relief when you get cornered later on. Each hero has their appropriate power attack - it doesn't drain your health, but it's not particularly powerful either. And there's plenty of random objects to pick up and throw, but they're not instant-kill attacks like they are in, say, TMNT. Just your average rocks, barrels, and, uh, soda cans.
Even still, it runs smoothly enough, and, again, it moves so quickly that you don't have time to get bored or even frustrated. What's legitimately impressive (for a 1991 arcade game, anyway) is how big and seamless the levels are. In one, you go from fighting atop an aircraft carrier, fighting a boss, hopping in the water for some shooting action, fighting another boss, emerging into an underwater base, fighting your way through it, and - another boss. Not a single transitory screen - totally seamless. Hey, trying to justify this game might be a fool's errand - but that's impressive.
"Taco" being a (wrong) romanization of the Japanese word for Octopus, duh.
The CRAK THWAK BLAM sound effects, the bright and varied levels, the sheer variety of locations, the absurd dialogue, the way the music turns heroic when you're close to beating a boss - this was as close as a young boy could get to playing a comic book. Sure, there were better superhero games - but none with this feeling.
And that music. No lie - it's pretty great. Oddly enough, the Genesis version has the best.
Everyone knows the dialogue - it's absurd and meme worthy and totally ridiculous.
Captain America - defeated by the power of dopey comebacks.
Hell, they even got Namor right - only that arrogant son of a bitch would say a thing like this to Captain America:
Still polite after all these years. Even after they did this to "Lil Cap'n."
The ports: The arcade game was ported to Genesis and SNES a year later. The Genesis version is serviceable - it plays mostly the same, but it took a not-particularly-great-looking game and make it look even more lackluster. It's also incredibly easy, especially as Captain America. I won't bore you with the details; trust me, Cap is way overpowered in the Genesis version for very weird reasons.
The SNES port is an abomination. It looks nominally better, but it plays like garbage. Very weird hit detection, as if it's not quite finished. The Genesis was ported by Data East, the folks behind the arcade game; the SNES version was developed by Realtime Associates, and if you look at that list, you can see they have a long history of porting laughably inferior games.
Oddly enough, both console ports follow the arcade version to a T - same bad digitized dialogue, same bosses, same levels - even the same seamless transitions. And because they're actually somewhat easier than the arcade, they make for very quick plays.
All in game screenshots are my own. Box art taken from Moby Games and GameFAQs, respectively.
Next time: I just played through the NES version of this game - which is totally different - and tomorrow I'll be playing (trying to) the Game Gear and Game Boy versions. I can't believe I just wrote that much about the Captain America arcade game.
Yeah, still having a few formatting issues, but at least I'm getting the images down. Sorry about that, will try something new next time.