Preview: SEGA's "Captain America: Super Soldier"

This summer marks the much-needed revitalization of Marvel Comics' Captain America, the "first" Avenger. For years, he hasn't received the exposure he probably deserved, either in movies (the laughably bad '90s film disgraced his good name -- and Ronny Cox's, for that matter) or video games (save for some side appearances in "Captain America & the Avengers" and the "Marvel Vs. Capcom" series). But all that will change thanks to a carefully crafted film from director Joe Johnston (of "The Rocketeer" fame) and SEGA's forthcoming ""Captain America: Super Soldier"," due July 19, 2011 for the Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo DS.

Hopefully SEGA will have learned their lesson from previous comic book film translations, like the two "Iron Man" games and the laughably bad "Thor: God of Thunder." "Captain America" does have some promise, however, and throwing a shield at bad guys can't be all bad. (Can it?)

Rather than follow the events of the film, "Captain America: Super Soldier" embarks on a totally separate path. Instead of chasing down the vile Red Skull, you're planted smack dab in the middle of Baron Zemo's large castle, located in the heart of Bavaria. It seems trouble is brewing within the castle as Hydra are taking over, ready to turn it into their home base. In order to keep his beloved country safe, Cap has to work his way through the castle, fighting back the fiendish forces with his physical prowess and, of course, the stars-and-stripes tattered shield.

The console versions of Captain America appear to feature routine third-person beat 'em up stages where you proceed room by room, clearing the area of Hydra agents and occasionally picking up dossiers. The controls, however, aren't your typical button mashing territory. Instead, as the physically able super hero, you'll have to time your moves to execute them with the utmost flair. Cap's physicality allows him to take out enemies with swift punches and flying kicks. And, in traditional Marvel fashion, he can also hurl his shield at enemies from a distance, taking them out before they can launch some kind of counter attack on him. The shield is also quite useful when it comes to blocking incoming attacks, as Cap can hide behind it and then strike back while the Hydra agents attempt to recover.

Focus moves are also achieved within the game. Beat up enough baddies and you'll fill up this meter. From there, you can let loose with a magnificent, stylish attack, in true Captain America fashion. These moves can't happen often, though, so use them sparingly -- and preferably against larger opponents.

While the action is performed swiftly, it does take a little getting used to. It's more about pulling off moves with timing, rather than knowing what move to use in a given situation. Also, during jumping sequences in the game, you don't actually control Cap as he flies around, only when he comes in for an attack. Not that you don't have hold of what he can do, but it feels a little off-putting that you can't do everything yourself. It's almost like you're being directed where to go in some spots, rather than being given the opportunity to fully explore. (Granted, the world's in danger, so maybe the game is keeping you on task for a reason.)

While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 editions of "Captain America: Super Soldier" take a more realistic, movie-style approach, the Wii version leans more toward a younger audience, going with a more cartoon-style appearance and execution. The action seems to be more direct in terms of hands-on control here, as you use the Wii remote and Nunchuk to unleash Cap's fury and shield throws. Jumping is also easier, as you're actually given control instead of being guided automatically. However, the game still does a bit of hand-holding as you can't fall off ledges to your death.

Finally, there's the DS version, and this is completely different than any of the console versions of the game. Here, instead of going through elaborate 3-D stages, you move around in a side-scrolling area, similar to the old Data East arcade game "Captain America and the Avengers." The attacks consist of physical punches and kicks, along with the ability to shield throw. Though the 2-D nature of the game does make the range more limited, it's just as much fun, as you can concentrate better on enemies and not worry about camera problems. (A Nintendo 3DS version is in the works as well, and should be similar to this version, save for solid 3-D visuals.)

All four versions have something to offer for each audience, but the question is, will it be enough? It's hard to tell at this point. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions do have their moments of coolness (particularly with the Focus maneuvers), but they're also somewhat strained, between the repetitive combat scenarios and the somewhat questionable lack of control with something as simple as jumping. Also, from the video segments we've seen from the game, the character models aren't that impressive. There are some parts of Baron Zemo's castle that look splendid (especially with some of the distance shots that show you what's happening outdoors), but the character animation appears a bit stiff in spots. There's still time to touch it up, however, so it remains to be seen how the finished game will look.

Two more things should be mentioned with the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. One, SEGA worked closely with Chris Evans, who plays Steve Rogers/Captain America in the upcoming film, for the title. He's been modeled so that he appears just like his superhero likeness (mind a few slight glitches, which we hope get cleaned up), and he also supplies a great deal of voice acting for the game. No information on whether Hugo Weaving provided any voicework for the Red Skull, who supposedly makes an appearance during the proceedings.

As for the second thing, SEGA is producing both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game with optional 3-D viewing settings. They also did this for "Thor: God of Thunder," though the effects provided in that game were a little underwhelming, especially when compared to some of the higher-end PS3 games like "Motorstorm Apocalypse" and "Gran Turismo 5." Here's hoping that once the graphics are cleaned up, the 3-D effects deliver the goods with the Captain. He certainly deserves it, especially when shield throws are concerned. (We wish there was a first-person setting just for this effect alone.)

Moving on to the Wii version, we couldn't help but feel there was a sense of fun with this one, rather than going all Super serious. The game is geared for more of a Cartoon Network vibe, especially with the controls, as kids can mimic the Captain's actions with a few swipes of their arms. The game also tones down the difficulty a bit, so while more "hardcore" players may not enjoy the game as much as the next gen console versions, casual fans of the movie likely won't be frustrated with what it has to offer. The games graphics lack that high-definition polish (as all Wii games do compared to newer consoles), but no matter -- it still looks like a winner and Evans is still along for the ride.

We shouldn't sell the DS version short either. Sure, the 3DS version will probably outperform it when it comes out later this year (probably in time for the home video release), but Griptonite Games, the developer of such DS games as "Iron Man 2" and "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions," approaches it with an old-school mentality -- meaning it's more about fun than technical prowess. From what we've seen, the game follows a classic nature of design, with emphasis on getting to the goal while occasionally figuring out an enemy's attack patterns and the occasional puzzle. The range may appear limited, but it's this kind of thing that worked so well with comic book-licensed games on the Genesis and SNES. Here's hoping it gets its respectful due when it arrives next month, rather than have people tirelessly wait for the 3-D edition.

As it stands now, the Wii and DS versions of "Captain America: Super Soldier" appear to be much more successful in capturing the hero's spirit than their Xbox 360 and PS3 counterparts, despite some interesting gameplay mechanics and the digitized presence of Evans. That said, SEGA's track record hasn't been so hot when it comes to making games based on popular Marvel films, but we'll give Cap a fair shot at glory when all four versions hit stores next month. Hopefully the First Avenger will finally get the credit he's been due in video games for quite some time.

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