In my experience, iOS games that accompany the release of major motion pictures should come their own giant, flashing “Proceed With Caution” sign. I’ve found such apps usually have a rushed-to-market feel, as if they were slapped together to be on the App Store in time for the movie’s premiere. And whatever effort the developer and studio put into the initial release is usually long forgotten by the time the movie lands in the “Bargain DVDs for Under $10” bin at your local supermarket.
If Marvel Entertainment and its new corporate parent Disney aren’t careful, though, they’re going to give the movie tie-in game a good reputation. Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty, newly released to the App Store to help promote the forthcoming Captain America movie, features solid production values and engaging gameplay. This universal game will be a welcome arrival for Captain America fans and may even entertain iOS gamers who couldn’t care less about Steve Rogers’s alter ego.
In the Captain America game, Cap’s commando pals have been captured by Red Skull and his sinister Hydra organization. It’s up to Cap to lead a one-man assault to free his buddies and foil Hydra’s plot to build deadly super weapons to use against the forces of good. This backstory sets into motion a side-scrolling platform game, in which you tap into Cap’s superhuman abilities to make your way through 24 unlockable levels.
You steer Cap’s actions through a series of onscreen controls. Swiping in a specific direction will make him run, jump, and slide, while on-screen buttons control his shield and other super skills. When it’s time to battle Hydra goons, it takes a combination of swipes to dispatch them—the game is very good about reminding you which direction to swipe and when.
Captain America’s controls may be easy to pick up, but they’re occasionally troublesome to execute. Cap’s forward momentum can keep him rushing in one direction when you’d rather go the opposite way. A double-tap is supposed to stop him in his tracks, but I had some trouble executing full stops with pinpoint precision. Cap’s habit of running headlong in one direction becomes especially problematic as you get to later levels that require more precisely executed maneuvers. Some gamers will be frustrated by Cap’s insistence on running into booby traps while they frantically tap the screen to make him stop.
The development team put a lot of effort into the look-and-feel of Captain America, and it comes across in the finished product. Little details like the sounds Cap makes when he runs across different surfaces help the game shine. (One criticism: Cap rattles off one-liners as he dispatches Hydra henchmen and they’re as cheesy—“Courtesy of Uncle Sam!”—as they are repetitive. You can turn them off in the app’s settings, though that turns off all sounds.) The background music befits a game tied into a major theatrical release. The 2D graphics look sharp—I prefer the wider canvas of the iPad, though the game looks and plays fine on all of Apple’s iOS devices. If there’s a downside to all this detail, it comes in the form of longer load times than you might be used to and the occasional performance hiccup on older devices like the iPhone 3GS.
I don’t pretend to speak for comic book enthusiasts, but Marvel included some appealing extras for long-time Captain America fans. As you progress in the game, you can unlock old Captain America comic book covers, as well as different costumes for Cap. Cut scenes shot as motion comics are clearly included with graphic novel fans in mind.
I don’t know how the theatrical release of Captain America will fare this summer, but the game certainly makes a respectable debut. Give the player a little more control over Cap’s forward momentum, and this will be one game I hope turns into a long-running franchise.
[Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels wishes that reviewing mobile apps was thought of as a superpower.]