When I heard the words “Marvel” and “new fighting game” together, I got really excited. The Marvel vs. Capcom series has proven that Marvel superheroes are right at home in the fighting genre… so long as all of their superpowers are efficiently highlighted. Soon after I heard the words “mobile” and “iOS” and I was considerably more worried. My dreams of a new technical fighter with a deep mechanics system were dashed, replaced with fears of a cheap free-to-play iOS game that cared more about the Marvel name than making the game fun.
On the surface Marvel Contest of Champions struck me as that free-to-play nightmare, presenting things like microtransactions and premium currency and all of the things I was worried about. As I played the game, however, I noticed that while this game is not the deep fighting game I hoped for, it’s not nearly the F2P cash-in I feared either. This Contest has found a nice niche somewhere in the middle, showcasing some impressive visuals and a interesting story more complex than I expected.
The name Contest of Champions refers to the “contest” that The Collector has created, where the winner decides the fate of planet Earth. On one side is Kang the Conqueror, who wishes to Earth into his latest conquest, and on the other is “The Summoner,” AKA the player, who’s trying to keep the Earth as we know it the same. The battle is fought through collecting, upgrading, and battling famous Marvel super heroes from both the comics and the movies. Heroes and items are gained through crystals, and they are obtained by completing story quests with Dissidia Final Fantasy-style “game boards” with multiple paths. That’s the basic formula: choose quest, fight through quest, collect spoils, repeat.
The only complicated part of this game are the fights themselves, and even then the controls are pretty easy to learn. Tapping on the screen results in a light attack, swiping in front of my hero is a medium attack, tapping and holding for a few seconds fires off a heavy attack, and swiping backward blocks attacks. There’s a few rock/paper/scissors rules to consider, like how heavy attacks and break blocks, and a special meter that can be tapped for a hero-specific attack, but beside those each fight plays out the same way.
The biggest obstacle for Contest of Champions is monotony, as the game never shakes up the formula. The quests become longer and more difficult, but the core experience is the same every time, and every hero has the same control scheme. There are online matches against other human players that can make things interesting, but after a while those fights grow stale, too.
Worst of all is the loading pauses, which my iPad 2 was having a hell of a time with. Multiple times I had to restart the game because the loading screen went into a permanent loop and never let me back into the game. This is particularly frustrating when I collect a rare hero to add to my team and the permanent loading loop strikes before the game saves, sending my new acquisition back into the aether. How can I feel comfortable about progressing if the game could render everything I do meaningless later on? It’s not a great feeling.
Marvel Contest of Champions is a good game for Marvel fanatics and those who want to see what iOS can do to check out. The character models are impressive, the levels are dark and mysterious, and battles are legitimately fun most of the time. However, the constant repetition of the game’s format and the crippling loading faux pas bring this Contest down a few notches.
This review is based on a download of Marvel Contest of Champions for iOS.