Virtual reality grows and thrives in many industries, but the casual interactive entertainment consumer is still waiting for a big VR gaming hit. There are major ports like Skyrim, quality VR exclusives like Lone Echo, and a scattering of other notable releases, but the masses await a recognizable experience that will usher them into the new branch of gaming. Oculus secured a major exclusive with Marvel Powers United VR, with dev team Sanzaru tapping into childhood imaginations and capitalizing on comic characters that are becoming pop culture icons, but this game feels like a sample of more ambitious virtual reality experiences to come.
The characters are front and center in Marvel Powers United VR and there’s a stout playable stable to pull from. There’s a handful of gestures and moves that I’m able to use in the game and the movesets of the heroes can only be so diverse, but there are subtle differences that keep each hero feeling unique. For instance, Storm and Captain Marvel have similar standard attacks, but Storm can raise tornadoes with her more advanced ability and Captain Marvel can create an energy shield around herself. Wolverine and Black Panther’s mirrored skills are another
A small touch of note is the stable including Mutants from Marvel Comics. The roster in the most recent Marvel vs Capcom fighting game felt limited by the characters used in the Marvel movies under the umbrella of Disney, which is notably absent of Mutants due to the licenses held by 20th Century Fox. Marvel Powers United VR not only breaks through that limitation, but includes even lesser known heroes and villains like Scientist Supreme, Madame Hydra, Blackbolt, and Crystal.
Once I chose a character after finishing the tutorial “Prologue” chapter, the game opened up into the brunt of the experience. Gameplay happens in matches where four heroes defend objectives against waves of enemies that grow stronger. Twice during the matches, boss villains appear and the team of four must focus their attacks on them while also avoiding their powerful abilities. In the end, a large generator is summoned into the map by the dog Inhuman Royale Family member Lockjaw and then teammates must defend it while also grabbing cores around the map and inserting them into the generator to power it. That final segment is when things really heat up and
Walking, running, and hovering around while taking down the enemy fodder is a blast during these matches, but it’s all that the game offers other than replaying the Prologue (more on that in a bit). Variety comes in the form of working with different heroes and teammates, but that wears thin very quickly.
VR is all about immersion and Marvel Powers United VR does a good job of it in a few different ways. First and foremost: The Powers. Ninety-nine percent of the characters did enough to really captivate me as I played around with different power sets. There are understandable limitations, but the development team did a wonderful job with letting the characters thrive within the frame of the game. The powers, the sounds, and the movement all felt good.
And then, there’s Spider-Man. There's no web swinging! When I looked at the available characters, everyone had options that made them work like I assumed they would. Flight simply takes me up to another plane of horizontal movement, but Spidey is completely grounded beyond leaping around to platforms. Granted, you can use the web tether to pull yourself to platforms and it's almost enough. I'm not counting this against the score for the game, but it’s something that fans of the character will surely notice. No swinging, webheads.
A subtle touch I enjoyed is most noticeable with the largest and smallest character: Hulk and Rocket Racoon. I was aware going in that the model for Hulk was larger than other heroes, but it was legitimately jarring to see the smaller heroes when I entered the match. The flipside for Rocket Racoon was equally jarring and just as entertaining. No matter the stature of your chosen hero, Marvel Powers United VR was very comfortable for me while using full locomotion. There’s a comfort mode for those more susceptible to motion sickness as well.
The development team harnessed the comic book charm for the heroes and
The very first mission in the game allowed me to choose between Captain America and Black Widow so I could learn the ropes. The conflict took place in what seemed like a destroyed New York, ushering me through set piece after set piece as I learned how to play. Throughout, I teamed up (and bantered with) with Hulk, Rocket Racoon, Spider-Man, Deadpool, Wolverine, and Captain Marvel, even grabbing onto the hand of Marvel to fly up to the final staging ground.
It was such a cool experience and it’s disappointing to learn that it’s the only one of its kind. The rest of the game takes place in the wave defense matches and lacks the personality that the tutorial exuded.
As I tackled some of the hero goals and completed multiple matches, I went into the Victory Lounge to open up loot crates (cosmetics only) and enjoy my rewards in a physical space. The costumes that I earned called back to fan-favorite versions of characters from the comics and is another example of the heroes being front and center and the best part of the Marvel Powers United VR experience. I was also welcomed by Baby Groot, which was a neat touch.
Marvel Powers United VR feels like a game headed toward greatness, delivering a robust experience mirroring the standards of non-VR gaming. It comes up short, though, and leaves a good bit to be desired. The experience of embodying superheroes is a lot of fun at times, but the lack of variety sets it way back. There’s a lot of potential here, so I hope the Sanzaru team fleshes out the game more over time
MARVEL Powers United VR
- The gameplay is a lot of fun
- Experience really capitalizes on the license for these characters
- Well implemented full-locomotion
- No more chapters like the Prologue
- Lack of variety makes the experience wear thin quickly
- No web swinging!