Recently, TinyCo released MARVEL Avengers Academy, and it’s been all many phone gamers can talk about. Tea Fougner reviewed the game for us when it first came out, but after hours of gameplay our writers still had more to say.
So, why is this game so addictive?
Kate: So, I play my games on my Kindle Fire and I was so excited to see Avengers Academy was finally released for it! I started playing it on Wednesday and I haven’t stopped. I think one of the things that got me so quickly hooked is the way the activities slowly increase in time. At first the activities were short—1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes. The longest activity was 15 minutes, then 30 minutes, then an hour, two hours. Now I’m at level 13 and the longest activities last 8 hours. I don’t mind it, actually. I play a lot of Sims Freeplay, and have for over a year now, and it works similarly. It’s a great dynamic for me as a casual gamer, because I can constantly check in and feel engaged, but also set characters up for long activities before I go to sleep or go to work.
I think what sustains the addictiveness, what keeps me invested, is what lies just beyond the horizon.
Emma: I think what sustains the addictiveness, what keeps me invested, is what lies just beyond the horizon. One of the things that drew my attention to the game in the first place is that John Cena voices The Hulk, which is hilarious to me. You don’t get him until Level 30 unless you shell out something pretty substantial, so there’s that, but there’s such a rich cast of characters to unlock along the way that it just doesn’t get old.
I’m at Level 28 right now and there’s a few eight hour missions that pop up, but the thing with those is that if you shuffle it around right you can run them when you’re asleep, at work, in the gym, or whatever other big chunks of time take up your day. You start to build a strategy to maximize your time spent pretty quickly.
Christa: I don’t play a lot of mobile games… or rather, I don’t stick with a lot of mobile games, but I think what appeals to me about this game is that there’s always something new to work towards or unlock. If it was a set group of characters I would get so bored so fast. And it doesn’t require a huge time commitment from me either. I can dip in and out for a few minutes at a time when I need a break from whatever I’m doing.
Are you going to purchase characters? Are the prices reasonable/too high/too low?
Kate: I wasn’t going to purchase any characters, but then I realized that they had this special where if you purchased $5 worth of coins, they’d also give you crystal shards, and they gave you enough crystal shards to buy Spider-Woman, so I did. I don’t have any plans to buy the other characters, because I do feel they’re too expensive. But most frustrating for me is the fact that as I go on, I’m finding that lot of features you just can’t access if you don’t pay for them, and I find that frustrating, and other things that you used to be able to earn seem to disappear. When I hit level 4, I think, I unlocked this debris field that you have to use Pym Particles to clear. At first, I was able to earn Pym Particles on the board, but now none of the activities offer them. I don’t know if they’ll come back, or what’s going on, but that’s frustrating, because it’s not something you can pay for.
Emma: I bought Jess/Spider-Woman. She’s cheap money wise, earns you great bonuses, and is a ray of pure sunshine. The other premium characters are pretty prohibitively expensive. Vision is pretty funny and I’m a diehard War Machine fan, but I’m not paying $20 and upwards for either. I’ve spent my fair share on games like this before, especially WWE Immortals and Marvel Contest of Champions, but in those cases I felt like I was getting a lot more for my money and one of the big reasons for that is if you buy a character in a game like those, you’re controlling them directly and fighting with them. Ironically, I think I did spend $20 on a bundle deal to get a juiced up Vision in CoC, but he massively impacted what I was able to accomplish in the game.
Most frustrating for me is the fact that as I go on, I’m finding that lot of features you just can’t access if you don’t pay for them, and I find that frustrating, and other things that you used to be able to earn seem to disappear.
They just wrapped a mini event that, if you diverted attention from your usual coin/book/Pym Particle grinding and story quests, you could build towards unlocking A-Bomb and Red Hulk, but you also needed to buy a facility and use premium characters to tend to it if you were going to hit the thresholds to get those characters. I just plain don’t care about those dudes. I mean, if Red Hulk was being voiced by Brock Lesnar, yeah, sure I’d be obligated to and it would be hilariously worth it, but that not being the case, nah, I’m good.
To Kate’s point about the Pym Particles, they do get parcelled out in a really measly way to begin with. Part of the logic behind that is if you shell out for The Hulk, he can clear the debris without requiring the Pym Particles. Freemium games are all about preying on Millennials’ infamous short attention spans and issues with delayed gratification. Or at least that’s what the New York Times tells me. Being at Level 28, and Hulk being right around the corner for me I’m actually earning more Pym Particles than I have a use for. Womp womp.
Christa: I wasn’t going to buy any characters but then Kate mentioned the deal that would get you enough shards for Spider-Woman and I couldn’t resist. It ended up being $7 Canadian, which was more than I would ever really spend on an in-game purchase, but I think it was worth it just once. The other characters are way too expensive in my opinion and none of them really jump out at me anyway; I like Vision and War Machine fine but I’m not attached to either of them.
I did try very hard to unlock Pepper Potts when she was available for a limited time and I was only one globe short which was frustrating. And now I can’t get her to go away—she’s just standing there in the middle of the screen, asking for one more globe but there’s no way for me to get it…
What works? What doesn’t? How’s the sound?
Kate: The characterizations are great. You start with Tony, and Tony is very Tony (thank you Dave Franco). All the characters have a certain set of phrases that they say, and one of Tony’s is “How would everybody feel if I made an army of robots?” And it just makes me laugh every time. I also feel like Black Widow’s characterization is great (voiced by Allison Brie), and Sam Wilson (A$AP Rocky). But some of the other characterizations—particularly Wasp, Pepper, and Enchantress—feel a little shallow, but I’m not sure if that’s just how I react to the audio. There are times when Wasp is really cute and fierce—more so in text and especially when she’s interacting with Black Widow and Tony—but her audio is not as reflective of that combination of taking no shit but also being awesome. It’d be nice if the audio for these powerful and charismatic women matched up more with the text, as it does with other characters.
It’d be nice if the audio for these powerful and charismatic women matched up more with the text, as it does with other characters.
In terms of playability—I think one thing that frustrates me is that you can’t just decide you want a character to do something and earn a reward from it. It’s all connected to either quests or the board, and so if you have a character who isn’t doing a quest and isn’t an option for any of the board quests they just seem to wander around and do nothing, and that seems like a waste. Also, I’m in the middle of the quest to get Pepper through the Women of Power event and it’s darn near impossible partly due to the fact that you can only make one holoball at a time, and the character who can make said holoball seems to be picked at random. She’s pretty much set up to never be reached since it’s a timed one-week event.
Emma: I’m utterly in love with the character beats and the all star voice cast they’ve assembled. As I mentioned earlier, John Cena does The Hulk, which is the most perfect thing ever, but you’ve also got Dave Franco as Tony, A$AP Rocky as Sam/Falcon, Priyanka Chopra as Kamala/Ms. Marvel, Alison Brie as Black Widow, Alexandra Daddario as The Wasp, Kiernan Shipka as Spider-Woman, and Bella Thorne as Tigra. You do get a certain amount of looping of their catchphrases, the same as you would in similar games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out, but they’re pretty fun. I rarely play mobile games with the sound on, but I do make the effort for Avengers Academy, so that says it all on the sound front for me.
I personally adore all of it; it’s the emotional equivalent of stuffing a cupcake into my face.
Jan/Wasp is my favourite character by far and has been key to my engagement since day one. She’s very Elle Woods. Her intro flavor text talks a lot about her interest in fashion, socializing, and that she has a chihuahua named Honeybee. I personally adore all of it; it’s the emotional equivalent of stuffing a cupcake into my face, because Jan is a character I’ve always been very interested in because of her supposed investment in fashion, but I’ve never actually seen it used in a major way outside of some bits and pieces of Dan Slott’s She-Hulk run. She’s carefree and silly here, which is hugely cathartic for me because Jan has been so marginalized and repeatedly murdered since I started reading Marvel comics on a regular basis.
Those are the elements that they lean on in the early going of the game, but what’s nifty about the different buildings you get like the Triskelion, laboratory, Stark Industries, and various athletic venues is that opportunities present themselves to show the other aspects of a given character, and Wasp, again, is one of the main beneficiaries of that. Tony treats her as a peer when it comes to science, and she exceeds beyond him in her ability to manipulate Pym Particles. Every character has their own unique voice and well thought out personality.
When I was thinking about the next nearest comic equivalents to the individual characters personalities, I kept coming back to Kathryn Immonen. I would definitely identify Wasp and Enchantress as the characters who most reflect the spirit of her Marvel work, but it extends to the overall vibe. Jess reads very strongly like her current comic, but really, also any of her appearances where her sarcasm and self confidence shine through the brightest. There’s a real love of the Marvel characters and an honest engagement with the current comics evident in the game. I’ve only seen one brief cameo of Hawkeye, that is to say Clint, so far, but his character design is very obviously based on David Aja’s design and his only line of dialogue so far has been a reference to Lucky.
I really enjoy a lot of the characters’ personalities—especially Tony, Spider-Woman and Black Widow. I think Loki’s characterization in spot on.
There isn’t much that doesn’t work for me in this game because I’ve had enough experience with mobile games and similar executions (The Simpsons: Tapped Out being the closest to it) so I’ve already accepted a lot of the limitations of this kind of thing. One thing that nags at me is that Sam is by far the most self effacing character and constantly refers to himself as being a normal guy around people with powers. The same is true of Tony and Black Widow, who don’t see themselves that way, so there’s an uncomfortable racial subtext to an otherwise fantastic character.
The early going could do with a more even pace of gameplay. You get an initial burst of characters after you start but it grinds right down until well past level 10. I’m in a situation right now where I have more stuff available than I have funds to unlock, a backlog of about three or four levels worth of content, which is a serious miscalculation relative to how slow initial progress is. But hey, at least I know what I have coming next and can pick my priorities at the moment.
Christa: Like Kate and Emma I really enjoy a lot of the characters’ personalities—especially Tony, Spider-Woman and Black Widow. I think Loki’s characterization in spot on but he sounds so much older than the rest of them (which I guess he is? But still it’s weird). I can’t stand Wasp though. I think I get what they were going for, and sometimes during the plot-based conversations she is amazing. But because the catch phrases start to loop she starts to come off super shallow and annoying. There’s only so many times I can hear someone say “Want to stop for a selfie?” in one day.
Other than that I’m pretty happy with how everything works. I initially thought it was silly that if someone didn’t have a quest they would just walk around aimlessly. But then I remembered bailing out of The Simpsons: Tapped Out because I had too many characters, and going through and making sure they were all doing something was exhausting. So maybe this is a blessing in disguise?
What do you want to see in an expansion pack?
Kate: More characters! Cindy Moon aka Silk. Patsy aka Hellcat. Shulkie, always. Also Hawkeye and Bucky. And we know that there is going to be a dating aspect released at some point and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that dating not be restricted by gender.
Emma: There’s a gigantic amount of content already waiting that few to no one playing right now has seen yet. It wasn’t actively marketed in the initial promotion. I’ve already got Taskmaster and I’m currently in a quest to get Ant-Man, but the game is also telling me that Maria Hill is my next recruit, and her design is amazing. Bella Thorne has been confirmed to be Tigra’s voice actress and there’s been art released of her, but she hasn’t appeared in game yet as of Level 28.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that dating not be restricted by gender.
As far as what I want to see in the pipeline, it looks like everyone not explicitly an X-Men character is fair game, so, uh, give me everyone? My biggest joy in the game is how fresh and unprecedented the game’s take on Wasp is. Jan wouldn’t have made the top ten on a wishlist pre-release, so I want to be open to the same thing. With that said, I want Angela. They’ve been rolling her out in other games recently, so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she’s already in the pipeline given that Odin is faculty, I’ve just unlocked the Bifrost, and yet I still only have two Asgardians out of a confirmed three. More Spiders and J. Jonah Jameson as faculty would be pretty great. Miles, Cindy, and Gwen are all perfect fits for this game. So are Hellcat, She Hulk, and Squirrel Girl. I’d really like to see a complete curveball thrown in, someone you either wouldn’t think of or flat out wouldn’t want. Like The Punisher.
Complete agreement on the dating front. Same gender couples all the way. There’s plot lines that include flirting and dates between several of the characters, all heterosexual, but they also make it very easy to read Wasp’s interest in Spider-Woman as romantic.
Christa: If dating is restricted by gender I will definitely drop this game. There’s just no good reason it needs to be that way.
I want more characters as well but other than a few like Gwen and Squirrel Girl, I don’t have any specific requests. I’m excited to see who they add, who will voice them, and what they’ll bring to the game. I would have never picked Enchantress initially but I’ve grown to really like her.
What would a DC version of this look like?
Kate: I need A DC version STAT. Obviously we could start with Teen Titans, since it’s the DC equivalent of Avengers Academy. You could start with Dick Grayson and that generation, and then expand out to include the legacies. It would be nice to see a kind of united thread like there is in the Avengers Academy universe. The premise is basically Miss Hydra, the sexy female personification of Hydra, is launching an attack and the world needs the Avengers. I’m not sure what the DC equivalent would be, but I’m sure there is one that would require the Justice League.
Emma: Gotham Academy, I think, would be the nucleus. Lean on a bit more of a gothic tone to give it a uniquely DC feel, but have it open to the whole universe. Use Bruce, Clark, and Hippolyta as initial faculty. Kick the students off with Dick, Babs in her Burnside look, and Diana. Offer Blackbird as the initial premium character, roll out Harley Quinn and Bane as the first rogues in the bunch. From there you can roll out like, the current Dr Fate, Cyborg, Jaime/Blue Beetle, Supergirl, Maps, and so on. Same way you clear out adjacent zones in Avengers Academy, you can open up Star Labs, Themyscira, The Fortress of Solitude, whatever you want.
The villain structure of Avengers Academy starts with Hydra School and then moves on to AIM School, so, same deal. Arkham Reformatory, Belle Reve, and on from there.
Readers, are you just as addicted as we are? Tell us what characters you’ve unlocked!