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Marvel Strike Force (iOS) artwork

Marvel Strike Force (iOS) review


"Marvel Strike Force is perfectly designed to fleece wealthy whales, which surprisingly works in its favor!"


I suppose at this point I've spent enough time with Marvel Strike Force to actually review it. The game launched more than two years ago, after all, and I started playing it within a couple of months of its debut because someone wanted me to write a quick mini-guide. After finishing that now very outdated document, I just... kept playing. And playing, and playing. It's the rare day indeed when I don't find a half-hour or more to devote to the game, which might very well mean there's no title I've ever spent more active time with in my life. But is it actually any good?

Marvel Strike Force, in case you didn't know, is a free-to-play battle RPG featuring a slew of characters drawn from the worlds of various Marvel comics. Initially, it contained almost exclusively the obvious folks you know and love, with a heavy emphasis on villains because bad guys almost always have the most intriguing powers. You could play as The Punisher or Wolverine or Spider-man, or possibly Electra or Crossbone or Yondu or some mercenaries. And as you fought the same few rivals, gradually the roster grew and you could recruit additional characters a little less expected. As of today, the lineup of available and soon-to-arrive characters numbers a hefty 145.

I'll come back to characters in a moment, but first I want to tell you what you can do with your lively crew. I described Marvel Strike Force as a "battle RPG," so that's your first clue. You assemble squads of five characters and you pit them against other squads of five or more. Sometimes this means diving into campaign missions, which carry you through abbreviated storylines and make you fight a bunch of good and/or bad adversaries while there's talk of multiple dimensions and shifting allegiance. I don't pay a lot of attention to most of it, to be honest, because it's fairly redundant and hard to follow if you've not previously studied the lore in the pages of a comic book. Other activities include "raids" and limited-time "events" and "alliance wars" and even one-off battles against other players. There also are ongoing "blitz" and "arena" modes, where you have less control over who you battle.

However you spend your energy, your primary goal is to gain additional gear--to enhance the attributes of one individual on your roster or another--or shards. Those shards go toward first unlocking a desired character, then upgrading him or her to higher levels of competence. It can take a long, long while to upgrade the best characters to their maximum, because there are a lot of restrictions in place. For instance, you can only attempt to farm a particular character (by auto-completing campaign missions you have already stomped all over in the past) a few times before you spend all your energy. And even if you have a bunch of energy saved up, you can only tackle a particular campaign node so many times before you must either wait until the next day or use in-game currency to refresh things just slightly. There's a lot to learn that I'm glossing over here, but that's the gist of it.

So let's go back to those 145 characters I mentioned (though the number is likely to grow by another 5 or so each month that passes, if things continue as they have). The lineup now includes all sorts of awesome heroes and villains, with different requirements--sometimes much steeper than usual--to unlock them. Right now, for instance, I have 0 shards for Doctor Octopus and I haven't had the chance to increase that number. I haven't checked for sure, but I anticipate that in order to earn some shards, I will soon have to bring specific high-level characters to a limited event and win a challenging battle. But I very possibly don't have those eligible characters leveled up much or at all, or I have all but one or two of them nearly maxed out and still won't be able to participate until the next time the relevant event comes around several months later.

The game does that sort of thing a lot. And it's clear that the idea is for whales to spend a bunch of money beefing up characters in a hurry so they don't have to wait. I've seen people start playing and drop $50 or $60 just getting a single new character, then more besides to start powering him or her up more rapidly. It is possible to spend literally hundreds on just one character, out of an enormous roster, and still not have the right crew in place when a highly desirable roster expansion opportunity occurs. I've played free-to-play games before, but none have been so unabashedly greedy. And actually? I consider that a sort of favor from the developers. There's no way any but the absurdly wealthy can possibly justify throwing away piles of cash before they just get disgusted and stop playing. So for someone like me, who is reluctant in the first place to spend even a dime, the temptation is eliminated. After all, it's possible to climb through the ranks simply by being patient. I can spend that few hundred I saved to buy groceries, or a bunch of digital games on my storefront of choice. Most of the potential Marvel Strike Force whales will understandably burn out early and move on to something else because the developers' greed has made them sick to their stomachs.

"But wait a minute, Jason," I can almost hear you saying. "That sounds like an awful experience! Why are you tolerating that greed? Why do you even still play?"

The answer to that question you may or may not have actually asked is that I like the little rush of excitement when I acquire some new gear that will finally allow me to improve one of a few characters I've been working on for the last few weeks. Such moments especially good when they occur in Marvel Strike Force, better even than they might in more reasonable games that have suckered me into spending actual money in the past. I also love that the presentation here is on point. There are a lot of beautiful environments and character models, precise animations of moves I recognize from movies I've seen. That loving attention to detail--even if provided with ulterior motives--is nothing short of spectacular. And someone else is paying for all of it, so I can just keep enjoying new features and careful adjustments to balance that keep the experience engaging even as the roster swells.

One final area I'd like to cover before I wrap this up is the online multiplayer, which I find very good. Alliance wars come along several times a week and last for 24 hours, ensuring players from around the world can participate. It's easy for an alliance leader to mark targets within the enemy ranks, so that everyone can get involved and contribute to a victory, and alliance chat makes it easy to provide further direction or ask questions or just congratulate others when they achieve a milestone. Raids are pretty well balanced, so that participants can choose a path and earn a bunch of resources by taking an active part. There's a lot more strategy present beyond the expected brute force, so that you're unlikely to come up against a lot of teams that simply paid their way to victory. Wisdom beats might and it even beats a single bottomless wallet.

I recognize this is an odd sort of recommendation, but here's my Marvel Strike Force advice for you: download the game today, play it a little bit every day thereafter and never spend a dime. That's the best way I know to get the most out of an experience much better than it ever had a right to be. Someday, the rampant developer greed will inevitably chase away the last of the exploitable whales and the service will close. But for now, the game is a thoroughly absorbing way to pass the odd moment throughout your days, weeks, months or possibly even years. I look forward to whatever comes next.

4.5/5

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 09, 2020)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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