The mid-‘90s were a rough time for Marvel. Losing money hand over fist, the comic giant filed for bankruptcy before laying off one-third of their staff. This is the reason why dozens of Marvel games launched during this time. Desperate to stay afloat, the cost of licensing one of their characters or properties was incredibly low. It was a free for all buffet, and every publisher was invited.
It’s no secret that Marvel was eventually able to turn their fortunes around. 2008 saw the release of Iron Man, the first instalment of the current MCU. It was such a huge success that a second Iron Man movie followed just two years later, and the buzz surrounding the upcoming Thor and Captain America adaptations was starting to build. Superheroes were ‘in’ and Marvel was leading the way.
When SEGA picked up the Marvel license, the deal turned heads. Alas, the only decent thing to come of it was the barely above average Captain America: Super Soldier and a mildly diverting Thor tie-in for Nintendo DS – the best of a very bad bunch. Arguably, THQ’s Marvel Super Hero Squad series from 2009 found more success, aimed at younger gamers.
These games, while of dubious quality, are all well-remembered. The cost of Marvel licensing was starting to rise, and so publishers were pushing their superhero tie-ins heavily. There was, however, another Marvel game released around this time, which came and went with barely a whisper.
Marvel Superheroes 3D: Grandmaster’s Challenge was released exclusively on Wii in December 2010, published by European outfit BigBen Interactive and developed by Parisian studio Neko. The Wii was very much in its prime – some of the year’s biggest releases included Super Mario Galaxy 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Metroid: Other M, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn – yet Marvel Superheroes 3D was able to elude the press and slip into stores with next to no fanfare.
How and why this happened is open to good old speculation. The ideal place to start is with the game’s quality – the few gaming sites to give it the review treatment were left far from impressed. It was an on-rails shooter of sorts, viewed from first-person and heavily reliant on motion controls. A board game-style hub acted as the overworld, with the ultimate goal being to work your way to the middle and smash the giant blue dome protecting the titular villain.
Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Wolverine and Spider-Man were playable characters, while Dr Doom, Juggernaut, Lizardman, Green Goblin, Red Skull and the Grandmaster himself filled the enemy roster. Mister Fantastic and Nova showed up as supporting characters, meanwhile, appearing mid-battle to dish out bonuses and hints.
Reportedly, the incredibly simple action sequences lasted for mere minutes, and everything on offer could be seen within half an hour. It was, without doubt, a budget game that had been knocked up quickly and cheaply.