Superhero fans invariably have very little to look forward to or shout about when it comes to video games. Whether it be down to either a lack of respect for the source material on the part of the developer or a rushed development cycle so that the games can meet strict deadlines and release alongside their film counterparts, comic book games are more often than not average at best. Developers don't appear to be bucking that trend on the 3DS either, with Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, Thor: God of Thunder and Spider-Man: Edge of Time all releasing within the past five months to lukewarm receptions.
Captain America is the latest superhero to get the comic-to-game treatment on 3DS in Captain America: Super Soldier. Developed by High Voltage, the titular star-spangled Avenger goes up against the tyrannical Red Skull and terrorist organisation HYDRA during World War II. In the same vein as Red Fly Studio's Thor, Super Soldier on 3DS attempts to ape the 3D levels and movement of its home console counterparts as opposed to the 2D platformers seen on the DS, with gameplay split evenly three ways between combat, puzzle solving and platforming. The latter is all but on-rails and is reminiscent of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. You never really need to worry about where you're jumping; just stand at the edge of a platform, jump and Cap will automatically launch himself to the desired destination. Truth be told, the lack of challenge in the platforming is forgivable if only because you get to watch some impressive animation as Cap vaults, somersaults and swings through these sections.
The animation is equally enjoyable to behold during combat. The melee combat is nice and simple: attack with A and counter with X, and Super Soldier has more than a subtle whiff of Batman: Arkham Asylum as you easily take on large groups of soldiers in a fluidly animated flurry of punches, kicks, backflips and elbows to the face. Your combat repertoire is rounded off by Cap's shield, which is used to stun enemies and deflect enemy projectiles back towards your opponents. The shield also doubles up as your main puzzle-solving device, although "puzzle" is a generous term — they mostly boil down to guiding lasers around a room or destroying generators — as they're never really taxing, but they're usually accompanied by enough enemies and a small enough margin for error to make them somewhat challenging to complete.
Unfortunately, considering that the shield is one of Cap's most utilised and iconic tools, controlling it never really feels intuitive. You can perform a quick throw that sends the shield hurtling towards the nearest target, hold down R to block or L to perform a manually aimed throw. It's in performing these latter moves that Super Soldier stumbles. Aiming a manual throw or deflected projectiles is managed on the touch screen, but there's little accuracy in doing so; the cursor regularly jumps erratically around the screen or disappears completely if your finger strays too close to the edges. When so many of the puzzles require you to make use of the manual aim function (as well as aiming your shield at multiple targets so that it ricochets along all targets in quick succession) this leads to some infuriating moments where it's far more difficult to destroy things during puzzles than it ought to be, and a real shame considering every other facet of Super Soldier's controls works really well and feels suitably responsive.
Super Soldier's inadequate shield controls aren't the only thing holding it back, as certain niggles soon become apparent. Firstly, it's by no means a looker; the environments — while impressively varied, despite the majority of the game taking place inside a castle — are often drab and poorly textured, while character models are both blocky and hilariously disproportionate. The frame rate also drops unforgivably low during many larger areas (and inexplicably inside certain smaller ones) which has an adverse effect on the aforementioned oft-impressive animation. Speaking of which, while Cap moves fluidly (frame rate permitting) during combat and platforming, his animations for running are both hilariously out of place and convey none of his usual grace or finesse, making watching Cap prance along the ground — or scurry along narrow beams and platforms, arms outstretched like some imbalanced fool doing a Riverdance — even more jarring.
Neither of those errors in judgement concerning animation are game breakers, of course, but one big gripe concerns Cap's animation routine whenever he gets hit by bullets, most notably bullets from turrets. It won't be an uncommon occurrence for players to take a hit from a turret and be unable to escape its line of fire in time before they're hit again because of Cap's recoiling animation, leading to instances where he gets trapped in a corner of a room unable to escape death. Further technical issues include characters regularly losing an appendage inside a wall and a camera whose sole mission appears to be to make the player's life as difficult as possible. It's controllable via the D-Pad, but that's no consolation when you need to move and rotate the camera at the same time. It’s utterly useless during boss fights, in which the camera often zooms out so far that it makes working out what you need to do to defeat foes like Madame Hydra, Baron Strucker and Iron Cross all but impossible.
Captain America: Super Soldier for 3DS has a fair amount going for it. However, for everything it does well, Super Soldier stumbles somewhere else, its most heinous crimes being iffy production values that go so far as to be detrimental to gameplay and a camera that's more maniacally evil than Red Skull himself. Unlike past superhero games it's not a complete train wreck, and great combat along with decent platforming, puzzle solving and fan service all add up to a game that's well worth renting or picking up on the cheap, especially if you're a Captain America fan. It's just a pity that Cap's steadfast dedication to upholding freedom couldn't have stretched to intuitive controls and technical proficiency as well.