In 1991, Data East released Captain America and The Avengers in arcades. It became a moderate hit, prompting Data East to develop a console version on the Genesis/Megadrive in 1992.
Now, nearly 25 years later, justice is being served as Marvel Entertainment is finally releasing Captain America: Civil War, the movie which is based on Data East’s arcade classic!
Okay, so that last part isn’t true, but what better time to revisit this old-school Genesis brawler than in synergistic concert with the 2016 blockbuster movie? (And what better way to cynically drive website traffic with accidental clicks following “Captain America” Google searches, eh?)
Enough talk! There’s no time to think! Evil is afoot!
Listen well, citizens! On first glance, Captain America and The Avengers looks like your standard superhero beat-em-up, but like any good superhero, Captain America lives a double life! Red Skull has brainwashed a collection of random Marvel supervillains in an evil plot to destroy the world using a giant laser on the moon, and its up to earth’s mightiest heroes to bring them all down. Pretty standard stuff.
The Genesis port of Captain America supports 2-player co-op, though the original coin-op version of Captain America was 4-player simultaneous. You still get your pick of all four of the arcade version’s heroes, though, including Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and… Vision… yeah… Not Thor? Not Black Widow? Apparently nobody cared about them back in 1991, or at least Data East didn’t. You will encounter other Avengers along your path to justice who will assist you in your noble cause including Quicksilver, Wonder Man, Wasp and Namor the Submariner.
“I’ll teach you the meaning of justice!”
In addition to all of these cameos, there’s actually quite a bit of fan service in the game. There’s a hefty list of boss enemies that extend beyond your Avengers regulars. Sure, Red Skull, Ultron and the Mandarin all make an appearance, but you’ll also fight against X-men villains like Juggernaut and the Sentinel robot, and even villains as obscure as Fantastic Four baddie The Wizard.
The combat in Captain America is rather basic. You do have the ability to jump, punch, block, dash, pick up and throw items in the environment, and use your character’s respective special attack by pressing both jump and attack simultaneously (why the C button isn’t used for this is beyond me).
However, compared to more refined brawlers like TMNT: the Hyperstone Heist or especially the Streets of Rage series, Captain America’s fundamental gameplay is a bit shallower. That’s not to say it’s bad, necessarily, but it’s certainly less methodical as you won’t be executing combos or planning grabs/throws the same way as you would in those other titles.
What is slightly more of a problem is the collision detection. It may not be too noticeable to those unfamiliar with the arcade game, but there is still a smaller hit box for your character to strike which may annoy you from time to time. As a result, I found myself trying to keep my distance and using my long range special attack more often, which honestly helped make Captain America feel a bit unique compared to other beat-em-up games. Your strategy comes from whether you will get in close or attack from afar, and the fact that your special attack doesn’t drain away any of your heath means that both approaches are always an option.
Another aspect of Captain America and The Avengers which sets it apart from other brawlers is the inclusion of several shooter stages. Beginning in scene 2, the Avengers will occasionally take to the sky, sea, or outer space and begin blasting away at baddies sorta-kinda like a co-op version of R-Type (Hawkeye and Captain America use gliders to fly).
If you thought that Captain America‘s character sprites looked small compared to its peers, you’re right, but these flying segments are probably the reason why. The smaller sprites work better in these shooter stages as they provide more room to maneuver, and playing in co-op allows for some interesting opportunities for team-up strategies. Overall, I’d say these shooter segments help break up the action and give Captain America a unique identity among a crowded genre of superhero brawlers.
“America still needs your help!”
Aesthetically, Captain America does a solid job of replicating the arcade game. Since the sprites were already small in the original, there really isn’t anything lost there. However, some of the backgrounds can look flat or indistinct at times. Still, while there’s not anything revolutionary going on, the character art and animation is adequate, some of the larger bosses look cool, and I’ve observed little to no slowdown in the game over many, many playthroughs (more on that below).
If there is a gold star to be handed out for Captain America‘s presentation, it has to be for the audio. The music compositions from the arcade original are particularly catchy, they have a genuine heroic air to them, and the Genesis reproductions of them are rather good.
Little touches with the audio also help pump up the mood, too. For example, when you reach a boss, there is a bit of heroic banter between him and your Avengers (sometimes voiced, sometimes not). Then the villain’s music starts to play as you begin the fight. When you’ve pummeled him to about 25% of his remaining life, you hear Cap’s heroic call to action of “Okay! Go!” and the music immediately changes to the theme of the heroes. It’s quite the morale booster.
There is an impressive number of voices crammed into the game, as well. From Klaw and the Living Laser insisting that you “Don’t disturb us!” to a hearty “Thank you, Wonderman!” (when Wonder Man saves your ass… again) to Red Skull’s final insult of “You stupid men! Ha! Ha! Ha!”, there’s a lot of fun dialogue voiced in the game. These are still Genesis voices here, so they are a little raspy, but they’re absolutely clear enough to make out. Unfortunately, not every single voice made the transition from arcade to the Genesis version, but I’d say at least 3/4 of the original voices are present.
One thing that is missing from the Genesis port, however, is the artwork during the level transitions. The story text is all present, but the arcade game accompanied these vignettes with comic book-styled visuals that rounded out the package well. One more criticism regarding things left on the cutting room floor, is that the arcade version included the names of each of the villains on top of their health bars, a touch that the Genesis version drops. It’s a small gripe to be sure, but who amongst you can recognize villains like the Wizard, Klaw, or the Living Laser on sight? Only the nerdiest of us can.
It’s also worth mentioning that since Captain America is port of an arcade game, it can be comfortably completed in about thirty minutes. It’s not an overly difficult game, and there are options to adjust the difficulty up or down, but keep in mind that some of the bosses can move very quickly and have very devastating attacks as they were designed to suck your pants dry… of quarters… you know, in your pockets.
“What an evil thing you’ve done!”
Oh! That’s right. There’s a Super Nintendo port of Captain America and The Avengers, too. While the Genesis version was directly ported by Data East themselves, the SNES version was published in 1993 by Mindscape and developed by Realtime Associates (who SEGA fans may know as the developers of the Bug! series on Saturn, and of course, Barney’s Hide and Seek for Genesis).
If you were to look at screenshot comparisons of the Genesis and Super NES versions of Captain America, I guarantee you, you’d immediately see that the Super NES version does indeed look better. Even the cool comic book cutscenes between each stage are restored in the SNES version. Unfortunately, while those static images on the Super NES are prettier, the gameplay once things get moving is a different story, and that is where the Super Nintendo version of Captain America really falls apart.
The Genesis version was already missing animation frames from the arcade original, and the Super NES port removes even more. What else is missing? The voices. Not all of them, but very few of the original voice samples made it to the SNES version, though those that remained admittedly sound cleaner than they do on Genesis. As much as people laud the Super Nintendo sound chip, you’d think that the Super NES version’s soundtrack would be better, too, but it really isn’t. While some of the tunes sound okay at best, some have a muffled quality I’ve found to be characteristic of several third-party Super NES games, and others are flat jarring to listen to.
Another bizarre exclusion from the Super Nintendo port are the environmental weapons scattered throughout the stages. There are a few scattered about here or there, but there are many more crates, barrels, wrenches, etc. present in both the Genesis version and in the arcade original. I have to imagine that this is due to the Super Nintendo not being able to generate that number of interactive sprites at the same time without slowing down to a screeching halt. (Oh, and did I mention that the Super NES version has significant slowdown issues, especially in co-op mode?)
This affects some of the boss battles too, whereas some of the bosses like the Sentinel or Whirlwind have more limited move sets in the Super NES version, again, likely to accommodate the slow-as-$#!& CPU clock speed (half the speed of the SEGA Genesis). At least Realtime Associates had the good sense to map your special attack to its own button, though.
All of these issues could probably balance out, and, adjusted for personal taste, make the final call as to which version is “better” more of a toss-up. But remember when I said that the Genesis version has a slight collision detection problem? On the Super NES, that problem is exponentially worse. You have to be standing almost right on top of an enemy to land hits. As much as I wanted to like the Super Nintendo version when it finally came out, the act of playing it is far more of a chore, which is disappointing, especially considering that something as simple as collision detection isn’t even a hardware limitation of the Super NES (unlike the slowdown and missing animation).
Realtime Associates also developed ports of Captain America for both the SEGA Game Gear and the original Game Boy, but I don’t have any direct experience with those versions and can only guess how well those turned out. Unfortunately, Data East never released an arcade perfect port of Captain America and The Avengers the same way Konami did with X-Men and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but between the two, I’d say the Genesis version of Captain America is decidedly a better game than the Super Nintendo one.
If all you have is an Super Nintendo and you were a fan of the arcade, you might still enjoy your version, but it’s more likely that you’d be disappointed with it. Plus, you didn’t get a super-sweet Captain America collector’s pin with your version, either! Neener-neener-neener!
“Argh! I can’t move!”
While not nearly as polished as other Genesis brawlers like Streets of Rage 2 or Splatterhouse 3, Captain America and The Avengers does a respectable job recreating the Data East arcade game for the home console and carves a unique niche for itself in what was a crowded genre at the time. Yes, it’s missing some of the bells and whistles from the coin-op original, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on the Genesis version of the game… Captain America would never give up…
Do you think that big “A” on his head stands for France?
+ Solid 16-bit replication of the arcade game
+ Lots of Marvel cameos and fan service
+ Shooting segments diversify the action
+ Great heroic soundtrack and voices
– Collision detection problematic
– Backgrounds sometimes bland
– Missing a bit of the arcade’s flair
– Best played with a friend