Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems (SNES)

Pub & Dev: Capcom | October 1996 | 24 MEGS
Pub & Dev: Capcom | November 1996 | 16 MEGS

Avengers: Infinity War opened this past weekend (April 27, 2018) and grossed a whopping 640.9 million over its first weekend. Infinity War now holds claim to the biggest opening weekend in cinematic history, toppling The Fate of the Furious’ 541.9 million opening weekend by nearly 100 million. It also scored the biggest opening weekend in North America with 258.2 million, beating out the 248 million grossed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s crazy to think it was 10 years ago that the Marvel cinematic universe began with the epochal Iron Man (May 2, 2008). 10 years later, MCU kills it yet again with Avengers: Infinity War. Some people are sick of Marvel movies but as long as they’re this good, keep ‘em coming I say! The latest film centers around Thanos’ quest to acquire the six Infinity Gems. What a perfect time, then, to review Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. Capcom’s second to last North American SNES release (Street Fighter Alpha 2 being their last), Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems is a curious and worthy follow-up to X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse.

MY FIRST EXPOSURE TO MARVEL

A staple of many childhoods back in 1991
A staple of many childhoods back in 1991

If you were a child of the early ’90s, chances were you somehow got mixed up in the superhero subculture. It was simply a sign of the times. From trading cards to cartoons to toys to video games, superheroes and super villains dominated the scene. My brother, our friends and I used to hang out at this card shop, Triple Play. It was right next to the local library and a mom and pop rental shop. What a great time to be a kid! We spent much of our childhood down at the card shop buying the latest in the Marvel ’91 series and trading them. When we weren’t busy trading or buying Marvel ’91, we played the Street Fighter II arcade cab right in the store. It was a splendid time to be growing up in suburban America.

Who could ever forget the bar stats on the back?
Who could ever forget the bar stats on the back?

My favorite thing about the Marvel ’91 cards? Hands down the enticing stats on the back of the cards. This is where my obsession with numbers and ratings probably first developed, and a large reason (EGM is another factor) as to why I personally like to rate video games. To me numbers have always been a fun snapshot at things. I remember Fin Fang Foom’s stats were off the charts. He had something nuts like three 7’s.

X MARKS THE SPOT, FINALLY

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Back in the ’90s, superhero games were hit or miss. They were more of a miss on home consoles. It wasn’t until X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse that I felt things were starting to head in the right direction. I remember there was quite a bit of hype behind it. Seeing it grace the cover of the biggest EGM issue of all time definitely got our hopes up. Maybe we’ll finally get the X-Men game we always wanted…

Wolverine with a Dragon Punch? Take my money!
Wolverine with a Dragon Punch? Take my money!

And although it has its shortcomings, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse was a solid action game that was pretty fun to play. It wasn’t quite the epic superhero game we were all hoping for, but it was an admirable effort.

ROUND TWO FINAL ROUND, FIGHT!

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Exactly two years later, EGM issue #89 arrived in my mailbox. This was a bittersweet issue for me. It highlighted 16-Bit’s “last hurrah” so to speak.

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I can’t tell you how many times I read that article. Flashback to December of 1996. Although my brother and I still had our SNES, we were almost exclusively playing our PlayStation and N64. However, I never forgot all the great memories my dear old friend, the SNES, gave me over the years. So EGM’s article hit way too close to home. 1996 was indeed going to be 16-Bit’s last gasp and last “big” Christmas season.

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I loved the whole presentation of it. The yellow background, the nice big title dramatically declaring 16-BIT’S LAST STAND… but the best part was the last batch of 16-bit titles EGM featured. In particular, one title really stood out and caught my eye…

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My eyes popped when I saw Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. It looked absolutely badass. The fact that Capcom was behind it was all I needed to know!

The previews had me drooling
The previews had me drooling
Gotta love those classic captions from the '90s
Gotta love those classic EGM captions from the ’90s
It looked so damn good
Not your crappy SNES Captain America and the Avengers!
Never ever EVER mention that abomination again
Never ever EVER mention that abomination again
Arcade version was GREAT
Arcade version was GREAT
SNES port, not so much...
SNES port, not so much…
The ad got me even more hyped
The ad got me even more hyped

Yet despite all my interest and curiosity, I actually never got to play this game back in the ’90s. High school soon came calling in the late ’90s and I sort of fell out of gaming for a while there. Fast forward to January 2006, I experienced one crazy SNES comeback for the ages. It was a chance at gaming redemption. Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems was high on my list of SNES games I always wanted to play but never did.

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I bought a mint copy at a local flea market on Saturday, February 25, 2006. I’ll never forget firing up War of the Gems later that same night. It was like finally meeting up with that ship that sailed by so many moons ago…

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I chose the Incredible Hulk first and had one hell of a Saturday night smashing bad guys left and right. It’s not the greatest game but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.

THE STORY GOES…

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Whoever collects all six Infinity Gems will become omnipotent and virtually unstoppable. Adam Warlock has enlisted the services of the Marvel Super Heroes to bring them back home safely.

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Falling from the heavens above, the six Infinity Gems have been scattered throughout the world. Procuring them before they fall into the wrong hands is of the utmost importance. You’ll traverse many different places, from the Amazon River in South America to the frozen tundra in Alaska to the Boston Aquarium.

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Capcom’s intros from that era always stood out, and this is yet another solid example. The world’s mightiest superheroes have assembled on your SNES — it’s time to wreck some shit up!

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Wolverine gets intense like only he can. I’m hyped!

HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO

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Standing 6’2″ and weighing 220 pounds, Captain America is the symbol of patriotism personified. Balanced in speed and power, Cap attacks with his trusty shield and charging shoulder tackles.

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Standing 6’1″ and weighing 225 pounds, Iron Man is a bit on the slow side due to the nature of his suit (which puts him at 6’6″ and 425 pounds). However, he compensates for his lack of speed with the power and flight game. Able to double jump and briefly fly, Iron Man is the most versatile superhero in the game.

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Standing 5’10” and weighing 167 pounds, Spider-Man is the fastest of the lot. But he’s also the weakest. Use his web slinging prowess to take out the trash. He can also cling to walls and climb to new areas that some of the others are unable to reach.

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Standing 5’3″ and weighing 195 pounds (300 with Adamantium skeleton), Wolverine is a vicious and balanced fighter. He’s not as fast as Spider-Man or as strong as Captain America, but he’s stronger than Spider-Man and faster than Captain America. He plays exactly like how he did in X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, and that’s fine by me!

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Standing 7’6″ and weighing over half a ton, the Incredible Hulk is the bruiser of the group. He’s also the slowest. But when you just want to smash the crap out of everything, it’s hard to go wrong with Hulk.

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Select your superhero and pick any of the four initial stages. Unlike X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, any hero can be used on any level. It gives the game a little more replay value when the levels don’t force you to use a certain character. But some characters are more suited to certain levels than others. For example, Iron Man does really well at the Boston Aquarium. Sorry Cap — take a backseat!

Best sit this one out. Lemme show ya how it's done
Best sit this one out. Lemme show ya how it’s done

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Always one to make, pardon the pun, a splashy entrance, Iron Man flies in on his jet boosters. It isn’t long before the glass shatters and the whole place becomes Waterworld.

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Repulsor Beam does well to break down barriers. Even better, use his flying headbutt attack for multiple hits.

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Deliver a sweet three hit combo in mid-air. Then battle the evil version of Vision.

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Remember to keep an eye on your air gauge. Turn Tony Stark into Ryu with a nice Rising Uppercut.

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Hawkeye you traitor you! Not really, that’s just his evil clone.

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GODDAMN that was close…

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Question: what’s worse than fighting one evil version of Iron Man? Fighting two of course. Scale the platforms for some fun cat and mouse play. Iron Man’s double jump works really well here.

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Infinity Gem #1 secured! It’s on to the next…

Damn right, Collector (hello Benicio Del Toro)
Damn right, Collector (hello Benicio Del Toro)

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Spider-Man swings into the Amazon like only he can.

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Spider-Man’s ability to cling to walls and scale them makes him quite versatile. The boss of this stage is an evil version of Wolverine.

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Beware the spikes. Landing on them will cause extra damage. Sadly, falling into the spikes doesn’t hurt the boss. Use Spidey’s swinging attacks to keep Wolvie on his toes.

Cap finds his shield buried in the ice...
Cap finds his shield buried in the ice…

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Captain America slings his shield to perfection. Shoulder tackle Hawkeye before he even gets off a shot.

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Versatile is Cap’s shield. Send it downward or upward to knock off unsuspecting fools. Some of the levels have barriers as seen here. Wolverine and Spider-Man are too weak to break them so they must scale up. Captain America and Hulk can’t jump high enough to access the upper area so they must smash through. Iron Man has the strength to bust through or double jump up. No wonder I like Iron Man the best.

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Halfway through this stage, a group of evil Pucks serve as sort of a mid-boss. They can be very tough as they flank you like ants on sugar.

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Where’s the Incredible Hulk when you need him?! Evil Sasquatch comes bursting out of the frozen wall like he was shot out of a cannon. Don’t get too close unless you like being dinner.

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Nobody slashes up the competition quite like ol’ Wolvie. Unfortunately, he’s too weak (what?!) to bust through that thick wall there, or scale your way up.

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Reminiscent, much? All his greatest hits from X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse is back.

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Scaling Dr. Doom’s castle can be hazardous to your health. Speaking of the good doctor, watch out for his deadly energy beams. Thankfully, Wolverine is so short that they fly right over his head!

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Unsurprisingly, Dr. Doom declares this isn’t the last you will see of him (and he’s right). After beating the first four stages, we learn Magus is holding one of the Infinity Gems on a giant orbiting battleship. Time to send the Hulk!

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Shanghaied in Space?! “HULK SMASH!!!”

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Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla? Forget that, it’s Hulk vs. Evil Hulk! Hulk smashes walls like no one else.

"HULK NO HOLD! HULK SMASH!"
“HULK NO WANT HOLD! HULK WANT SMASH!!”

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Another mid-boss battle ensues. Hulk doing what he does best!

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Position yourself on the edge so that the lasers just barely miss hitting you. Bash and repeat. Your reward is a classic SNES style explosion.

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Nothing’s better than grabbing a goon and chucking him across the screen, taking out the entire crowd. As strong as Hulk is though, he’s not invincible. Don’t just stand there taking energy beams… even if it looks super cool.

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Standing between you and the next Infinity Gem is the double tough Magus. He moves so fast (guess which Gem he has) that you can actually see his shadow trail. What a lovely visual touch!

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Scoundrel! That Magus is a sneaky little bitch. Hulk be like “DAFUQ.”

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Uppercut him into the air and follow up with a pulverizing double axe handle. So damn satisfying.

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Defeating Magus opens up the next set of stages to conquer. You’ll face off with the likes of Black Heart and even the evil version of Thing.

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Special cameos abound, as seen here with Doctor Strange. And as he promised earlier, Dr. Doom returns for a final battle.

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Nebula! Nice to see her in the game, especially considering how popular she has become since Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos is the final big bad.

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Thanos vs. Hulk is a WrestleMania worthy main event. But the Hulk is the better man mutant on this night, and the Infinity Gems are now in safe hands.

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Congratulations to our mighty superheroes! Nice shot there of the crew.

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Somebody say WORLD HEROES?!

EXTRA ITEMS

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Helpful items can be acquired during your quest. For example, if you die on a stage then that character you were using is no longer available. However, you’re able to revive him and regain his services with the usage of the revival power-up.

EXTRA POWER

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In addition, you can incorporate the various Infinity Gems to increase your powers. The Time Gem doubles your speed (give it to Hulk). The Power Gem increases your power (Spider-Man, who can strike up to six times, becomes quite the wrecking ball with it equipped). It’s fun to mix and match as you see fit. This versatility adds to the gameplay and gives it a leg up on X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse.

TRAINING DAY

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There’s also a Training Room where you can fight random enemies 1 on 1. It’s too bad there wasn’t a 2 player option here. Granted, the moves are fairly limited being a beat ‘em up platformer, but this would have made for a nice bonus mode.

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Remember fantasizing as a kid about what would happen if the Hulk and Thing ever came to blows? Sure, you could read the various comic books in which they clashed, but there’s something cool about deciding the outcome yourself in video game form.

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Capcom should have spent a little more time on this. With a proper 2 player mode, War of the Gems would truly be a gem.

THE ARCADE GAME

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Capcom released Marvel Super Heroes in arcades back in October of 1995. Such a port to the SNES would have been impossible, combined with the fact that by 1996 the SNES was no longer a viable machine.

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Marvel Super Heroes was loud, brash and in your face. Along with X-Men: Children of the Atom, these two games were the prototype for what would later become Capcom’s notoriously over the top VS. series.

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A Super Nintendo port of this game in 1996 would have been doomed to fail, both due to the late release in the system’s lifespan and how butchered and watered down it would have been.

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Instead Capcom gave the remaining loyal SNES fans Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. Instead of being a 1-on-1 fighting game, it was a single plane beat ‘em up with some platforming elements integrated. As such, it worked fine for what it is. Capcom threw us a bone, and if nothing else, it’s a curious entry in Capcom’s longstanding SNES catalog.

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In an alternate reality, it would have been interesting to see what this game would play like had Capcom gone the traditional Street Fighter II route instead. You already have Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man and Hulk. Magus, Blackheart, Nebula, Dr. Doom and Thanos makes the roster a nice round number of 10. Give each of them a handful of special moves and it could have been a solid fighting game exclusive to the SNES. There’s a part of me that wishes Capcom had done that. But I’m also fine with what we got because what we got is a solid game in its own right.

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Siiiick

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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Because it came out so late in the SNES’ lifespan, War of the Gems came and went with very little fanfare. It was not reviewed by either EGM or GameFan, and Super Play closed its doors a few months before the game could even come out. From my online travels around various gaming boards for the past 15+ years, more people seem to like it than not. Some prefer Mutant Apocalypse. Some prefer War of the Gems. Both games are worth playing (and owning). But for the record, I like War of the Gems better.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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It’s always nice to at long last knock a childhood curiosity off your to-play list. I liked War of the Gems a lot when I first played it over 12 years ago, and I still like it now. From its curiously late release to its amazing sprite work, there’s just something about this game that I really dig. Not to mention the five superheroes that made the cut (Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine and Hulk) are my top five superheroes of all time. They all look great (though poor Cap looks a bit funky) and their special powers puts you right in their shoes. I like that you can select the order of stages to tackle as well as the ability to pick any hero for any level. It was an improvement from Mutant Apocalypse which had predetermined stages for its roster. Also, the addition of the Infinity Gems is a game changer. Hulk too slow for your liking? Equip his big ass with the Time Gem and speed is no longer an issue. Spider-Man too weak? Give him the Power Gem and watch Hulk grow green (er… greener) with envy. It’s fun to experiment and definitely increases the game’s longevity.

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The visuals are top-notch. They’re big, beefy and intricately detailed. Coming out so late, you would expect nothing less from Capcom, and they sure didn’t disappoint. It gets you in the proper ass-kicking mood. Unfortunately, the sound is nowhere as high in quality. Landing blows doesn’t sound as impactful as I would have liked, and the music isn’t anything to write home about. Another blemish is that the game plays a bit slowly due to the massive sprites, which may turn off some hardcore action aficionados but I personally did not mind. Also, the levels are short and the enemies can feel rather sparse. It’s definitely not an A+ effort by Capcom, but I never got the feeling that it was just a cheap attempt at a cash grab. The game is also on the short and easy side, but that may be viewed more as a positive than a negative depending on one’s perspective.

We salute thee, Stan Lee!
We salute thee, Stan Lee!

But one thing’s for sure, at least from where I sit, and that’s this: I had an absolute blast playing through War of the Gems. And I find myself revisiting it randomly throughout the years. For me it never gets old slicing up bad guys with Wolverine’s claws, or blasting bastards to Kingdom Come with Iron Man’s proton beams. Could Capcom have done more? Sure. But War of the Gems, while it may fall short of being a true gem, is still one hell of a swashbuckling time. It definitely left me wanting more, and is worthy of a spot in your Super Nintendo collection. Besides, let’s face it, at the end of a long hard day at work, sometimes you just wanna be the Hulk and smash shit up.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 8
Longevity: 7

AwardsOverall: 8.0
Silver Award

Aw, thanks Tony! [Damnit Stark, don't encourage him -Ed.]
Aw, thanks Tony! [Damnit Stark, don’t encourage him -Ed.]

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