Marvel Avengers Alliance marries turn-based combat to rich comic book IP

Disney Playdom’s Marvel Avengers Alliance is a turn-based combat game heavily influenced by classic role-playing games.

Playdom acquired the rights to develop the game from Marvel after Marvel was bought by Disney in 2009 but before Disney acquired Playdom in 2010. When the game finally debuts on Facebook in North America, Marvel Avengers Alliance will have been in development for nearly 17 months all told.

All that time has been well-spent according to Michael Rubinelli, Disney Playdom’s VP of studio operations. Not only did the development team at Playdom-acquired Offbeat Creations have plenty of time to collaborate with Marvel on perfecting the IP, but the design of the gameplay deepened over time to reflect a higher degree of polish and layered complexity that Rubinelli deems “future-proof” for social game platforms.

“We are absolutely opposed to cloning,” Rubinelli tells us. “It’s one thing to be influenced by something — but this [game] is very specific to Marvel and it stands on its own.” He believes that because of the depth and because of the Marvel brand, no developer would stand a chance at actually being able to clone the Marvel Avenger Alliance experience.

Rubinelli and Offbeat Creations COO and co-founder Robert Reichner walked us through a hands-off demo of the early and mid-game experience. Players take the role of a S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee in the Marvel universe — an extra-government agency tasked with protecting Earth against terrestrial and extraterrestrial threats. A force from space called Pulse unleashes a chemical called Iso-8 in New York City. As Marvel’s supervillains race to collect it, the player teams up with Marvel superheroes to stop them.

Core gameplay is combat. The player forms a team with their own customizable character and up to two Marvel heroes, each with their own individual stats that can be improved by training, with consumable items during combat, or with Iso-8 upgrades the player earns through gameplay. The player’s team appears on screen against up to three enemy combatants with turn order determined by individual character statistics. Like the classic RPG gameplay made famous by Final Fantasy, players have a range of options to use during a character’s turn — like attack, use item, summon additional hero or a special attack. Some attacks are unlocked only as the player levels up or as that individual superhero levels up. Superheroes each have 12 levels.

Fights themselves are governed by health for each character and by overall stamina that is used by each individual combat action. Players can use health or stamina packs on themselves or on superhero characters. The player can also choose to skip a turn in order to recover lost stamina. If a player’s character is knocked out during a fight, the player can still control the remaining superheroes; but they can no longer use health and stamina packs or any special items that would increase or decrease character stats.

Outside of combat, there is a deeper level of strategy involved in forming player teams and training characters. As players progress through the main story of the game, new heroes become available for the player’s team. Heroes are divided into one of five character classes — Blaster, Bruiser, Scrapper, Tactician and Infiltrator — that have a rock-paper-scissors balance of strengths and weaknesses. Aside from the combinations of those classes, players can also tweak their teams through weapon and armor equipment items available in the store or as quest rewards. With the added feature of a “distress call” summon that can bring a Facebook friend’s superhero into combat for a single attack, the customization options for forming the “perfect” team are pretty complex. Leaderboards track players’ high scores as well as which team combinations they prefer to use.