In my review of the game based on Thor: The Dark World [Free], I remarked about how, as a child, I never would have expected Thor of all characters to become a major media star for Marvel. There are always bigger miracles, however. I remember flipping through the pages of a Marvel Handbook when I was in elementary school and coming across Rocket Raccoon. It was my first time seeing him, and to my eyes, he looked stupid. Not just The Shocker-stupid, but genuine, unadulterated Razorback-level stupid. He was the kind of character who you would only see in a Marvel Handbook, with a handful of appearances to his name, doomed to disappear entirely for 15 years of publications. Several years ago, he and many other somewhat forgotten members of Cosmic Marvel returned as a new Guardians of the Galaxy team, in an effort to revamp that part of the Marvel Universe. It was so successful, they've got a live action movie coming out next week, and with it, their very own game. Now, that's improbable.

I may not have been able to appreciate Rocket as a kid, but over time I developed a bit of a fondness for some of the quirkier characters of Marvel's history, so it makes me happy to see such unconventional heroes do well. It gives me hope we'll see a Darkhawk game someday. Maybe that game will even be as cool as Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon [Free], the latest iOS release from Marvel Entertainment. In this game, you play as the Guardians of the Galaxy in a game that's more than a little inspired by Battleheart [$2.99], fighting your way through more than 70 stages in search of pieces of the Universal Weapon. As you play through the story, you'll unlock new characters and equipment, upgrade them, and bear witness to the special kind of platonic love that can only exist between a raccoon and a tree.

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Naturally, since they've got a big Hollywood movie coming out, the first set of characters you unlock will be from the modern Guardians team, but older fans can rest easy. Vance Astro and Charlie-27 from the original team are here, and they will apparently be joined by Yondu in an update. In addition to those classic members, other Marvel characters such as Beta Ray Bill, Phyla-Vell, Hulk, and a mysterious sometimes-alcoholic shellhead, among others, are either available or soon to be available. You can even unlock the game's villains, though they can only be used in the Arena mode because otherwise the Time Variance Authority will have a cow. There are a few notable absences here, but with this many characters, it's hard to complain much. Each character has their own special powers and unique traits, but you can only bring four of them with you into each stage, so you'll have to choose wisely.

If you've played Battleheart, you'll be instantly familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy. If you haven't played Battleheart, you should, but I'll give you a gameplay explanation anyhow. You'll have to clear each stage of a set number of enemy waves without losing all of your characters. You can drag a line from each character to an open spot to move there, to an enemy to attack it, or to an ally to heal or buff, provided that character has the capability to do so. Each character also has access to a few special moves that have a cooldown timer connected to their use. Some of these moves are team moves, requiring the character to be in the vicinity of a certain other character. The stages are limited to a single screen, so keeping weaker characters out of harm's way and sending appropriate attackers for each enemy type can be a bit tricky as you go on. Every so often, you'll face a boss character who, in addition to having beefed up stats, sometimes pulls out a few dirty tricks of their own.

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As the game is quick to tout in its description in the App Store, buying this game gives you the complete experience with neither a single IAP to be found nor any sort of online requirement. Although the game makes use of two currency types, both flow quite readily and neither can be bought with real money. You can use silver to buy new gear or upgrade existing stuff, and you can use silver and gems together to buy new characters once they become available. The inflation on new items quickly outpaces what you earn from a single run through of each stage, but you'll probably be done in by the difficulty before that becomes a big issue. Instead, you're meant to replay stages to earn three badges, which has the side effect of earning you a bunch of loot and experience points on the way. Levels are short enough that this only rarely feels like a chore, and you'll never have to stop for too long before you'll be ready to move on to the next stage.

The gameplay isn't the only thing to take after Battleheart, as Guardians of the Galaxy sports a very cartoonish style that makes even Drax look cute. That's not an easy feat by any means. Each character has a few unique animations, though outside of the win poses they're very rudimentary. The characters are goofy enough to get away with this kind of style, though some fare better than others. Rocket looks as great as you'd expect, while Gamora definitely loses something in the transition. After certain levels, you're treated to some cut-scenes made up of still frames, evoking a comic book feel. The dialogue in these scenes is pretty funny and fits the tone well. On the audio side, the classic hit song from the movie's soundtrack, Blue Swede's version of Hooked On A Feeling is surprisingly included, or at least several seconds of it. It plays occasionally when you clear a stage, but since it's the same part of the song every time, it does get a bit old after a while, if it wasn't already for those of us who lived through the Ally McBeal Wars of the late 1990s.

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In addition the main story mode, there's an Arena mode where you can face endless waves of enemies with the team of your choice to see how far you can get. This is where you can use any villains you've unlocked through the course of the story. Some of the game's extra missions are tied to the Arena mode, so you'll want to check it out now and then just to get that beautiful extra bounty. There are also a bunch of achievements through Game Center, and they're a good mix of expected and unexpected goals. Between playing the story mode, challenging the Arena, unlocking and leveling up all of the characters, and rounding up achievements, Guardians of the Galaxy has enough to keep you busy for a while.

Apart from its near-complete lack of originality, the only real knock I have on the game is in how fussy the controls can be at times. When your characters are near to each other, it's hard to pick out the one you want sometimes, and there are times where you could swear you sent someone over to an enemy only to see them just walk over and do nothing. In general, you have to babysit your characters a lot more than you did in Battleheart, since they're kind of stupid about doing things on their own even when an enemy is in the immediate vicinity. Some aspects of the game aren't explained all that well unless you dig around in the menus to find things, such as upgrading your gear and using ISO-8 effectively. It's not a big problem once you figure it all out, but it really should have been part of the game's tutorial or perhaps given a section in the Nova Database.

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Fans of the Guardians, whether the new team or the old, will certainly be pretty happy with The Universal Weapon. It's not an original game, but it is a well-crafted one, and it fits a team-based set of characters nicely. There's a lot of love shown for the history of the team and Cosmic Marvel in general, which is an unexpected treat. If you aren't a fan of the characters but you enjoyed Battleheart, you'll probably want to look into this game, too. It's not quite as good, but it's more than good enough, and with that series moving in a different direction of late, those who are looking for a new game in that style will likely enjoy the antics of Star-Lord and friends.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • PoloBaquerizoH

    Great fun game! Worth its price !

  • Irvin

    This game is buggy as shit. Doesn't worth more than 3 stars in its current state.

    • AzureStarline

      not for me o.o

    • curtneedsaride

      Yeah, it's worked fine for me too. Haven't run into any bugs. Just one misspelling.

      • Irvin

        Just play more, you'll see all the bugs and imbalance. I don't think you can beat it at the current state it's in (version 1.1).

        *The difficulty spike 100 fold in one of the last episode, the mobs and traps literally 1 hit you.

        *One of the character you can unlock doesn't come with a weapon.

        *very laggy even on a iphone5s

        *kill anything by retargetting them with a range character, you'll shoot immediately which eliminates attack speed check.

        Balance related:

        *Doesn't explain the significance of the different type of damage, doesn't tell you what kind of damage the enemies are doing to you.

        *iso8's bonus seem insignificant and takes too long to grind.

        *Both your characters and enemies does too much damage and move too fast, taking away strategic gameplay and making the game more like a stats check.

        *Stage hazard adds nothing to the game but annoyance.

        *No auto attack or attack when in range, if you don't touch your character they'll just stand there until they're attacked, and even then it's spotty, sometimes they just stand there.

        This game is feels more like it's in alpha, beta at best. I can NOT believe toucharcade just give it a 4 stars just like that.

      • Uberhamster

        Yeah the balancing on the last level is ridiculous. My toughest max level characters get one shot. Also the "get Xp" animation apparently takes longer and longer for larger XP awards, is unskippable, and still happens at max level, so after a fight you sit there for 20 odd seconds watching useless numbers slowly incrementing.

  • Mike Walko

    I'm not surprised at all that guardians got a movie, seeing as marvel had licensed off 3 of their 4 tentpole franchises. They needed something for people to watch in between avengers tie-ins.

  • Morgan01

    In a previous post, someone stated concerns regarding a trend for mid-tier games such as this to go Freemium after a few months. I share that view and concern. It is the only thing keeping me from buying this game.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      It's sort of a chicken and egg problem. If everyone waits on buying this because they're worried it'll go freemium, the devs will be more likely to look at going freemium due to poor sales. Then again, if you instabuy this because you want to support the paid with no IAP model, it STILL could go freemium on you down the road. You just never know. It's a tough world out there for both devs and consumers.

      My advice is to buy games based on what they are in the here and now. Right now, this is a pretty decent Battleheart kind of game with good GotG fan service and no IAP. I think you'd get your five bucks worth of enjoyment out of it before it ever went freemium, IF it ever does.

      • http://geekologie.com Dr Sketchy

        Every time there's a cool new game / car / appliance / electronic device, the price is highest at the beginning, and then later it's lower. I don't see a problem with that. Back when Miatas were really hot, they were totally expensive for six months and then dropped. Same with camcorders back in the day. Or you can trace the price of certain video game dropping day by day at gamespot. The point is that some people will want the game just for the game, and not care if it's 5 bucks or whatever. And the makers understand that there will be other people waiting in the wings for the price drop. That's all factored into the marketing, if you know what you're doing. The people who paid 5 bucks on day 1 aren't getting ripped off; they got six months of (ideally) fun and happiness and the thrill of being in at the beginning for their five bucks. For some that might be worth it. And for others, not.

    • curtneedsaride

      I'm probably more likely to enjoy this game in anticipation of the movie and while the movie is out. So, that's the main reason I purchased it now. Then, if it ever does get a discount, I won't mind because I have really gotten my money's worth right now.

    • Irvin

      It's going to become a freemium, after playing it for a while I'm convinced. It's got all the mechanics and stench of a freemium already.

      The iso8 grind and the stats check in certain stage.

  • worldcitizen1919

    I'm loving this. It took a while at first to get used to the controls but I'm really having fun with this and finding its addictive and keeping me awake. Great game. More games like this please with pure gaming fun no IAP rubbish. This is how gaming should be.

  • PoloBaquerizoH

    The game works perfectly find on my ipad air

  • curtneedsaride

    J.R.R. Tolkien did. ;)

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  • echo_pdx

    Eh, I thought this kinda sucked...and it already dropped to two bucks, sigh. I feel burned for trying to support premium gaming and buying it right away. I'll wait next time, Marvel.

    I'm actually completely over the "More Than a Feeling" association with GotG and this game really flogs that horse. The character art sucks, and the characters are too big to select individually when they're all stacked up on top of each other. All the levels are kinda same-ish, not enough enemy ability variety. The upgrade system is boring and the skills are bland - it's nice that they put a branching skill tree in but your choices are often not really choices at all, either because both abilities you can choose from are too same-ish or one is overwhelmingly superior to the other.

    I appreciate the effort from a big studio to make a premium game, but it's obvious as you play that it was once intended to be FTP, and the vestigial remains of that model are all over the place - multiple forms of currency, slow grinding structure, etc. I think it's safe to say this will go FTP eventually; it was clearly designed with this plan in mind.

    • echo_pdx

      Just buy Battleheart instead, even the first one is better than this

      • Sebastian Gomez

        Will do.

        It's pretty much like buying the new TMNT game (Which I actually thought of buying - then decided not to) when you have already enjoyed Combo Crew...

        Even though it's currently on sale (too soon for a sale, IMO) I'll pass on this one for now.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4