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Freemium Field Test: Marvel Contest of Champions is a surprisingly fun and fantastic-looking comic book fighter

Andrew Hayward | Feb. 24, 2015
Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it's difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we'll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it's really worth your time (and money).

Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it's difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we'll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it's really worth your time (and money). 

Thanks to the new deal inked between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures, we'll soon be able to see Spider-Man and The Avengers battle alongside each other on the big screen. And quite likely against each other, if the wall-crawler's first appearance comes in Captain America: Civil War next year, as expected. 

But you don't have to wait until then for slickly-produced superhero showdowns: you can enjoy them right now on your iPhone or iPad with Marvel Contest of Champions, an impressively-produced free-to-play fighting game that pulls top heroes and villains in from all corners of the comic universe. It has some of the familiar freemium trappings, as expected, but Kabam's tap-and-swipe brawler thankfully isn't beaten to a pulp by its business model.

The pitch 

Contest of Champions appears, at least on its surface, to be direct response to the hugely popular Injustice: Gods Among Us. That DC Comics fighter, developed by Mortal Kombat maker NetherRealm Studios, has been a freemium smash in its mobile incarnation, implementing a card-battling aspect between the battles, plus featuring teams of three characters that you can swap between.

But Marvel's offering is actually a lot simpler. Yes, there's still a progression system, and indeed, it can all feel like a bit of a grind. But without the card-collecting elements, Contest of Champions seems a bit less convoluted and a lot more approachable. It's a streamlined fighter built for touch, which means using frantic taps and swipes rather than memorized button combos, but there's a little bit of strategy to the action. And it didn't turn gnawingly repetitive in the hours I played.

What really startles me about Kabam's offering is that it's such a great-looking game — one of the best I've played on the App Store. The cartoonish aesthetic is really well executed, with vibrant and detailed backdrops, fluid animations, and a fair bit of personality injected into characters and environments alike. Injustice has its own harder-edged visual take on its source material, but sticking closer to the Marvel comic look works wonders for Contest of Champions.

Much of your time will likely be spent within the Quest, which delivers dozens of maps screens to fight through, each with a few fights contextualized by short dialogue exchanges. The story isn't terribly exciting, but the progression lets you battle a wide array of foes, including characters from the Avengers, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy books. "Online matches" are also available, but it seems you're only fighting the A.I. controlled version of another player's upgraded character. True online play against live opponents would be a huge, huge perk here if added down the line. 

 

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