In today's incredibly moving installment of Speak Up on Kotaku, commenter NathanJEvrard explains how he bonded with his nephew over Marvel Super Hero Squad Online, becoming a hero himself in the process.
"Uncle Nate, come here and watch me fly!" That was my nephew Noah, who is 6 years old, excitedly introducing me into the world of Marvel's Super Hero Squad Online. He was playing as Falcon though he really had no idea as to his character's name, nor did he really care. After showing me how he could fly he then proceeded to beat up little flying space ships for which he received tickets. When I asked him if he ever beat up people he told me that he had promised not to hurt anyone.
As days went by he would randomly show me other things about the game when I visited. One day he showed me his other characters which included Thing, Ms. Marvel, and Cyclops and told me that it was his goal to unlock Spiderman who costs 600 gold. Another day he showed me all the different areas you can visit in game which includes Asgard, The Daily Bugle, The Baxter Building, and Villainville which he thinks is an awful place.
It was all somewhat interesting to me in a passing way but it really was just another game that kids play. That all changed one day when he logged into the game to find out that some of his hard earned gold had disappeared. He immediately broke down and began to cry because all of his hard work had been lost. He was genuinely upset and almost inconsolable. Anyone who has played an MMO knows the frustration of losing hours of progress because of a server reset (I'm looking at you Rift). My sister had tried to help him figure out what had happened by she had no clue nor did I.
It became apparent to me that there was only one way to tackle the problem. I would have to create an account and play the game myself to figure out how to help Noah get his Spider Man. After a couple of minutes of set up Molten Opaque Raider was born and ready to roll. In the interest of safety the game doesn't allow players to create their own names but rather lets one choose from randomly generated names.
As my instincts told me the game was relatively straight forward and simply involved walking around clicking on stuff to collect silver, tickets, and XP. Jaded MMO players would call this game a grind, and it kind of is. It turns out however that there more than meets the eye and Noah had only been playing most basic parts of the game all along.
The game offers instanced missions that are fought against bad guys and provide boss battles at the end. There are even daily missions that allow teams of four to conquer the bad guys together. When Noah first saw me playing through one of these he was amazed as he had no idea these things existed. He quickly figured out how they work and now spends much of his time replaying the same missions over and over.
Another very interesting part of the game is a built in turn based card game that features all of the Marvel heroes and villains. This game is surprisingly in depth and booster packs can either be won or purchased which allow for the building of custom decks. The first time Noah played the daily card battle against the AI he had won quite handedly. The same did not hold true for me as after four games my record was 0-4.
It turns out there are only a couple of ways to earn gold directly in game. You can of course buy it in the cash shop if you wish. However those wanting to take the free route have to collect tickets which can be used to spin a large game wheel. You also get rewards for logging in on consecutive days which eventually gives you a 5 gold a day bonus. Without paying for the game it will easily take over a month to collect the required gold to purchase Spider-Man. A little searching has revealed that there is one character that can be bought with a large amount of silver which can only be collected in game. "The silver guy with the board" as Noah refers to him.
Amazingly, this game is simple enough to be enjoyed by a 6 year old and it provides enough depth to keep the older kids engaged also. Now, it's not an uncommon sight to see him and me sitting side by side defeating the villains that threaten to destroy the world. "I'm in the middle of a mission!" He will yell, when his parents call him for dinner. And pretty soon the Silver Surfer and Spider-Man will be there too.