Overall Score 88%
Spandex Force: Superhero U
Some time ago, I reviewed a somewhat bizarre game called Spandex Force, in which a fresh-faced young superhero set up a base in Vigilance Valley in a bid to fight crime and defeat various supervillains. Things have moved on. One of the greatest superheroes in the world, Awesome Man, has founded a school to train new superheroes, assisted by a few friends and a few former villains. You've just arrived, along with a few other students, and you're ready to begin your classes, train hard and be a good student - at least to start with. There's usually something strange going on and you're going to get to the bottom of it!
Fans of the original Spandex Force will be right at home here. This one is much the same thing, only more flexible, allowing you to take on a range of different challenges in whatever order you like. The same madcap humour is in there and a number of old friends (and enemies) have cameo roles alongside the new characters, and the various minigames are all slightly better developed versions of the originals (though I note with some relief that the less successful "cat chase" game from the original has now gone). Even the old lady repeatedly in danger of being run over is a familiar face!
The main adventure mode sees your hero starting out at Superhero U, taking on a range of puzzles. These all involve matching lines of three or more symbols, usually to fill up power meters or gather a certain type of symbol, but the methods vary - some involve dragging columns to make matches, some involve swapping adjacent symbols and some involve rotating groups of four. As well as the three power types, these symbols include money (useful for buying new powers or equipment) and fame (for increasing your rank), as well as mission-specific items such as clues or karma. You choose three "classes" every semester, which allows you to focus on training whichever aspects of your hero you prefer. Whether you choose to specialise in physical, mental or elemental powers or prefer to remain a good all-rounder is up to you.
As well as adventure mode, there's a relaxed mode - here you can play a single puzzle without a time limit - and there's the ubiquitous trophy room for storing your achievements. You won't know what you have to unlock until you do so, but the names may give you a clue! You also have multiple profiles supported, with each profile using a separate hero - while you have some ability to customise them (more than the original Spandex Force) you are still limited to the generic male and female designs. A bigger range of avatars here would be good.
Graphics are, as with the original, comic book style. Animation is minimal, the characters not animating in themselves, but there are plenty of particle effects and things move smoothly when they do move. This comic book style suits the story. Superhero U improves on the original with a number of new locations - while the original was limited to one main locale, here we have a range of settings both in and out of the school itself. There's also a range of background music and the usual smattering of sound effects (suitably comic book in style), including a range for matching different symbols.
Superhero U is just as easy to get into as the original Spandex Force, if not even easier, with lots of helpful tutorial advice. With so many ways to practice, you can easily build up cash or experience in training before a tougher battle. If you lose a battle, you return to the school and can take another crack whenever you're ready - the ideal chance to look at new powers or equipment. You can also talk to your fellow students most of the time, which is usually not relevant but does add another layer of fun to the game. Your progress is automatically saved and you can have as many heroes on the go as you like.
I'm not sure whether Superhero U is any shorter than Spandex Force or whether I fell into that occasional trap of "just one more go" a little too often, but I found the story ended far too soon for me. Are there really only five chapters? You can continue playing afterwards, practicing on the various subgames, and you can always try again with a different focus for your powers. There are loads of powers to try, and the equipment on offer is random every time you visit, so there's plenty of variation if you want to replay. There are also plenty of trophies for the ardent collector, which are all the tougher to collect when you don't know what you need to do to achieve them!
This has been a wonderfully nostalgic return to a world I very much enjoyed visiting first time around. Karjasoft have managed to blend the match-3 game genre with a fun and slightly tongue-in-cheek superhero theme - the theme is a fair bit wider now, though possibly to the detriment of its length. Will we perhaps see add-on packs? For now, school's out for this reviewer, but if post-graduate studies become available, I'll be enrolling once again.
Keywords: spandex force: superhero u review, karjasoft reviews, karjasoft games, spandex force: superhero u scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.