Last week, I talked about superhero webcomics, and there was some fun discussion in the comments about superheroes and fantasy and where those genres meet. Fritz Freiheit also pointed me in the direction of his slightly out of date “A Brief Overview of Superhero Fiction,” which means I’m going to have a bunch of novels to add to my TBR pile. But prose and comics aren’t the only homes of superheroes: there are a handful of interactive fiction games that let you become a super yourself. Lest you think I play a vast majority of my interactive fiction games from Choice of Games (disclosure: actually, that’s true, but I do try to diversify for this column), in this spotlight, we have two superhero games to compare and only one is from Choice of Games.
Heroes Rise: The Prodigy is the first Heroes Rise game by Zachary Sergei. (The second, Heroes Rise: The Hero Project, I have yet to play.) In it, you are a beginning hero, just on the verge of getting your license to be an official hero in Millennia City. You live with your grandmother, who has a Power with plants, because your superhero parents were arrested for the accidental killing (the court said “murder”) of a supervillain. Your family relationships are fraught, but you’re getting ready to take Millennia City by storm.
The story that builds Heroes Rise is strong–in some ways, stronger than the game aspects. You tailor your character in many small, unimportant ways and you choose how some of your relationships (particularly your romantic relationships) play out. How you play balances statistics like fame vs. justice (Are you a spotlight hog or do you focus on actually doing the work of a hero?), soloist vs. team player, lawless vs. lawful, and aggressiveness vs. defense. Your choices increases your Legend score, which shows how close you are to becoming a well-respected (or derided) hero.
But while the appearance of choice is there in every aspect of the game, often times, the plot itself feels inevitable. Some events hinge on the failure of a previous encounter–the aspect you control about that failure is whether it’s bad or truly catastrophic. Regardless of how you’ve primed your relationships, at least one plot twist is inevitable as well. In the end, your choices impact how well you succeed or fail at saving Millennia City. Like with many video games, there’s a sensation of making choices that lead to inevitable cut scenes, and a sense that the options at the end of the game are limited.
Is it worth playing? Absolutely. It’s tremendously fun the first time through, well worth the $2.99 price tag. And if you like superhero fiction, this is a must buy, because it’s a really excellent superhero novel, complete with catastrophe and inner turmoil. As a game, it doesn’t have the replay value of some of the other Choice of Games titles because plot twists that don’t come as a surprise the second time around are less engaging. But for players who play to win and who are determined to get the best possible outcome for Millennia City, there’s definitely stuff to go back and revisit. And there are several romantic relationship options to explore that don’t get featured in only one playthrough.
Compare this to Delight Games Superhero’s Choice: Volume 1. A fun, and very short, romp, Superhero’s Choice offers the beginning of a novel length plot: as the Red Revenger (and part time taco cart operator), you’re determined to save San Angelo’s premiere super team from wherever they’ve been abducted. That means figuring out where they’ve gone–as well as avoiding the Perpetrators, the B-list supervillains who oppose your actions. But there’s something fishy going on with Angel Corp. and your contacts think they might have something to do with the disappearance of San Angelo’s heroes.
The choices in Superhero’s Choice are extremely limited–you are always female, always the Red Revenger, and, after a few playthroughs, never offered the chance, in game, to be a traitor (though you’re accused of it). Your stats are life, fuel, heroism, and money; the only way to regain life is to get through a day, and though you can buy fuel, it’s expensive and has limited availability. Your heroism score is the easiest to increase, but at a risk–the more dangerous things you do (decreasing your life), the likelier your heroism score is to rise.
But also the likelier that you’ll be dead before you get to the end of the chapter.
The story has a very natural break point, but leaves the main plot untapped, making the entire game feel as though it’s a set up for the next volume. The upside of this? The game is free. You lose nothing but maybe a couple hours by playing. And sprinkled throughout the somewhat lengthy text are pieces of original story art, which enhanced the play experience.
Based on Superhero’s Choice, I’d probably buy the next volume if it were around 99 cents, but probably not for $2.99. Based on Heroes Rise: The Prodigy, I plan to buy Heroes Rise: The Hero Project once I’ve gotten through the backlog of games I haven’t finished–and probably after I buy other recent Choice of Games titles like The ORPHEUS Ruse and Reckless Space Pirates (because what doesn’t sound fun about Reckless Space Pirates?). Heroes Rise is definitely the stronger game, with a really compelling story; Superhero’s Choice has only the advantages of being free and having interspersed art–a bonus, but not a requirement in games like this.
What superhero games, interactive fiction or on a game system (or even Facebook) would you recommend?
Alana Joli Abbott is a reviewer and game writer, whose multiple choice novels Choice of Kung Fu and Showdown at Willow Creek are published by Choice of Games. She is the author of three novels (one recently funded by Kickstarter). You can find her online at VirgilandBeatrice.com.