- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2012

A part-time member of Marvel Comics’ famed superhero team stars in a third-person fighter built for the mobile gamer in Avengers Initiative (Marvel Entertainment, reviewed for iPad 2, rated 9+, $6.99).

The vein-bursting Incredible Hulk is part of a crunching, but not as effective, homage to Epic Games’ popular Infinity Blade brawler.

I appreciated an opening screen displaying the famed Green Goliath on a cliff over a gorgeous Colorado backdrop. It will stun the comic book reader with anticipation and remind him of the works of famed comic painters including the Brothers Hildebrandt or Boris Vallejo for its sheer realism.

A story finds S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury demanding that Hulk alter ego Bruce Banner track down supervillains who escaped after a mysterious cosmic event known as the Pulse unlocked the government’s ultra-secure prison.

The on-rails, limited movements of the Hulk allow a player to slide his finger around the screen to look, but then choose from predetermined paths (noted as target-shaped icons) and fight a single enemy often culled from his five decades in sequential art.

So, if you ever wanted to see what it was like for the Hulk to pile-drive a Skrull into the ground, you’ve found the right app, true believer.

Fighting mainly requires methodical swiping and tapping, enough so that I felt as if I was going to leave a gully in the glass of the iPad’s touch screen. A player can deflect, block and dodge attacks, cross and upper-cut punch the bad guy, and deliver finishing moves with on-screen controls.

Each victory, completed by depleting the opponent’s health meter, racks up experience to increase levels and points to spend on attributes such as stamina and damage.

Also, in and around the arenas are chunks of crystals called ISO-8 that can be picked up or smashed to a pulp in a minigame. They act as the game’s currency to purchase powers, alternate costumes and augmentations.

Rage attacks (made available by filling up a rage meter) are a familiar group to fans, and include a thunder clap, a stunning Hulk roar, and an earthquake-spawning fist-pounding of the earth.

Although the Hulk flourishes on his lack of anger management, a player won’t enjoy the benefits as he simmers through the unforgivable load times necessary to get to each animated scene, battle, location and task.

The game also can get really difficult for the average gamer. During a boss battle with a monolithic, scaly enemy, I lost three times, was tossed over the side of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier and forced to fight many a foe over again, only at a higher difficulty level (contradicting the online game manual in my case).

Effects such as Hulk’s rage-outs, highlighted with translucent green particles that float about, are the absolute strong suit of the game.

Those still cleaning up Gotham in the mobile tour de force Batman: Arkham City Lockdown will see a seamy resemblance to expanding comic book character design to the real world as developers bring the Hulk’s lifelike rogue’s gallery to stunning life.

Be it the white, furry and furious Wendigo, rocky Kronans (from Planet Hulk) or the electrified Zzzax, players can lose concentration watching some of the slick animations and environments.

Adding reasons to continue to bruise fingers are unlocking some pretty spiffy Hulk costumes, such as his gladiator look, the purple pants savage garb and even playing as the gray-bearded Maestro Hulk.

A feature that’s not quite ready for prime time, but is worth mentioning, is the online content package culled from tapping the Marvel XP icon. Sign up (email and password required), and access an expanding resource to read illustrated stories, watch videos and learn about the history of the Avengers, including text bios, and plenty of comic and animation art. Those bios are scattered as dossiers in the game locations and are incorporated into the entries once found.

Hulk’s Avenger Initiative apparently is just the start of this fun — but frustrating — mobile epic. It looks like Thor, Captain America and Iron Man also will walk the gantlet of this Marvel Fight Club with their own downloadable episodes arriving in the future.

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