The mobile app game “Avengers Academy” closed down recently and I thought I’d talk about it a little.
I’ve been playing Avengers Academy since mid-2016, I joined just as a Spider-Man special event was kicking off and kept going right until it ended. I’ve still yet to find an equivalent replacement game which hits the same buttons.
So what was Avengers Academy? It’s basically one of those games where you have characters and buildings, then send characters to the buildings to do specific actions for an amount of time. You know them, we’ve all played or heard of them. I’ve reviewed one as my first D+Pad Magazine and it was so tedious that I reviewed it in character as an aspiring insane barbarian lord limited by how long it took to build the simplest things.
Avengers Academy had two big differences which made it infinitely more palatable. The license, of course was a massive draw. Then there was the fact that it’s not just Marvel’s Avengers, but also a weird high school AU version of them. This was something I didn’t know I needed in my life.
Basically the premise is that somewhere in the Marvel multiverse there’s this school run by Nick Fury and Pepper Potts. At first Iron Man, Wasp and Loki show up, then you begin building the school and unlocking more characters. The next people in the roster were a charmingly out of date Captain America, a try-hard brooding goth black Widow and the ultra-fan Ms Marvel. Almost immediately I found myself cynically moaning about how they had to include villains like Taskmaster to fill up spaces because they couldn’t use X-Men or Fantastic Four characters who’d also been Avengers in their time. Still, there was something charming about it.
So each character has ranks which went up, unlocking more costumes and more actions. Most importantly, you got to see the story of them as they went. Variant costumes (often unlocked with premium currency, but there were also a bunch unlocked for free in events) would come with their own stories. The main ‘plot’ was pretty thin, but created an increasingly large continuity with several different rival schools and hints of some wider conspiracy Fury was keeping. This was more about the fact that this was just one place in the multiverse and students from all over were showing up, but it was a fine contrivance to allow all kinds of heroes to show up. As an example Scott Lang’s Ant-Man and Janet Van Dyne’s Wasp existed alongside a Hank Pym teacher and Scott’s grown-up daughter, all thanks to the vicissitudes of the multiverse. The story segments made sure to lampshade all of this and the awkwardness it caused.
The events were great at first and most of them reshaped the campus a bit. The Daredevil event had a skyscraper appear ruled by Kingpin, who’d kidnapped a bunch of the Netflix Defenders characters. The Halloween event was my favourite, where I actually spent money for the first time to unlock additional locations for the characters to have hangouts. These were ways of increasing their friendships which of course unlocked more widgets and in-game currencies of different types. Still, the mechanics involving friendships unlocking things was fun and like a lot of events, I walked away with a bunch of new characters and costumes. The game would bring back old characters from time to time which was great for someone who missed the British Invasion event and wanted to get Captain Britain (the one X-Men character, unless you count Zabu the sabretooth tiger who’s at best X-adjacent).
So this odd high school AU Marvel Universe had become a weird, regular ritual in my life. A few times a day I’d check in, assign people to tasks, get a hit of story and then carry on. I think I spent money maybe three times in the game and while it made the kind of predatory offers which most mobile games do, it wasn’t that much pressure. There were some characters I didn’t care to put any effort in, like Winter Soldier, although when he did appear from a random drop it was great seeing him as a weird emo poet/busker. I put in little effort for the Inhumans event as part of my bitterness at the comic storylines where the X-Men were suffering in and out of the fiction because of them.
There were Christmas events where the whole campus was covered in snow, the Jane Foster Thor showed up, Angela, the Young Avengers. When the comics had an Avenger no one remembered reappear, she also appeared in the game. There were tie-in characters to the films and TV shows, such as Peggy Carter and Mockingbird. The campus got pretty crowded, pretty quickly. The glut of people made the campus look a little too busy at times, but it was still cool to see random things happening all over the place, especially when bigger characters like Devil Dinosaur showed up.
The app changed up how it worked a little while ago, shifting from events which changed the look of the campus and new, weird combat systems to one formalised version. There were minor shifts, but a button appeared to reach a combat map. The existing currencies changed slightly and new levels were attached to characters to go along with their ranks. They had attack types and classes, which you could mix and match in fights. It was a little more tactical and time-consuming, including an option to speed up the fights which I always used, or to skip the battles entirely using a resource, which I did during breaks at work. It was a matter of contention on the r/avengersacademygame subreddit which was an invaluable resource for playing this game. Some people left, but a lot adapted. Personally, it was… okay. I had some characters I did my best to cultivate more than others. I loved having Devil Dinosaur as tough as I could get him (as an event character, he’d never be as good as Iron Man or any of the original lot, but he’s a dinosaur so I had to try). You could have them fight in different costumes, a lot of which modified characters. Outside of events, Loki was almost always in their female form. Falcon had a weird thing for penguins in this game (which admittedly most characters did, but him more than the rest) so I kept him in a penguin outfit I won in a Halloween event. I also never let Captain America change out of his Cap-Wolf costume.
Again with the weird deep cuts. Cap-Wolf. People who never read the comics with him in, who may have never read Marvel Comics now knew Cap-Wolf existed. Even though the game didn’t have the X-Men in, I got really into the lives of these characters and their eccentricities.
Recently there was a notification that it was all coming to an end.
People on the subreddit had been warning of this. The content, while fun, was beginning to feel like a lot less was in it. For the last month or so before it went, they gave away a ton of the premium currencies to rank and level up characters, as well as open up their loot box equivalents to unlock more people. It was a nice way of seeing it all off and I realised in the final week or so before the end to stop focusing on the combat side and just push people through their stories while I still could. I unlocked costumes which I’d seen but never encountered before.
Peter Parker’s social discomfort was made much worse with a symbiote costume driving his emotions out of control. Blade got all retro, Punisher found his inner joy when he became the Cosmic Ghost Rider and Maria Hill got a costume which looked like a giant banana. Because why not?
And now it’s all gone. One day I’ll find an app game which combines the pretty low level of time investment along with the focus on character and story which hooked me in here. I just felt that something should be said about this thing which I’d spent a bunch of time enjoying, to pour one out with words in its memory.
Oh, also there were a few elements which I really hope will somehow make it into the 616 even as a small reference:
The weird fixation with penguins, especially from Falcon
Tony Stark’s dedicated cheese fridge which Jarvis would keep tidying and everyone else would steal from.
Barry the incompetent but well-meaning AIM agent who would spend most of his time hiding in bushes
Boss Wasprus, a giant fluffy, buck-toothed wasp turned mafia boss. I have no idea why he existed
The final resolution to almost everything being a dance party.
And on that note, here’s how I left the game when I went, with the core Avengers Academy people and the Guardians of the Galaxy partying until the lights went out.