First things first: I already saw Avengers last week at an advance screening. Let me take this opportunity to briefly say “Neener neener” and “Nana nana boo boo.”

Second things second: David is absolutely buried under the process of moving house, so I’ll be filling in for him this week myself because I actually have something I want to blog about for once. And that’s the surprisingly high quality of a Facebook game called Marvel: Avengers Alliance.

I have basically no faith or expectations of Facebook/social games. A while ago I played this one… space-y kind of mafia wars type game. I liked it for the art and the simplicity, a little way to feed my addiction to filling bars on my Gen 1 iPod Touch before dozing off to sleep. So I’m not exactly a stranger to these parts, but after seeing a few other games played of the same genre sort, I quickly got the “seen one seen ‘em all” sensation.

But then I noticed just how fucking many of my pals on FB were talking about this Marvel game, and so enthusiastically. I thought they were nuts. How could a FB game be anything close to good enough to talk about like you would a “real game?”

So I tried it, and was instantly impressed.

Those of you who’ve spent a lot of hours in X-Men Legends or Marvel Ultimate Alliance as I have will instantly feel something familiar, and I don’t think that’s an accident. Avengers Alliance looks and feels something very much like a seamless transition from the beat ‘em up grindfest that was Ultimate Alliance to the classic JRPG format. You’ve got HP, you’ve got stam, you’ve got stats, and you’ve got turn-taking: All the basic ingredients to the classic RPG experience. That’d be enough for a lot of people, I think. I’ve kind of grown out of the genre, since it’s fairly homogenized and it’s gotten to the point where “It’s all ice cream, just pick which flavor you want.” And even Avengers Alliance is, at it’s core, just another flavor.

But it’s a damned good flavor.

It takes a point of inspiration from the greatest JRPG of all time: Pokemon. Only instead of 150 Super Heroes, there’s 30, and instead of 17 types, there’s 6 – Scrapper, Infiltrator, Tactician, Blaster, Bruiser, and Generalist (you’ll notice how both of these things are about 3:1 in ratio). It has a “type” system, like Pokemon, only instead of simply things being super effective (and that they are), each type has its own unique benefits that are contextually conducive. When Scarppers hit Infiltrators, they strike twice. When Infiltrators hit Tacticians, they gain Counterattack. When Tacticians hit Blasters, they get a second turn. When Blasters hit Bruisers, they guarantee crit and ignore defense. And when Bruisers hit Scrappers, they gain enraged up to two times, which increases Attack and Defense significantly. Generalists are type-neutral, and have no weaknesses or advantages but have more evenly-spread stats (which, in this game, is absolutely its own advantage).

You play through the game as a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent with a suprisingly deep level of customization. Your powers are based entirely on what crazy fucking S.H.I.E.L.D. weapons you decide to equip, and your type is altered by whatever suit you’re wearing. They even got socketable gems up in this bitch. So you can make your agent basically any way you want, and even hot-swap your entire load-out before every fight. Combining that with two Marvel Heroes of your choosing for a badass squad of three, and you’re hitting basically every fun button in my brain for turn-based strategy gaming.

The downsides come, of course, from the nature of the genre: playing the game requires Energy, which is something you can slowly replenish over time or cash in tokens that you earn through playing (these tokens, like everything else in the game, can be bought with real money if you’re less miserly than I am). For PVP this isn’t really a problem because the token distribution there is always greater than how long I feel like playing… but damn if I didn’t wish I could grind the crap out of story mode without paying extra!

The social aspects are minimal, but 100% fun on a bun: Every morning you can visit your friends’ “neighborhoods” and click around for free prizes. The more friends you have playing, obviously, the more you can farm this way. When you want to use the Quinjets on the Helicarrier to earn extra EXP and Silver with your idle characters, you need to get your friends to “crew them out.” The upside to that is, if you’re that friend, you get a small percentage of the earnings from the jet you’re “piloting.” And finally, the most fun part of the social aspect is that all of your friends can be called upon using Distress Calls, functioning basically like a summon, picking either their agent or a hero from their squad to come in and pull off one free action attack per battle. I know my friends Luke and Jen have saved my ass several times already.

FB/social games are meant to be quickly played, easy to digest, and a brief bit of fun for the whole day. Marvel: Avengers Alliance definitely hits that mark for me, and leaves me wanting more. If you’re looking for a free game and you love Marvel, this game will entertain the shit out of you. And if you’re somehow the type of freak who loves FB/social games as a genre, well, I think you’ll like it too.

Also, if you want to play with me, just shoot me a message on FB. Say you’re a reader and you want to help me save the world and I’ll add you to my rooster of allies.