The arcade "beat-em-up" genre got started with Renegade and Double Dragon, and became set in its fundamental template with Final Fight. The success of Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles popularized the four-player cabinet and cemented the trend of tying beat-em-ups in with popular children's comic and cartoon licenses.
Captain America and the Avengers was Data East's attempt to horn in on this arcade trend. Despite an apparently thin budget, they managed to somehow get hold of a Marvel Comics license, and this game was the result - a play-it-safe clone that nevertheless shows some good qualities in spite of budgetary limitations and the apparent inexperience of the programming staff with the genre.
The game allows you to play as Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye or Vision. I don't know why we got the latter two instead of Thor or someone much more rockin', maybe the terms of the license stipulated they had to use cast-off characters. Anyway, you can choose your player from any position at the cabinet, which is nice.
The art seen here is interestingly more of a manga style than the Marvel comics upon which the game is based - like Marvel seen through the lens of Japanese comic artists. What's perplexing is that the story-advancing cut-scenes between levels look just awful, but the level backgrounds are actually finely detailed and look very nice (if you don't mind that there's rarely any animation in them, other than maybe the occasional burning police car or something.)
Controls are pretty simple and attack options are limited - you can punch, jump and punch, pick stuff up and throw it, mash both buttons together to do a projectile attack, or tap twice in a direction to dash and do a charging attack. The game kind of has the feel of Konami's later title The Simpsons, just a little faster and more loose in the character movement. The two-button attack doesn't seem to drain life like it usually does in most beat-em-ups, but it's mitigated by the fact that it's not really that powerful and is prone to miss since it takes a second or two to come out after you input the command.
While the gameplay is fundamentally fairly solid and the level design and art aren't that bad, what's mostly remembered about this game is the lulz created by a combination of typical hasty Engrish localization and the over-the-top delivery of digitized speech lines by the characters. Characters frequently stop the action to strike a dramatic posture and exclaim things like "Why should it goes well!" and "Where's the laser? Ask the police!" The game is also just fundamentally silly in some other ways - random soda cans and rocks lying on the ground do epic damage to bosses, or the way other Avengers just show up to point you in a random direction or toss you a pizza or something, like all of this is none of their problem. The highlight of the game, however, is a sub-boss in the underwater level called Mech. Taco. This is a mechanical octopus, and apparently the romanized equivalent of the Japanese word for octopus is "tako", and, well ... best spelling mistake ever, basically.
On the whole it's still kind of a mediocre beat-em-up, but there's enough to appreciate here that fans of the comics should find it worth a run, and at least the pace is fast and the gameplay is smooth and decent and doesn't bog you down too much in repetitive cloned enemies. If you've only had exposure to this through the universally crappy console ports, give the arcade original a look, as it's really quite a bit better than its bastard offspring.
* Gameplay Video