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Marvel Ultimate Alliance

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Fighting/ Action/ Party

Graphics & Sound:

We all know the Wii isn't a powerhouse for graphics like those other consoles. That said, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a great looking game among the other titles at launch for the Wii system. Marvel fans don't need more than one jaggy glance at Elektra's profile to excite them, anyway. There are so many great characters contained in the game and they are featured in several different costume choices. There is voice acting in the game, all reasonably well done but not at a "knock your socks off" level. What the characters do on screen is much more impressive than how they look doing it. There are really strong cut-scenes featuring excellent computer animation. At least for this type of game - a top-down brawler - Marvel Ultimate Alliance really does feature the type of action my mind's eye would have envisioned for a comic book come to life. Each hero has a realistic set of attacks, although some are more exciting than others. The best thing visually is the largely destructible environment, the sights and sounds of battle raging around you, and some killer boss battles.

Gameplay:

Variety being the spice of life, we're always a little more jazzed to report on games that push the envelope and offer something different. Marvel Ultimate Alliance can't possibly make that claim unless you count the "gestures" used to control characters with the Wii-mote. But let's be honest: this is a dream game for fans of the comics that spawned these great characters. The four-player action is incredibly fun and there's as much variety here as you could fit into a brawler. If you only have yourself to play with, it isn't quite as much fun but there's still something to be said for having control of one hero while the CPU controls the other three. I really wish there were an online play option to give you and some networked players the same experience you can have in your living room. It's worrisome that Nintendo isn't pushing the angle for online multiplayer when it has worked so well on other systems.

The main game is a straightforward romp through an enemy battlefield, beginning on the deck of Nick Fury's huge combat helicarrier. Fury calls in the heroes to battle a large force of super villains that Dr. Doom has recruited. As you play through, you'll gain experience points that come in handy for upgrading attacks or costumes. In addition to co-op, you can play through an Arcade Mode that looks identical but grants points to each individual hero separate from the team. In the midst of games, you can enter a Simulator that features classic battles from Marvel history. It's like a game inside the game, since fans will immediately recognize these segments from reading the comics. There are additional features that can be opened up as you play, such as content from comics or gameplay movie segments. It's a nice package, but decidedly light fare. You'll enjoy it most if you have at least one other friend to play with... hopefully someone with an appreciation for the source material.


Difficulty:

With a full contingent of human players, you'll mop the floor with most of the bad guys. But, if you come to Marvel Ultimate Alliance expecting pinpoint precision, you're likely to be disappointed. Lots of moments where you seem stuck in a pummeling from one of the bad guys makes for that "cheap" feeling. Some of this is just learning the controls, but you may find that the Wii "gestures" aren't enough to get the job done. Using the Wii-mote to trigger attacks is not nearly as precise as using specific buttons. Too many of the gestures can be bungled or misread and you'll need plenty of room to do the gestures without smacking your actual human opponent in the face. I was about 50/50 on using the gestures versus the buttons, but the gestures do provide some additional level of challenge. There are a lot of regular and special attacks each character uses, so you'll find the game much easier once you master the controls.

Game Mechanics:

The notable Wii controls are five gestures with the Wii-mote and shaking or tilting the Nunchuk. The Nunchuk tilt is my favorite; it just rotates the camera. This feels cool and works really well. It comes in handy to see around objects in the game or adjust to optimal viewing angle for enemy attacks. My least favorite gestures involve the lifting and lowering of the Wii-mote. Not that it doesn't work like it's supposed to, because it does. The problem is that the game has frantic action and the lift/lower has to be executed slowly to come out just right. Compared to hitting a button for the same attacks, these gestures are DOA. Shaking and thrusting the Wii-mote toward the screen works well, and the "swipe" gestures aren't bad either. I found the gestures could be confused too easily by the system; making the game sensitive to the gesture being performed also forces players to be very deliberate about gesturing. For my money, gestures are a great idea, but there should have just been one or two gestures. Something like the punch/kick button on a traditional fighter. Even with two gestures and all the various buttons on the Wii-mote and Nunchuk controller, you could end up with plenty of cool combos. Instead, we have something that can almost feel like a distraction instead of a defining feature.

I loved the opening movie, but nothing put a smile on my face like the first time I clicked through to the lineup of heroes. I've been reading these comics for as long as I can remember and there are bulging comic boxes stacked up in my garage like those crates at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie... Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a really neat idea with some flaws and provides awesome party entertainment for a group with some passion for Marvel comics. Gestures haven't revolutionized the four-way brawler in my book, but I am excited to see where developers can go from here.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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