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Ben 10 Alien Force

Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: D3
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Platformer/ Fighting

Graphics & Sound:

Sometimes you'd think that videogame publishers believe kids aren't all that discerning. In reality it's just the opposite; any kid can spot phony merchandise a mile away... Genuine product is smart product, and Ben 10 Alien Force is definitely the genuine article. Through a combination of animated sequences that look like they were pulled from the show, and others that use in-game graphics to tell the story, Ben 10 Alien Force creates a nice bridge between the television series and the Wii. Even though the game experience is mostly a side-scrolling Brawler, the game world is highly interactive and full of eye-candy. It's easy to tell what items can be destroyed and fights include lots of pyrotechnics and lighting effects. Variety is everywhere, from the locations you'll have available for battle to the characters you'll use.

There are lots of good effects during battles and the music is forgettable but appropriate. Voice acting falls into a similar bucket, since it doesn't feel like there is as much story content in the game as you'd enjoy during a show. In fact, there may be a show's worth of dialogue in the game, but it is constantly being punctuated by action sequences. Fans will enjoy several special features included as Bonus Content such as a segment featuring the voice actors in live video talking about their contribution to the Ben 10 Alien Force game. Having this type of additional content is an unexpected bonus in what otherwise might have been a throwaway licensed title. The strong design connections to the show will insure that Ben 10 Alien Force stays on the shelf for quite a while as fans get to watch and interact with their favorite characters and alien forms.


Gameplay:

There are genres that will never die. Apart from the RPG and various sports or racing titles, it seems like the side-scrolling action/fighting game is here to stay. We often refer to these under the "Brawler" moniker just to keep things simple, because they seem tied to classic Arcade hits like Final Fight that were copied and improved on over the years without being fundamentally changed. Ben 10 Alien Force for Wii joins a long legacy of titles that pull off what would seem to be impossible. How is it that this style of game can hold your attention when we have various 3D marvels available? The answer lies in one word: Execution. In theory, exploring a 3D world - especially in first person - would be your choice for a great gaming experience. What could be more real and engaging than that, right? Well... as 3D Platformers over the years have taught us, doing things right is not as easy as doing things in 3D. Controlling characters in a full 3D world is tricky, especially when you can get lost or spend a lot of time jumping and performing actions that result in your immediate demise when done wrong.

Ben 10 Alien Force uses what might best be referred to as a 2.5D approach in the gameplay and layout of its world. Everything is built 3D but the characters track along a specific path that generally plays out as a series of side-scrolling encounters with enemies, bosses, or platforming elements. The benefit to this is that you'll never be lost, since there is only the way you've come and the way you're going... There are some special paths that can only be unlocked with certain characters, making for higher replay value on the assumption that you come back with a new characters to see a new branch of a level already played. Switching between alien forms is a requirement for moving ahead in most of the advanced levels, so it's not like the old-school fighting games that just threw wave after wave of enemy at you with little or no variety. Ben 10 Alien Force uses a combination of puzzle-based gameplay, action/fighting sequences, and platforming to craft a nice experience. The downside of this 2.5D approach is that it doesn't give any allusion of freedom or real exploration since you always see more of the game world than your characters, playing from a bird's-eye view. The other downer about the approach taken here is that it can come off as a poor man's... everything. Fans hoping for a story- or character-driven adventure game will find the constant fighting and platforming a distraction. Platformer fans will find the action a tad lightweight here and wish for something more meaty. Fighting or action fans will love or hate the button-mashing contained here, even though they'll appreciate the pace. Action fans will be the most likely among all parties to come away with a really positive spin on Ben 10 Alien Force, but games that pick one thing to do really, really well run the risk of coming across as having a little too little of everything.

The multiplayer is built well and allows another player to jump in with one of the ancillary characters and go to town alongside you through the main story. Not allowing four or even three players to join is strange, since the design of Ben 10 Alien Force would have lent itself nicely to a Gauntlet approach. The neatest thing about playing Ben is his control of the various alien forms, each with a unique attack ability and special moves. Big Chill and Swampfire are available right off the bat, with more forms available as you move through the game. Selecting an alien form is about more than just the cool factor, because some forms are required for passing specific obstacles or enemies.Spidermonkey's webbing is the only way to move across certain gaps in platforming areas, and you'll play through an entire level early on using Kevin's ability to change his body composition in service of solving some simple puzzles. Our only gripe is that the alien forms aren't much more than coat hangers, since the same basic controls apply in every case. Sure, they each have different animations, voices, and special attacks, but your button-mashing approach doesn't change when you switch between characters. Periodically you'll be able to upgrade attacks and this allows you to boost one specific character you love above the others. The trade-off is that you'll need to master increasingly complex button combinations to pull off special moves, which action/fighting fans will love and which make the rest of us groan. It's a shame that four-player co-op wasn't included or at least some online multiplayer, but what's here is tight enough. The only other wish-list item would have been to see more RPG elements than just upgrading attacks on the various alien forms, which would have added greater depth and replay value.


Difficulty:

Platforming in Ben 10 Alien Force isn't handled with a tremendous amount of grace. Jumping and double-jumping will enable any of the characters to cross chasms or light on various perches, but a lack of precision handling means you'll often miss. It's hard to say what is worse, the controls or the camera or the fact that missing even one jump in most of the platforming areas means instant death. Loading from frequently saved checkpoints means that you aren't hugely penalized for errors, but not being able to progress in a level is frustrating. Not that I often have young test subjects on hand, but while I reviewed this over the holidays, I did have the opportunity to observe a few kids under the age of ten playing. The platforming areas instantly put up walls, where they were otherwise loving and doing well with the side-scrolling, Brawler gameplay. Offering us a shadow to help line up jumps is getting to be a very tired device when the basic mechanics and design behind the game aren't correctly balanced. If the camera and controls aren't perfect, at least make it possible for players to survive their missed jump and try again, because watching the load screen too many times is a straight turnoff. The mainstay of Ben 10 Alien Force is button-mashing madness, with some special combos tossed in as a token for players that want to master their character's entire library of moves. It isn't possible to shortcut the puzzles, but you definitely don't have to master the special combos to move past even the strongest enemies or bosses.

Game Mechanics:

The transformation mechanic in Ben 10 Alien Force works quite well. Ben always has access to any forms he has unlocked, through a single button press on the Wii-mote, and can immediately use attacks specific to that character after transforming. Only moves unlocked are available, through a point-purchase system in combination with experience points. You'll have the opportunity to gather experience through battles and recharge health by destroying objects in the game world. Health in alien form means you'll be able to maintain that form longer, because once you lose all health in alien form you'll revert to plain old Ben. After losing a specific alien form, Ben must wait for that form to recharge, usually by switching to another form. The alternative is to gather health, usually found after you destroy random items scattered through each level. Sustaining health while playing as Ben is really important, because losing your health as Ben means you'll have to restart from the last checkpoint. It sounds more extreme than it really is, since each alien form acts like a "shield" for Ben. Thinking about it this way allows you to coast through the game without much fear of ever sapping Ben's health, since you can switch back and forth between alien forms almost indefinitely. The downside to this is that players won't see Ben in action that much, as they do during the show. Motion controls are used for attacking and blocking, but you'll almost never have to block unless you just like blocking... There are button controls that can be used in place of motion, but the motion actually allows for some wild stringing of combos together; on the Wii at least, swinging the Wii-mote around is the new equivalent of button-mashing.

The Ben 10 Alien Force fans will no doubt rejoice that they've got a better than average action/fighting game to play on the Wii. What isn't here is anything that might catapult Ben 10 Alien Force for Wii to the level where someone that isn't a raving fan of the Ben 10 Alien Force show would seek this out and play it. Not going to happen. This doesn't mean that we can't recommend it beyond the license, just that if the license were stripped off everyone would recognize the game as being very mediocre. Good, creative use of the license and some decent presentation are combined with controls that are adequate to the task, making it a good licensed game. As all gamers know, developers may set out to create good licensed games, but too often end up with something rushed, poorly thought out, and completely frustrating. Ben 10 Alien Force fans can rest assured that Ben and his crew weren't harmed in the making of this game, and there's enough good in here to make it a cautious recommendation for anyone and a solid recommendation for fans of the show.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Microsoft Xbox 360 Call of Duty: World at War Nintendo DS Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades

 
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