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.