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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Score: 78%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: n-Space
Media: CD/1
Players: 4
Genre: Action/ Fighting/ Squad-Based

Graphics & Sound:

We generally subscribe to the notion that more of a good thing is just... more good. The first game in this series, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, was a hit on the Wii from the perspective that it filled a relatively empty genre niche with a license that any comic-reader turned-gamer had to love. The bottom line on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is that the big stuff hasn't been messed with or much improved, but more of the same isn't a bad thing when you start with a decent product. The respect paid to Marvel's characters is evident throughout the game, although the graphics seem to have gone a bit soft. The detailed screens showing each character's abilities and costume suffers from severe lumpiness of a sort that might be appropriate for Hulk, but hardly for Ms. Marvel or similar curvaceous beauties. But as Spider-Man might quip at this moment, "Are you here to ogle the ladies, or get 'yer game on?"

The level of attention paid to detail during gameplay is evident on the Wii. This version of the game was developed by n-Space; Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is by far the most ambitious project they've tackled on this platform, and they turned in a good performance. The top-down perspective remains from Marvel Ultimate Alliance, with some sacrifices in camera controls that we didn't like. The previous mechanic of using motion to control the camera remains, but isn't as readily available as before. The game's engine really runs on rails and intends for you to leave the camera (and the driving) up to its control. New or improved features include more eye candy in the environment, with destructible objects galore, and prominent background music that adds to the emotional content of each level. At center stage in this game is a new Fusion Attack, that combines elements of two characters' powers to create a supercharged and highly entertaining attack. The best part of these attacks is that you get to trigger them and then let the system take over, leaving you to watch the action play out briefly on the screen with occasionally awesome results.


Taking a page from the "Civil War" continuity will instantly cause thousands of Marvel fans' ears to perk up, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 does a great job of connecting the dots without being entirely derivative. This is definitely the game experience that ties most directly to the "Civil War" story, and demonstrates clearly why games and comics - both capable of longer plot development - are better bedfellows than games and movies. Rather than spin off a movie license, where plot and character development is subordinate to flashy set pieces and action sequences, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 delves into the events that split the Marvel Universe in half. Taking sides is now more than just a choice between good and bad, as you can align your team with one set of heroes that affects outcomes later in the game. Strangely, there aren't options to create multiple, parallel save points as you play, so the game essentially forces you to replay everything to see how the different stories work out. Replay value, but only if you've got the time and motivation to play the entire game through at least twice.

The style of play is unchanged from the first go 'round, a top-down, Gauntlet style of game that makes for nice party fodder. Playing with a series of friends is a cinch for a local hoe-down, but nothing is included for online play against your Wii friends, or even a pickup game via an online lobby system. This really differentiates the Wii version of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 as good if you have other Wii friends that like to come over and play around, but not so good if you'll miss the idea of big online brawls. If you only have a Wii, it's not like you really have a choice, you know? The action during each level of the campaign, whether you are playing solo or with friends, goes through a series of challenge levels interspersed with scripted cut-scenes. There are objectives beyond just beating bad guys up, like knocking them out or interacting with objects in the environment. A bonus system tied to badges you gather during the game helps customize your team for specific challenges or enemies you'll battle, going further than just the weighting of each team according to each member's abilities. Learning when to use charged attacks or combos is essential to mopping up large groups of enemies or bosses, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is still a button-mashing game at its core. Gamers that also read the comics will know how everything works out, but playing a more active role in the "Civil War" storyline is a neat experience all the same.


The addition of Fusion powers, an abundance of special moves for each character, the opportunity for weighting the team toward one of several character styles, combined with group bonuses through the badge system... it all adds up to more and more ways to beat down the baddies, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 makes you work for your victory. It isn't that the enemies cheat or that you'll encounter lots of cheap death, but you'll have to work even in the game's easiest difficulty setting to get through with all heroes intact. There are other elements to the game that reward players for playing smarter rather than harder, such as using Fusion to clean up large groups or take down bosses quicker than you otherwise would playing as individuals. Specific characters are rated on their abilities, including teamwork, and once you have the chance to customize your squad, you will find that a properly composed team does much better than a team drawn at random. As the X-Men learned in their classic Danger Room exercise when the team was only newly formed, working together as a squad produces far better results than going it alone. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is playable as nothing more than a flail-fest, but more careful planning on how to control individual characters and thinking strategically about pairing complementary characters will make things run much smoother.

Game Mechanics:

The motion controls were a bit of a misfire last time around, but dropping them entirely might have been an overreaction. Sure, there are a few gestures still possible during special actions or when triggering the combo Fusion attacks, but the game is largely executed through a combination of the (A) and (B) buttons. Tapping either multiple times will unleash more powerful attacks, or you can grab opponents by pressing both at the same time, and possibly get a finishing move in if your timing is on the money. Special powers can be activated for each hero, but they are really little more than one-button versions of more complicated A/B combos. The money is on the Fusion Attack, which you tap (Z) and shake the Nunchuk to initiate. You'll need to target a second hero using the Wii-mote, and you will get different results based on which characters you choose to combine. It's good stuff, and makes cleaning up a crowded room a lot easier.

Nobody said that sequels needed to be exponentially better than whatever came before, but we do tend to come to the party with raised expectations when there's been a previous installment. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is not any better than the original for Wii, and takes a step back in some ways with its chunky graphics. Lack of true online is a bummer, but mostly par for the course when it comes to Wii games. You really deserve better in this age of always-on Internet connectivity and games like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 that are tailor made for throwing together a random foursome and beating down some underpowered minions. Not bad, just not all that good.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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