Marvel Nemesis is hard to resist. Billed as a third-person fighting game romp featuring a collection of Marvel superheroes, it tickles the nerd nerves. The intriguing box art alone (Iron Man and Venom standing right next to each other?!) is sure to jumpstart geek hearts from here to Krypton. Inarguably, it's an exciting proposition…
…but inarguably, it's a sucky game. Once you've taken Marvel Nemesis through its paces, you'll pierce its glinty armor with your newfound eye beams of license abuse and try to toss it into the local penitentiary for the rest of its unnatural born life.
This villain in hero's clothing lures you in with its awesome cast of characters. Classics like Spider-Man, Venom, Daredevil, Elektra, Iron Man, Human Torch and Dr. Doom join X-men universe characters like Storm, Wolverine and Magneto. While such big names carry a tank's worth of weight, the developers decided to add more to the mix by creating their own super people, the Imperfects, which are pretty much WWE wrestlers with real names.
They're also the premise for the game's anemic Story mode. Divided into A.D.D.-friendly vignettes, this mode tells the awful tale of how some mad doctor, who's actually an alien, screwed up experiments to create the perfect specimen of ass-kickery, thus spawning the six Imperfects. Your task is to slog through mundane button-mashing until your eyes bleed.
The game gives you the option of switching between superheroes at the end of any of their five or so mini-missions, which range from "kill these many things in X time" and "kill X in no time" to just "get through this part, period." You can continue to play as one character until all of his missions are complete, or you can swap out to another and run their missions for a bit.
Since the story doesn't tell you anything aside from "Bad Alien! Kill!" to begin with, it's hard to care about the random objectives or the characters aside from the fact that they're Marvel. After completing a mission, you'll encounter a cinema describing the origin of one of the new Imperfect characters, like a ballerina with cyborg legs who's hell bent on destroying the world for no good reason. Maybe she's mad at the irony of being a dancer with crappy legs, who knows. You'll then have to choose one of the good guys you were using to defeat this Imperfect, thus ending his vignette, potentially before his missions are finished. Rare are the times when a game lets you have less of it, but in cases of repetitive, boring gameplay such as this, it's a good thing.
The vignette approach had the potential to do some more interesting hero crossovers; instead it's used as a transparent distraction from gameplay mechanics that are lame and the same regardless of the superhero. All characters have a movement special, like Spidey's websling or Storm's flight, as well as an attack special to accompany a melee combo and a throw. You can also add super-powers to any attack; doing so depletes the power meter but increases your ability to "rage," which gives you unlimited super-powers for a bit. The attack special and rage activator share the same button, so you'll be raging a lot, whether you wanted to or not.
You'll barely need any of this in the single-player game. Lacking any targeting scheme, the game forces you to line up your hero with whatever you want to attack and mash away, hoping for the best. Most of the millions of robot drone enemies will start to counter or block your attacks mid-combo, as another one hurls an exploding barrel at you from off-screen. The difficulty ramps up quickly and doesn't change over time.
However, all enemies fall for the same tactic – the classic run-around-while-hurling-barrels-at-bad-A.I. gig. Running in circles and tossing projectiles at the fool in the middle works consistently whether you are surrounded by goons or are fighting any boss. Why do you need to do everything a spider can when there's flaming barrels to be chucked? Besides, thrown objects are far more effective than regular attacks. The disproportionate damage between getting cracked in the face by someone who can lift a truck and getting hit by a couch is retarded.
So after about an hour, you'll eject from Story mode and get into the other side of this two-faced evildoer, the Versus mode. Though it only supports two players at a time (no four-way madness here), a human is a lot more flexible than the static A.I. Story mode offers. The levels themselves are rife with debris, meaning there's tons of stuff to blow up and use as potential projectiles. You'll occasionally have to use your super powers to beat a cagey opponent, although combat here often boils down to the same projectile mania found in the single-player. You can catch projectiles and throw them back, but playing against anyone with decent timing can result in an intergalactic game of catch. The PS2 and Xbox versions can both be played online, but that just means you have more people to play catch with.
Much of the graphical effort went into rendering the heroes themselves, and they do look pretty good, with cool comes at the cost of the environments, which are routinely drab and muddy. The PS2 version has a much choppier framerate than the Xbox and Gamecube versions, though all three tend to chunk up a bit. The production values simply aren't there; in-engine scene transitions hiccup between one another and can make you motion sick if you're paying too much attention for too long, though the cinema scene quality itself is solid.
It fares little better in its audio. Sound effects are the typical bangs and clashes you'd expect from a comic book game. They're a fair share better than the repetitive superhero tunes that hail each hero the same way.
Being a comic connoisseur will only take you so far in enjoying Marvel Nemesis, and if you're a gamer, you'll be hard-pressed to see past the numerous flaws. You're better off spending your money on comics that actually increase in value over time or a cleaner beat 'em up like Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. This one's a Marvality.