It's super, thanks for asking.
On the back of the Wii package for Marvel Ultimate Alliance there are two photos of your average Nintendo Wii Toolboys posing with their wii-motes and nunchucks in exactly the same poses as the in-game screenshots of Spider-Man throwing a web and Captain America throwing his shield next to them. If images say a thousand words, these say that you get to act like a superhero in playing the game.
They also say that the target demographic are white middle-upper class boys who are not hampered by fears of dorkiness.
The latter conclusion is probably more accurate than the former. And while you do wave your superhero arms about quite a bit, the translation from regular console game to the Wii doesn’t do Ultimate Alliance, in every other respect a decent game, any favors.
Still, you have to hand it to Activision for opening the country club doors and welcoming a virtual cornucopia of superheroing talent. Although the game remains true to its dated Raven engine, Ultimate Alliance
’s massive roster of good and bad guys and its thorough commitment to variety in gameplay lays a resounding super-smack on the recent crippled DC venture, Justice League Heroes
The alliance is formed when mainstay bad guy Dr. Doom
begins stealing super technology in a nefarious plan to rule the world. Your crew of four superheroes visits different lands, worlds, and the ubiquitous infernal dimensions to defeat Doom and his minions.
And it is on the heroes that Marvel’s gem of a game clearly shines its white-hot beam of attention. There are over twenty playable characters, nearly a third of which are unlocked through gaining achievements in the game. The sheer number of the heroes is staggering, including everyone from the Fantastic Four
to Moon Knight
. But it is the unique feel of each of the characters that makes their variety so, dare I say, fantastic.
And so it goes through every character, the special moves for Mister Fantastic
are sweet, e.g. when he rolls himself into a ball and pinball charges opponents or stretches out to land a huge fifteen-foot uppercut. Thor
’s hammer throw stuns opponents and can hit them both coming and going like a boomerang. And Captain America
sports a remote-controlled shield that careens around the screen madly. Each character’s powers are distinct, and as each levels up, those customized differences emerge with more clarity.
One would imagine, though, that the Wii-mote control scheme would be tailored to each of these unique superpowers. One would be wrong. There are simply four different wii-mote motions (a swipe, a lift, a drop, and a shake) that take the place of the four buttons on the Xbox and PS2 versions. Once those motions are mastered (which takes about fifteen minutes), one can adequately control the heroes as if using buttons—but not quite as easily. Is it more fun to shake and thrust your hand in wrist-agonizing masturbatory exercise than push a button? That’s for you to decide.
A couple of drawbacks are apparent early on. Since the camera is relegated to the twisting of the nunchuck controller, the camera can go into spirals if not held level. Also, the use of your superpowers requires you to hold down on the z-button while performing the motion. Using multiple powers in a row is like using a shift key to type capital letters, but being required to let go and re-push the shift key between every letter. The short of it is that using the same power over and over again requires more coordinated button-pushing (ah, the IRONY) than in the other versions.
To many, the Wii was intended to make gaming more accessible. The many coordinated button pushes, camera orientation, and even confusing menu navigation (I still haven’t gotten used to the 1, 2, a, b, c, z, +, -, home button names) seems to suggest the opposite. And, much to my chagrin, really cool superhero moves like Captain America’s controllable shield, are made absurdly difficult by mapping what was once a direction on a stick (intuitive, easy) to twisting wrist motion (as difficult to do as to describe). The Wii version requires some super skills—but that’s not a good
Skill points are meted out by level, and it is impossible to gain as many skill points as there are slots in each of the many unique superpowers. Decisions are made early as to whether you will power up Thing’s defensive “iron skin” or his offensive uppercut. While the default setting for the game is to auto-distribute the skill points, most gamers will want to assign all of the skill points to the skill that they use most often. If there’s one thing superheroes aren’t, it’s mediocre and balanced.
But they are as cliquish as high school girls named Heather
. One new feature of this game is the ability to create your own super-team. You choose four heroes from the massive superhero palate to stick together for the rest of the game. As your party’s reputation increases, you can add “team boosts” that only affect your cliquish little team of do-gooders. It’s a smart feature, since it rewards team loyalty and gives a decent reason why not to fuss around with all twenty superheroes incessantly.
Each hero not only plays differently, but also has a distinct personal history. Whereas Justice League Heroes
played like a quick-and-dirty gauntlet clone, Marvel’s game pays the real justice to the heroes’ back stories. Each character is given his or her own unlockable single-player mission which flashes back to actual Marvel comic-book battles. Don’t know who Ms. Marvel
is? (She once gave birth to her own lover - Ed.)
Neither did I until I played through her single-player mission.
If the good guys are many, deep, and unique, the bad guys are just as fortunate. Doctor Doom is the centerpiece here, but crazy nemeses like Galactus
(the killer Commodore 64) all get their fifteen minutes. Boss fights are usually challenging, many requiring much more than just punching and kicking to win.
Unlike other games in the genre, Ultimate Alliance
de-emphasizes hacking and slashing, making this more of a superhero game and less of a dungeon crawler. For instance, by the end, you will hardly use anything besides your superpowers, since most of the rank and file bad guys will overwhelm the surprisingly ineffective button-mashing tactic.
The levels also manage to keep the fighting from becoming stale by peppering the game generously with mini-games. Many of these are of the God of War
button prompt reflex games, but others, like reprises of Pitfall
are built into the story (both of those occur in Arcade’s evil “Murderworld” theme park) and give each level needed character.
Compared to the other console versions, the Wii Ultimate Alliance has graphics roughly equal to that of the original Xbox—a little fuzzy but steady in framerate. Unfortunately, the Wii version is the only version that cannot support online play. So, for a version whose new control scheme is iffy at best, and markedly inferior at worst, the lack of online play tips the grade down a notch. The maverick Wii, it appears, is just not cut out for the alliance of button-pushing consoles.
Although Marvel: Ultimate Alliance does not change the superhero formula set by X-Men Legends, it does capitalize on it—really working to instill personality in every aspect of the game, from the superheroes’ biographies, to their powers, to the teams, to the neat and varied boss battles. A must for Marvel fans, a good buy for everyone else, Ultimate Alliance is an epic in an old package, kind of like those massy boxes of comics you have hidden away in your attic, gathering ebay value like dust.