Good on the DS but Made for Your Console
Oh, superheroes. Who doesn’t love a good turn as a stylish do-gooder with a complicated and sordid history? Our culture can’t get enough of these guys, and no entity is as popular today as Marvel’s cast of heroes and villains. So it makes sense that publisher Activision would follow up 2006’s wildly popular Marvel: Ultimate Alliance with a sequel, shockingly titled Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. The question is, how doeos Marvel’s heroes fare on Nintendo’s portable system.
MUA2 offers a nice pool of playable characters to choose from. There’s your expected Spiderman, Wolverine, Iron Man, and Captain America’s but also a few lesser known surprises. She-Hulk makes a somewhat unexpected appearance, making the argument that two ticked off green agents of destruction are better than one. My only complaint when it comes to the wide variety of characters to pick from is how each character feels similar to the next. The Hulk feels like Wolverine. Yes they look different and have unique attack types, but when you boil it down, both are fairly interchangeable as a frontline tank, and one would be hard-pressed to care which was used.
The animated cutscenes are fantastic, used in to tell the story in comic book fashion between chapters. It’s bright and vibrant, and some of the dialogue is chuckle-inducing to boot. Unfortunately, the in-game graphics are a little substandard for a DS title. The upside is superheroes are extremely colorful individuals, making them easy to tell apart at a distance. Still, the beauty of the cutscenes has an unintentional effect of providing a sporadic reminder that the in-game graphics aren’t quite what would be hoped for.
Voice acting is virtually nonexistent, getting the job done while adding nothing special. The musical score, on the other hand, is a nice surprise and successfully adds to the game’s feel. If we don’t get to hear Spidey quips voice acted, at least we get some nice music to cover the silence.
Gameplay is the biggest pitfall in Ultimate Alliance 2. Camera work often leaves something to be desired, ranging from slightly annoying to downright aggravating. Using the familiar isometric, third-person view, all too often you are left with a sticky camera that doesn’t want to move. It’s common to be stuck behind a wall and blindly moving and attacking until you make it to a sweet spot that repositions the overhead view. Clipping is also a problem. On a few occasions, I found myself stuck between stationary NPCs and unable to escape if not for the ability to switch to another character in the party and allowing the AI to shake itself loose from confinement. What would have happened if my super-powered allies were not around I do not know – I suspect I would still be trying to double jump my way to freedom in vain. I somehow doubt that is the type of computer-assisted AI developer n-Space had in mind.
As is nearly always the case, it’s better to have friends connected wirelessly as your allies over relying on the computer-controlled AI. Beyond the fun factor of teaming up with some pals, your squad-mates should be several times better at conserving their superpowers and abilities for the right situations. It’s enough to make even The Hulk scratch his head in bewilderment when someone like a computer-controlled Iron Man goes off using strategic powers at inopportune times. You’d think Mr. Stark would know better.
Auto targeting works well provided your expectations are reasonable. More often than not I found myself swinging and firing at who I was aiming for. There were certainly a few instances that the targeting system has me doing my best three-part combo into thin air, whiffing past a no name grunt a scant quarter inch away. During the few seconds my hero of choice was practicing his shadowboxing, I couldn’t help but wonder what thoughts were running through my enemy’s head. I suspect it was “I expected to be dead by now, how am I still alive and why is Iron Man attacking the air around me?”
As mentioned earlier, and before wrapping this review up, I need to get something off my chest. There is a long standing issue I have had since playing the original Ultimate Alliance on the Xbox 360 a couple years ago – bear that in mind as I may be alone on this. It bothers me how there are only a handful of “types” of characters with few exceptions. Wolverine and The Hulk both have devastating melee attacks and can absorb damage. Most range attacks accomplish the same thing and damage; only varied in their visual effects. It’s enough to make it feel like there are really only three different characters re-skinned several times over. I’d love an option to turn off “balancing” and allow the truly dominant superheroes to play like it while the less powerful have a harder time of it. Let a punch from The Hulk do tremendous damage while Iceman’s regular blows do much more moderate damage. I understand why characters are balanced, but it would be fun to be able to turn it off for more realistic gameplay… well, realistic as far as Marvel mythology goes.
That rant out of the way, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 for the Nintendo DS is a fun game that has the most to offer when played cooperatively. The biggest flaw, beyond the minor aforementioned annoyances and distractions, is when you boil it all down this is a game intended for the consoles and that is where it excels. The best of the best DS games are generally those intended and created just for the system, a la The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Still, if you don’t have a console or prefer to take your superhero action with you, this is a solid pickup. But, if you have an Xbox 360 or PS3, you may want to consider spending the extra $20 for the console version – it’s worth the difference.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Cut scenes shine while in-game action could use polish. 3.4 Control
Reoccurring minor flaws drag the rest of the game down. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is vibrant and flowing, sound effects get the job done if nothing else. 4.0
Despite its flaws, it is an enjoyable game – particularly when linked with friends.
3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.