Marvel mayhem and magic with absolutely nothing lost in translation.
The success of Raven’s action/RPG’s X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse has given way to an even more ambitious future franchise: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Ripped directly from the pages of your favorite comic books, MUA is literally bursting at the seams with fan service at every turn. Featuring 140 characters, both good and evil ranging from the uber-popular such as Spider-Man and Wolverine to the “only diehard comic fans would know this character” like Western Ghost Rider, Fin Fang Foom and Beta Ray Bill, you can’t argue with the fact that Raven has delivered on it’s promise of a 10 hour + total funny pages geek-out session. That it’s based on an already tried and true formula, established with the aforementioned XL series, only cements the notion that MUA will be one of the hottest selling items this fall, PS3 and Wii be damned.
Functioning in the same vein as the X-Men Legends series, players will be able to select from a roster of over 20 playable Marvel hero characters (not all are available at the start) who are then placed into a team of 4 to be used either alone or with up to 3 other players to enhance the overall experience. Single players will be able to switch between their heroes on the fly, although on the PSP version this feature isn’t quite as user-friendly as it was on the consoles as it requires a shoulder trigger to be pressed before using the d-pad to make your selection. Playing an ad-hoc co-op game or multiplayer game functions in much the same manner, except that players will stick with their chosen heroes for the entire level without being able to change. As the game progresses, characters will earn XP (experience points) and collect S.H.I.E.L.D. icons which can then be used to upgrade their abilities via special moves which reflect the nature of their superhuman powers. As in XL, items can be located on the battlefield and equipped to offer an increase in ability. Unlike XL however, this element has been streamlined to one item per hero which can be selected or sold at any time. Using your special powers drains your Energy Meter which regenerates over time and along with Health, can be restored via red and blue orbs that are dropped from fallen enemies. Raven was thoughtful enough to create a more sensible health and energy distribution mechanic in which characters who actually need them the most, will get them. As well, flying characters no longer require the use of Energy to fly and can stay in the air for as long as they desire.
As is par for the course, check your brain at the door and put on your “imagination cap” when it comes to the yet another world domination plot, this time courtesy of Dr. Doom. Throughout the course of the game you’ll run into numerous heroes and villains who, had Dr. Doom really been taking over the world, would have been ignored faster than Speedball at a DC Comics convention. Arcade? Shocker? Tiger Shark? Anyway, it’s all in good fun even though most of the cameos in this game are more for the “Wow. They really did throw everyone in this game” factor rather than their actual contribution to the plot. As a comic collector from way back, I truly did appreciate the level of fan service that Raven provided. Much of the truly enjoyable geek-out moments come when you unlock the various costumes for your favorites. I mean, who besides me actually read the Western Ghost Rider comics? No really? Who else wants to see Daredevil in his original yellow and red costume? I mean, that’s the Daredevil I remember. Ice-Man in his original bulky form? Iron Man’s classic 70’s costume? Scarlet Spider and the Symbiote outfit? Spider-Girl? Beta Ray Bill an alternate form for Thor? I mean, Raven really did their homework. Switching costumes isn’t just a cosmetic difference as each costume has it’s own set of features and stats that requires levelling up as well. It’s a very interesting way to provide maximum control over your character.
As an added bonus, the PSP version features 4 additional exclusive heroes that weren’t playable on the consoles – Black Widow, Ronin, Hawkeye and Captain Marvel. Unfortunately the rumors regarding Nova were false as someone most likely mistook Capt. Marvel in one of his alternate uniforms as the once popular early 80’s hero. I have to say I was a little disappointed as I was a Nova fan. Let’s hope he makes it into the sequel.