Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Nihilistic Software
Release Date: September 20, 2005
I'd like to start today's ramblings by saying that I wish I were more of a connoisseur of comic books in my older years. In my younger days, when I was writing my reviews in chalk on the sidewalk, my bedroom was filled with Spider-Man and Fantastic Four comics. As much as I liked the DC heroes like Batman, there was always something about the Marvel comics that sparked more interest in my adolescent brain.
Nowadays, however, it seems that the good old characters of yore have been given more facelifts than Joan Rivers. This fact is sharply driven home with EA's new brawler, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects.
While all of the playable characters are more or less instantly recognizable, it's the new way that they are being presented that first got my attention. I'm sure this has something to do with new artwork designed for the comic books. I don't know. Go find a 10-year-old or a 35-year-old who still lives in his mother's basement, and they could probably tell you the names of all the inkers, writers, etc. All I know is, while I really like the overall presentation, I am left with a melancholy sense of nostalgia for the primary colors and bold strokes of old.
The characters herein are all much more dark and brooding. The Marvel Universe, from the decimated bridge to the roof of The Daily Bugle, looks a lot more like the Los Angeles of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. While it is true that I see urban decay on a daily basis (I live in Baltimore, after all), I have to say that this new "realist" tack is kind of depressing.
That being said, let's take a look at the game itself, and see where that leads us, beginning with the game's single player story mode.
The overall tale is that of an alien invasion. From the first scene featuring Ben "The Thing" Grimm, it's clobberin' time! Wave upon wave of shiny metal baddies swarm at you, and you have to terminate them with extreme prejudice. The aliens are very nicely rendered and are introduced to you a few types at a time. The invaders are rather easily dispatched with a few well-placed punches and kicks, but as their brothers in arms show up, they get nastier and nastier, releasing Eviscerators, Devastators and other mean-sounding names. They fly, punch, shoot energy blasts and even pick up objects – like cars! – and throw them at your head.
These metal monsters are so powerful that former Marvel Universe enemies must band together before the world is swarming with these Skynet rejects. This is where the meat of the solo game takes place.
Starting with The Thing, you are introduced to the 19 unlockable characters. The Marvel Heroes are the usual suspects of superhero-dom. In no particular order, they are: Wolverine, Storm, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Thing, Human Torch, Magneto, Elektra, Daredevil, and my favorite, Venom. Among the Imperfects' ranks are mad scientist Van Roekel; saucy teleporting vixen The Wink; Fault Zone, who uses seismic powers; Solara, who wields light-based attacks; Brigade, an eternal warrior a la Master Chief; Paragon; and Hazmat, who fights with chemical-based attacks.
Don't worry, each of these characters has their own tale of origin, and the vignettes are presented in a wonderful, neo-noir feel. Using a hybrid of live-action, conventional animation, and very creative lighting, these mini-movies add another layer of polish to an impressive package. Of these Imperfects, my favorite turned out to be Paragon, a cybernetically-enhanced psychotic ballerina. I think I may have dated her before the implants.
On to the action.
The controls are pretty much what you would expect from a brawler; jump, attack, block and throw moves are each assigned one of the four face buttons. Movement is fluid via the analog sticks (the left moves your hero, while the right controls the camera). Occasionally, when fighting in a corner, it's difficult to get a good look at the action, but overall, the camera works as well as in any other game of this ilk.
In addition to the de rigueur controls, you also have, courtesy of the R1 and L1 buttons, your super attacks and mobility moves. These are vital to your survival, and each character uses these controls in a different way. For flying characters, like Storm, the mobility button causes them to rise into the air, and from there, you have control of altitude, direction, and all that. Attacking from the air can be a valuable strategy when facing ground-based enemies. Earthbound heroes (like the ever-popular Wolverine) utilize the mobility feature to sprint or otherwise close greater distances in a short period of time. As another example, Spidey uses the familiar web-zip to up his movement ante.
Alas, all of these neato moves take energy to perform, and this is where the game's stamina bar comes into play. At the beginning of each bout, you start with a full allotment of stamina, but running around, punching, kicking, web-slinging and flying all take their toll and reduce your stamina bar. This is where you have to think a little bit. If you are lucky enough to be left alone for a few seconds, you can recharge by simply standing still and holding your super attack button. Stamina recovers itself slowly over time, but this meditative technique speeds up the process tenfold. Of course, you are totally vulnerable while recharging.
It's not that you are helpless without a full stamina bar, far from it. One of Marvel Nemesis' best features is the interactivity with the environment. Nearly everything can be picked up and hurled at one or more opponents, and get this: throwing stuff doesn't affect your stamina at all. Not all characters can pick up all of the items lying around, as it would be almost silly to see the sexy assassin Elektra hoist a pickup truck over her head and toss it, but it makes perfect sense when we see The Thing do it. These little touches add depth to what could have been a by-the-book brawler.
The levels are very nicely rendered and chock-full of things to throw. Adding a nice sense of realism, if you pick up a power box on a rooftop, the live wires underneath continue to spit and spark throughout the fight.
As for voice talent, there isn't a whole lot of talking during the fights, and one must sit through the mandatory victory pose and clichéd one-liner following each scuffle. If you've read one comic or saw any of the recent Marvel big-screen treatments, you'll know what to expect.
Musically, the game keeps its feet firmly rooted in the dark, urban-decay universe it inhabits. Don't expect to hear the familiar strains of the "Spider-Man" television theme song here.
Once you have played through the story mode, you will have unlocked all of the game's playable characters, a number of trading cards, all of the new characters' origin flicks, and two issues of an on-screen treatment of The Fantastic Four's origin issue.
That takes us to the versus mode, which is just pairing up two combatants, choosing their starting lives and health, and letting them go at it. This is what you play when you have friends over. You know, friends – the other humans who waste your time when you aren't playing in the cyberverse. Don't worry. If you don't have any friends, Marvel Nemesis is an online title as well, so you can go beat up total strangers if you like.
Online play is identical to versus mode, with two heroes slugging it out. I would have liked to have seen at least one co-op mode, or perhaps a tag-team variation, but none are to be found. Another limitation is that, as of this writing, NTSC and PAL versions of the game are not cross-compatible, so you won't be getting into any diplomatic trouble.
In the final analysis, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects is a solid brawler with a nice selection of new and familiar characters. It sports a great deal of interactivity with the environment, and gives a number of fighting styles to work with. If you aren't a huge comic book fan, you may want to take a rental first, but for the rest of us, this game is another step forward in an emergence of quality titles featuring characters with whom we all grew up.
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