Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: October 24, 2006
Dr. Doom has reestablished the most dangerous team of villains in the history of the Marvel Universe: the Masters of Evil. As comic fans know, the Masters of Evil is basically what happens when at least forty supercriminals get together in the same room to beat the snot out of a single target.
In this case, though, Doom has sent the villains to make the first strikes in a united offensive, all as part of some unknown plan. An army of Ultron-designed robots attacks the SHIELD helicarrier, and Nick Fury puts out the call for all superheroes, no matter who or where they are, to drop what they’re doing and come oppose Doom.
The first four heroes to respond – and thus the first four heroes you’ll control in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance -- are Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, and Wolverine. They’ll form the core of the game’s enormous cast of Marvel characters, in a balls-to-the-wall beat-‘em-up that stretches from one side of the Marvel Universe to the other. On the one hand, it’s an action-RPG in the tradition of the addictive, evening-killing, just-one-more-level X-Men Legends games; on the other, it’s a shot of pure fanboy adrenaline, putting a hundred and sixty Marvel characters together in one game, with enough shout-outs, deliberate obscurities, and I-can’t-believe-they-even-know-who-that-is cameos to bring any comic book fan to the table.
Moon Knight’s in the damn game, guys. Moon Knight. I mean, what the hell.
Anyway, the point being: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, like the X-Men Legends games, is a four-player action game. As you go, you can gradually unlock more and more characters, until you’ve got one of the, if not the, largest playable cast of superheroes in video game history. Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Iceman, Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, Blade, Elektra, the entire Fantastic Four, Ms. Marvel, the first Spider-Woman, Iron Man, Luke Cage, and Deadpool can all be found and recruited for your team over the course of the game, and you can eventually unlock the Black Panther, Daredevil, the Silver Surfer, and Nick Fury, to boot. (On the PSP version, you can also play as Hawkeye and Nova.)
As in Legends, you can create special teams depending on what characters you and/or your friends decide to play as, and those teams will get certain special bonuses. Playing as the entire Fantastic Four, for example – Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Thing, and the Human Torch – will cause your team to regenerate ten health every time you KO an enemy.
Other special teams include Femme Fatale (all superheroines), Avengers (Cap, Iron Man, and Thor), New Avengers (Spider-Man, Cage, Iron Man, Cap, Wolverine, and/or Spider-Woman), and X-Men (Storm, Colossus, Iceman, and Wolverine). You can also opt to form your own special team, give it a unique name, and eventually work it up to the point where your team will have its own unique team bonus.
All of these characters come with an arsenal of moves based on their canonical weapons and super powers. In most versions of the game, as with Legends, you can map three of these moves to the game’s buttons and fire them off by holding one of the triggers or shoulder buttons. In the Wii version, however, all of these moves are available at almost any time with a sliding circular sort of menu. You can use the D-pad on the right half of the Wii’s nunchuck to scroll through them.
In fact, the Wii version demands a little extra discussion. It’s not quite as shiny as the other versions I played – the 360 version has so much light bloom that it looks like a fever dream, or how they sometimes light a flashback in a movie – but the Wii’s remote adds some interesting aspects to the control. You move your character with the D-pad and use your light attack with the right trigger, while blocking, heavy attacks, and jumping are done by moving the remote. It takes some getting used to, like everything else with the Wii, but it feels natural after a surprisingly short period of time.
One slightly negative aspect to Ultimate Alliance is that it’s not quite as deep, overall, as the X-Men Legends games were. Most characters seem to have something like half the powers they would’ve had if they’d appeared in Legends, and the “health and energy potions” have been ditched in favor of each enemy dropping power-ups. Whenever you drop a robot or a goon or what-have-you, it spews red and blue globes like candy from a pinata, each of which will benefit whichever player’s character needs them most.
On the other hand, every character now has three unlockable costumes, each of which has its own special benefits. Each outfit gives three stat bumps when you have it equipped, such as bonuses to defense or health, and you can level those stats up as you go. You unlock these new outfits in a variety of ways; I’ve seen two appear simply over the course of ordinary gameplay, and apparently others will be a little harder to find. Some of the costumes are just unreal, too. Ghost Rider has an outfit that turns him into the ultra-obscure Western superhero Phantom Rider, Cap has a World War II costume, and Iron Man has his classic red-and-gold armor as well as a War Machine skin.
In addition to all this, Ultimate Alliance features some of the most insane boss fights this style of game has yet to feature; some incredible level design, including a few levels set on top of an enormous pinball table; special unlockable simulator battles, allowing you and three friends to fight each other as not only heroes, but playable villains from certain iconic Marvel storylines; and the usual twenty-odd hours of mad four-player action. It’s X-Men Legends turned up to eleven, and a product by fans for fans from the word “go.” It’s on every damn platform short of your microwave come the end of this month, so you have virtually no excuse to not pick it up.
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