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Marvel: Ultimate Alliance

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software


Wii Review - 'Marvel: Ultimate Alliance'

by Geson Hatchett on Dec. 19, 2006 @ 1:29 a.m. PST

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance features a deep, rich gameplay experience by offering total team customization, where players create their own team name, icon and vehicle, as well as establish their team reputation as they play throughout the story. Gamers also have the option to level up each character individually to their liking, or all team members at the same time to keep their heroes balanced. With the game's new combat system, players battle against the world's most notorious Marvel Super Villains in the air, underwater, and on the ground, using grappling, blocking and dodging moves, by charging up their Super Hero powers before unleashing them, and using environmental objects as one and two-handed weapons.

Genre: Action/RPG
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: October 24, 2006

When the Wii’s controller was announced, and its graphical prowess (or lack thereof) was revealed, many people, quite justifiably, wondered what this would do to games that would, under normal circumstances, be multi-platform releases.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the Nintendo Wii is the worst-case scenario.

MUA is the latest in the line of X-Men Legends games, which are very shiny dungeon crawlers starring licensed Marvel personas. This time, it’s not just the X-Men who join the fray, but over 20 of Marvel Comics’ most popular (and a few obscure) superheroes. The likes of Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine join the likes of Blade, Colossus and the Fantastic Four for multiple levels of bad-guy bashing. Each hero’s super powers are faithfully recreated in battle, and players are encouraged to use them in inventive ways. Character and team balance is also encouraged—a team of big bruisers isn’t going to help much if you’re fighting a bunch of speedy villains, and some characters’ powers will help only in certain situations. Fortunately, characters are swappable on-the-fly, giving you a true feeling of controlling (and you’ll pardon the geek-tastic pun) a legion of super heroes. You’ll need said legion, too, because Dr. Doom has amassed a team of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful villains, and it’ll take a counter-force of epic proportions to stop them.

The core gameplay is simple and fun, albeit a bit easier this time due to the health regeneration system that is more generous than in the Legends games. However, that only stands for the versions of the game that contain traditional, four-face-button-plus-triggers controls. On the Wii, it’s a whole different beast, and not for the better.

The main draw of the Wii version of MUA is its motion-sensitive controls. Using them, you can pantomime each character’s specific melee strikes. Want to launch an enemy into the skies? Flick the Wii Remote up as if you were smacking them yourself. Even better, you can (in theory) perform characters’ special moves onscreen by performing them in real life. To have Captain America throw his (mighty) shield, you do indeed swing your arm in a forward horizontal arc as if you were tossing it yourself. You can land huge punches with Thing by making real clobbering motions, or slash foes with Wolverine by slashing your hand in one direction.

Now, I’ll easily say that when all of this works, it works rather well, and it’s a blast. It adds to the game’s immersive properties, and lets us appease the comic book (or licensed movie/cartoon) geek in all of us. The one problem is… it doesn’t work all that often.

More so than any other Wii game to date, MUA’s controls feel sloppy and tacked on; furthermore, very few of them seem to have actually been tested under normal gameplay conditions. Waving the controller back and forth for standard attacks, for example, never works. I do not exaggerate here, it honestly never works. If there wasn’t an alternate actual button in this game for doing said attacks, it would be impossible to do combos with any character. There is also the problem of one motion action being interpreted for another. Pop-ups, low attacks and thrusting attacks are interchangeably mistaken for each other by the game’s motion recognition system more times than one cares to count.

Even without regards to the badly-coded motion controls, the entire button-based control scheme is cumbersome and makes little sense. It’s as if Vicarious Visions (which is usually known for its really good ports) decided to just focus on making the attacking somewhat intuitive, and slap the rest of the game’s functions on whatever buttons they could find. Camera manipulation and jumping are relegated to odd positions on the nunchuck controller, and are tough to implement when you use the nunchck’s analog stick to move around as well. A single special move requires multiple button presses along with the holding of a trigger in order to implement. This is not simple, intuitive gameplay, nor does it make daunting tasks almost second nature once learned. Thus, games like this are not what the Wii was created for.

Since the entire game’s merit is based on its controls (I’ll touch more on this in a bit), that means if they fail, the game fails. Playing as one’s favorite superhoeroes isn’t all that enjoyable if you’re screaming at your controller to get your moves right, darn it all. MUA is easily one of those games that benefits from a symmetrical and digital control setup.

When you strip away the game’s playability, MUA doesn’t have much left to stand on, especially on the Wii. While it contains decent music and animation, the voices, just as on other versions, still leave something to be desired. Expect to hear the same (admittedly well-acted) voice clips a multitude of times. As for the graphics themselves, they’re but a mild step up from the PS2 and Xbox versions—mild enough that you barely notice any sort of upgrade at all. If you’re one of the majority of people who haven’t managed to get component cables for your Wii yet, expect the whole experience to look something reminiscent of muddy sludge.

If you bought MUA for the Wii looking for “next-generation” graphics, prepare to be disappointed, as there are none to be found. If you bought it looking for “next-generation” gameplay, prepare to be disappointed. Rarely does the game actually work as advertised, thus it doesn’t really manage to be much fun. On top of that, there’s no online play whatsoever. It’s just as well—as muddled as the game looks, finding four online or offline friends with the patience to deal with trying to find out where their characters are every five to ten seconds is a task in itself.

The Xbox 360 version of MUA is superior to pretty much every other version. If you have that system, skip this version and get that one. Everyone else, rent before plunking down the cash. Even so, said rental money may be a waste. This game is the absolute antithesis of what you should get to show off the power or the playability of the Wii.

Score: 6.0/10

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