Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 7 Studios
Release Date: June 12, 2007
"The Fantastic Four" was arguably one of my favorite comic book series while I was growing up. The comics featured a righteous team of four friends in matching jumpsuits who swore to protect their city from evil-doers. The four earned the fantastic in their name during a research mission in space where each of them was exposed to cosmic rays, which as we all know grants a variety of superhuman powers. Whereas Mr. Fantastic, the decided leader of the bunch, gains the ability to stretch his body parts in any direction he pleases, his wife, The Invisible Woman, can use telekinetic powers to subdue enemies, and, of course, become invisible. The other two are The Human Torch, who can set himself on fire, and The Thing, who's made entirely of rock.
The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer for the Wii allows you to play as your favorite character and control his or her every move — if your favorite character happens to be The Thing. Now don't get me wrong, you'll still have the ability to choose any member of the Fantastic Four as your active character, but you just won't want to. The Thing offers a flurry of sustained punches, and with the flood of enemies, this game consistently throws at you, it's the only skill you're going to need.
Mr. Fantastic flails his arms around during every attack, and while that might seem like he's bound to whack a few enemies at once, he rarely does, and the ones he does happen to smack take little to no damage. The Invisible Woman's attempts at combat are pathetic; all of her attacks are based on telekinesis and have a one-foot range. She practically needs to breathe on an enemy to land any sort of an attack, and even then, her damage output is lackluster. The Human Torch's arsenal consists only of fireball or "wave of fire" attacks that hit fairly hard, but the difficulty lies in actually hitting anything. Since there's no aiming reticule in RotSS, The Human Torch just fires in the direction he's facing, which is not something that's easily adjusted using the Nunchuk's directional hat.
RotSS features a top-down perspective of the game field; think of Baldur's Gate or Diablo, only much closer to the units. The environments, if you can call them that, consist of dungeon-like mazes with single hall paths and large doors between rooms. The camera is locked in at a firm 30-degree angle off of the floor, limiting vision of the southeast and southwest walls. There are times when you'll spend easily 10 to 15 minutes running around in circles because you simply couldn't see the destructible wall that was hiding where your camera doesn't face.
All of the combat in RotSS is completely real-time, with no option to pause or slow down the game whatsoever. The team roams about levels as a unit, with the player controlling one character at a time while the other three follow close behind. Switching characters can be done at any time, even in combat, by simply pressing a direction on the d-pad. The bottom left corner of the screen contains a small portrait of each team member, complete with heath bar and energy reserves, in the shape of a d-pad, indicating who you'll select if you go up, down, left, or right.
The game opens with a series of tutorials that show and explain the differences between the members of the Fantastic Four. These tutorials specifically go over the different motions you'll need to make with the Wiimote and Nunchuk to land special attacks. However, they barely touch upon the fact that each character has an energy reserve, and that this reserve is replenished by killing enemies. Each special attack consumes a different amount of energy "pips" — those small rectangular things on each character's portrait that slowly fill up. There's a lot of information to absorb at once; each character has at least two different moves to begin with, and you need to memorize the motions to make for each one.
Fresh from the tutorial, you'll spend the first five minutes actually playing the game flailing your arms around in no particular fashion while trying to land all sorts of special moves. Unfortunately, the maximum amount of energy pips a character can have is three, with most attacks consuming two or three. Now if that might seem like you'll be limited in the amount of special attacks you can use, you'd be right, and ridiculously so.
Killing enemies in RotSS yields so little energy that it's easier to simply kill yourself. When a character dies, the respective portrait becomes red and a small bar begins to fill up; after about 10 or 15 seconds, the dead character is resurrected, magically reappearing next to where you're standing — and with full health and energy. The strategy to this game is very simple; you play as The Thing, and if, for some reason, you should die, all you'll need to do is switch to a character that isn't dead and run around in circles until The Thing's timer expires and he's reborn. Don't worry about the enemies, though; they'll be so confused with all of the running you're doing that they won't even notice you're getting away.
The AI is abysmal in RotSS; the enemies in are incredibly unintelligent, as are the other three party members you're not controlling. I timed it, and at an average of every 25 seconds, you'll see a message in the middle of your screen alerting you to the death of a team member. There's nothing you can do about this (short of actively playing as that character to pull them away from the 20 enemies they just ran into), and there's nothing you should do about this. I suppose an insane amount of micromanagement might prevent the constant team deaths, but that wouldn't allow any time to actually engage and kill the enemy.
Your teammates will shoot at walls, doors, and nothing should they see an enemy on foot, and you can forget about flying enemies, which are one of the only reasons you'll need to switch away from being The Thing. He doesn't have a ranged attack, and there's no way the other Fantastic members are capable of dealing with such a complex puzzle, so you'll need to switch to the Human Torch and take care of matters yourself. Far too often, you'll see enemies running into walls and closed doors, and shooting at them as well. The one thing the enemy does have, however, is an insanely large spawn rate.
The gameplay in RotSS is far too repetitive: enter room, enemies spawn, kill enemies, more enemies spawn, kill enemies, even more enemies spawn, kill enemies, and door to next room/corridor opens. Of course, the door to the next room or hallway won't open unless you've killed everything that spawned, so be prepared to wander around a large portion of the map looking for that single enemy that somehow managed to slip away from the fight and fire aimlessly at the wall while remaining several rooms in the other direction. The game spawns so many units at once that it's ridiculous, and your thumb will quickly tire of pressing the A button so many times.
While I've repeatedly said that The Thing would be the only character you should use, there are some instances where using the other three team members is a good idea. When are such instances, you ask? When the game forces you to. Every so often, you'll come to a computer that Mr. Fantastic needs to hack, or a door with a force field only the Human Torch can open, or a mini-game where the Invisible Woman sends out a telepathic orb that needs to touch a door's trigger to open it. When you consider the game as a whole, it simply comes down to pressing the A button as quickly as possible, and then hitting the d-pad every once in a while, should something happen to your punching character, or should some sort of character-specific roadblock appear.
Visually, this game parallels the graphics of a PlayStation 2 title, and while I know the Wii isn't a graphics beast by any means, Mario Party looks better. Character models look very edgy and cheap, the environments look pixelated and lack detail, and the explosions are just laughable. Lava in the background is simply a flat texture scrolling along the floor — no bubbles, no fire, no atmosphere. The sounds are even worse, with some things not even timed correctly. An explosion will go off, and the boom noise will occur a second later. Nothing compares to the voice acting, however, with insanely cheesy lines and terribly poor scriptwriting, so I'd skip as much dialogue as humanly possible.
The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a poorly put-together game that suffers from incompetent AI, terrible graphics, mistimed sound effects, repetitive level design, and button-smashing combat. During the course of the game, I considered stopping countless times, but I couldn't because I wasn't at the end of a level at the time. Check it out — the game has about 20 different levels, each with three or four different sections. When you complete a section, it marks it as a checkpoint, and if you die, you'll restart the game from the checkpoint. However, should you wish to save at a checkpoint, the game mocks you with a grayed-out save icon since you can only save at the beginning of a level. If you're going to play a session of RotSS, make sure you have at least an hour to dedicate to it, or better yet, don't dedicate any time to it at all.