Release Date: June 5, 2008
It's definitely the year for superhero movies, and by default, the year for superhero games. We've already had some less than stellar ones in Iron Man and Hellboy, and we've seen The Incredible Hulk make its way to every currently available gaming platform. This review covers the Nintendo DS version, which is definitely a different beast than the other console versions available.
Eschewing the 3-D open-world gameplay of the home versions, The Incredible Hulk on DS opts to put its 3-D models in a 2-D world. It's a side-scrolling action/adventure title that fits the size and power that the DS offers. You'll control the Hulk, navigating him through each of the 30 levels spread out against three different regions, taking him from the cold, ice-covered lands of Alaska, moving him into the warmer region of Brazil, and finally the city backdrops of the United States. Each area is divided into 10 levels, and at the end of each region, you'll encounter a boss battle that leaves a little to be desired.
The main gameplay itself is pretty enjoyable, even if The Incredible Hulk isn't the prettiest thing to look at. The levels start off as basic one-direction maps, which you can view in their entirety on the bottom DS screen, and you'll guide Hulk to the end of the map while battling against a variety of enemies that remind me a bit of Contra foes: They have a few different weapons at their disposal, and they are unrelenting in firing off continuous rounds at our big, green hero. The maps begin to open up as you advance, including areas that will have you looping around in a big circle, uncovering new paths for the Hulk to take that will put him at his goal.
You have a few options when it comes to disposing of your foes, most of which are done through melee attacks performed with the Hulk's fists. You can opt for a basic punch, or if you're below or above an enemy, there are moves to cover both of those areas. You can also encounter "vaults," which look a bit like big golden flagpoles, and by pressing the A button, you can fling yourself off of one of these and barrel through enemies and obstacles alike until you finally hit something unbreakable. You can also simply jump on top of your foes in a Super Mario-like fashion, which seems like an odd move for the Hulk to make, but I guess if you're a two-ton green behemoth, then it isn't too much of a stretch.
Rounding out the abilities at your disposal is the Gamma Gauge, which appears in the top right corner of the screen. As you defeat enemies or smash up the environment (i.e., throwing punches, hitting ceilings), you'll slowly fill the Gamma Gauge. Once it's completely full, you can activate it with a button press, which puts Hulk into a super mode of sorts that allows him to run into enemies or obstacles and instantly obliterate them. The meter only lasts for a short while, but I noticed that it is possible to string together a destructive route through the levels that will extend the life of the effect. However, you still have to watch out for projectiles from your enemies because if you're struck, that's the end of the super mode.
A plot is present in The Incredible Hulk, but it's incredibly light, and you'll only encounter a handful of cut scenes that attempt to make sense of what is going on around you. When the game begins, you're in Alaska, and there's a scene where Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk. Then you run around punching guys in the face for 10 levels before you get another scene that leads you to Brazil. It would appear to tie into the movie plot, but I can't see the game actually spoiling the story for anyone who hasn't seen the film yet.
Each level has a goal to reach, all of which contain a single satellite that you destroy to end the level. Why you're destroying these satellites is never explained, though, or why they're just lying around on the ground, so it's kind of an odd goal. Also, you'll encounter a decent amount of swimming levels, all of which handle in a similar fashion to Super Mario Bros. swimming stages, and they control surprisingly well. There are no air bubbles to collect, so I assume that Hulk has super-breath or a similar power because you'll be performing the exact same smashing techniques in these stages as you do in the above-water levels. Things tend to move a bit slower, and you'll encounter a lot of obstacles that need to be destroyed in these stages, so they differ a bit from the ground areas.
The level design is surprisingly well laid out, especially considering the use of the vaults to propel Hulk around the board. They actually remind me a bit of the old casino stages in the 2-D Sonic The Hedgehog games, and quite often they're set up to allow you to rebound from one vault to another, stringing together a fast-paced system of destruction. At the end of the level, you'll be told how many enemies you destroyed and the amount of points gained, but there's no real purpose behind this other than giving you a general idea of how thoroughly you cleared out an area.
The only replay value in The Incredible Hulk is in the collection of small tokens that are spread around each level and unlock skins to change the Hulk's appearance. These run the gamut of familiar Hulk characters or types, including the Grey Hulk, Smart Hulk, Rick Jones, Doc Samson, etc. They provide no changes to how the game is played or how the controls work, so it's simply a visual effect. It would have been nice to see some abilities gained or lost depending on which skin you selected, but you'll have to settle with what the title offers.
Another negative is that the boss fights are all pretty substandard in design. They all follow a pattern that is incredibly easy to figure out, and once you do, you'll be able to whale away on them until the match is over. I never had trouble with any of the fights — not even the final one — and since the levels don't feel too challenging either, the game is a bit of a breeze. You could easily run through the entire title in four hours or less, especially if you're not going for a 100 percent completion mark on every level or trying to locate all of the skin tokens. Even for $30, the amount of fun you'll gain from the game is a bit too limited.
There is a multiplayer mode in The Incredible Hulk that allows you to compete against another player, but this is only through a local connection and requires that the other player own the game as well. You both play in the same level, and the objective is that you each try to cause as much destruction as possible, and the player with the highest amount of destruction is the winner. There is nothing to unlock here either, and each level is pretty short, so there's not a whole lot to keep you coming back for more. If the title offered a Wi-Fi connection, then I could see the multiplayer mode getting a bit more use, but as it is, the appeal is pretty limited in scope.
The Incredible Hulk on DS is my preferred version of the title, but it doesn't quite excel when compared to similar games that are available on the handheld system. The single-player segment is definitely fun while it lasts, but it's far too short and easy to be anything memorable. The lack of gameplay-altering unlockables and a fully featured multiplayer mode makes the experience feel a little too bare-bones to warrant a purchase. Check out this one as a rental, but don't expect to find anything new or exciting.