I'm a pretty big fan of brawlers, which might be an odd way to preface this Ben 10 game review, but hear me out. I love the old TMNT: The Arcade Game, Final Fight, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage and so on. The gameplay in all of those titles is pretty simple, and there are some archaic mechanics in place, but I love being able to sit down with these games for about an hour and just beat the tar out of the swarms of bad guys. They don't really make brawlers in that mold anymore, and if anything, Ben 10: Alien Force for the Wii is evidence of this.
At its heart, Ben 10: Alien Force sort of plays like the old-school brawlers. You have your main character; either represented by Ben 10 or his two other cohorts, a mix of limited moves, and a bunch of nameless, clone-like enemies that populate each stage. The title even incorporates the use of the old invisible barrier to keep you from advancing to the right until you clear the screen of all of the bad guys. The only thing it's really missing is a giant arrow telling you when to go, and an "insert credit" icon flashing next to your life bar. Sure, there's a little bit of platforming here, but it's mostly used to jump from a couple of platforms and then back down to the ground. This game is almost entirely a side-scrolling brawler in 3-D.
So why don't I like it? Well, it's poorly made. Have you had a chance to play any of the popular Nicktoons-styled games, like SpongeBob? Ben 10 plays in a similar fashion to that, with some really brain-dead enemies, lackluster bosses, boring environments, ugly cut scenes and bad music. The brawling works fine enough, but not when you realize how cool they could have made it. The unique thing about the character, and show in general, is Ben's ability to switch out his form to 10 different aliens. In the game, you're limited to five aliens, which you can gain access to as you advance through the levels. You begin with one, but you quickly realize that the developers want you to replay the levels once you've unlocked everything, since there are a bunch of hidden items scattered around that are only accessible by the different alien forms that you can take on. Now, with the ability to switch to up to five different forms, you would figure that this could lead to some interesting combo abilities as you switch between the guys on the fly to make up some crazy moves, but unfortunately, you're completely hamstrung during a fight. The move set is basic, which makes sense in a kid's game, but there's really no option of switching out characters until you've stopped throwing a punch.
Without the use of any interesting fighting mechanics, the combat takes a fun nosedive, and in the end, it feels like it's simply copying the mechanics of the games that have come before it. The license will hold a lot of appeal to the younger crowd, and as far as the stable of cartoons on the network goes; it's one of the better ones out there. This one picks up where the Alien Force series does story-wise, but the tale told here is supposed to be new. The voice acting is done by the series regulars as well, so I'm sure fans will be able to find something to like here.
Visually, the title had a muddy, dark look to it, and while it's not unplayable, it's hardly pleasant to look at for an extended period. It's a shame because the game could be pretty bright and vibrant, and it doesn't appear as if the visuals are being hamstrung by the hardware. Also, the level design is really lacking, and if you're going to toss in any type of platforming element, please try to extend it past your basic hop-and-bop spurts, or simply jumping over one chasm or another. Just because it's a game meant for kids doesn't mean that it can't have some innovation to it, and the license used here should get a bit more imagination out of it than what's offered.
The music, likewise, is pretty boring stuff and hardly worth noting. I'm not even sure I recognized a track from the show, and while the voice acting is fine and fits the show well, the soundtrack is definitely lacking any type of coherent theme to tie the entire game together. There's some speedy music, some moody, and that's about it.
There is a multiplayer element here, like every brawler should have, but even that gets messed up in the execution. Keep in mind that when you play the game, you'll be playing as three different characters, Ben and two others. However, when you jump into multiplayer (just local by the way), you can't select another character. You're both going to play the role of Ben 10, and there's not even a costume change to tell which is which. Obviously, this isn't going to confuse adults too much, but I can see a couple of younger kids having some trouble figuring out which Ben is theirs, and really, it's a pretty lazy way of implementing the multiplayer in the first place.
"Lazy" is also how I'd sum up my feelings toward Ben 10: Alien Force for the Wii. Sure, it's a kid's licensed game, and I think at this point that most of us know not to expect a whole lot out of it. However, that's still a pretty lame excuse for not trying to do something with the given license. I obviously don't know about the factors behind the development, so there can be and probably are some limitations at play here. As much as these types of cartoon-licensed games are pumped out, though, it seems as if it would be easy to fix or improve on the formula. Instead, we're given the same SpongeBob, Nicktoons, Ben 10, etc., games month after month, with all of them playing pretty much the same way, with just a few different enemies and levels tossed about. Unless you've got a big Ben 10 die-hard fan in the household, you can easily skip this title, especially if you already own a Ben 10 game to begin with. There's nothing of merit introduced here, and you're not going to be missing out by skipping over it.
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