Ben 10 has been the latest in Cartoon Network's string of successful action series. More importantly, it is the most successful action series they have had that didn't rely on a previously established license or was imported from another country. The series, which is about a boy who wears a watch that can transform him into 10 different aliens, resonates well with the young male demographic. When it was time to end the series, the network did something bold and made a sequel series instead. Ben 10 Alien Force ended up enjoying more success than its predecessor, thanks in part to its existing fan base and the fan base it gained due to its more mature storytelling style. Naturally, a strong kids' series has to have a video game tie-in, and although the previous games weren't exactly spectacular, they did offer some solid fun for young fans to enjoy. The latest game, Ben 10 Alien Force: Vilgax Attacks, is a little different from the previous titles but is no less fun for young fans of the series.
The premise of the game plays out like a multi-part episode of the series. Vilgax, Ben's ultimate enemy from the first series, has returned to conquer the galaxy. With the help of a mysterious new power source, his next target for universal domination is Earth, and he plans to defeat Ben in order to get the job done. While Ben tries to stop the total annihilation of his town, he, his cousin Gwen, and his friend Kevin are sent back in time to before the invasion and right after Grandpa Max goes on a secret mission for The Plumbers. Your job is to go to the different planets in the universe and destroy the power sources that Vilgax needs.
The game's adventure mode is split into two different gameplay styles. The predominant mode is that of a brawling platformer. You take Ben and his different alien forms from area to area, and you're constantly forced to stop and clear out rooms of enemies before proceeding. Your method of combat is the use of your fists, though you can use some special moves depending, on which alien you transform into. When you're not fighting, you're usually switching into your different alien forms to solve a few simple puzzles or climb or jump over large gaps to proceed to the next fight.
The fighting is solid, though it can get a bit repetitive unless you start learning how to unleash specific combos of regular and special moves. The simplicity also carries over to the game's puzzles and a few of the boss fights, though some can get fairly tough for young gamers who may not be accustomed to how other games handle similar situations and patterns. Luckily for them, the title features unlimited lives, and just about every breakable object in the game contains health, so tough fights are bearable as long as you have something non-living to punch.
The series has made a change from side-scrolling adventure to 3-D brawler to a hybrid of the two, but that doesn't mean that the game has eliminated past problems. For starters, this is the third game in the series that has only let you play as Ben. It was understandable why you couldn't play as the other characters in the first game, but with both Kevin and Gwen doing a fair amount of fighting in the series, it's surprising that none of them have been playable yet, especially since it would add a bit more variety to the gameplay. Another issue that seems to have been addressed the wrong way is the lack of multiplayer. The second game had it, and even though it was broken by having both players play as Ben, it would have been nice to see some improved multiplayer here. With other kids' games going in that direction, it's fascinating to see this one go back to a purely single-player experience.
The second style of gameplay happens anytime you travel from planet to planet with Ship, the transforming alien pet of Ben's girlfriend. Here, the game transforms into a shooter similar to Starfox or After Burner. Objects like asteroids and rogue satellites will be blocking your path and hurtling toward you, and your job is to make it through the level by shooting them down with lasers and homing missiles. Like the brawling portions, there's no multiplayer and no penalty for dying, aside from restarting at the beginning of the session. While the shooting portions are a nice break from the brawling aspect, the developers made them entirely skippable, which is an odd move considering that it shortens the overall length of the game. It's a welcome feature if you really just want to punch an enemy instead of shoot it.
Controls are simple and fairly responsive. The left thumbstick moves your character, and the right thumbstick changes camera angles. The X and Y buttons handle light and heavy attacks, respectively, while the B button blocks and the A button jumps. The left trigger focuses the camera on the area of interest, such as a boss on the next checkpoint, and the right trigger initiates special moves depending on your position and buttons pressed prior to pulling off the move. Both bumpers cycle between alien forms, and clicking on the right thumbstick changes into that highlighted form and back to Ben. For the most part, the controls are intuitive enough for people to grasp, even though some of them are explained in the game far too late, and most players would have already happened upon them by accident. The exception to this responsiveness is the special moves. It's not that the move doesn't start when the button is pressed but that the move has a significant amount of warm-up time before it's initiated. In some cases, the move takes so long to pull off and does so little damage that a few simple hits would have done a much better job in dispatching the enemy.
The graphics tend to stay below what Xbox 360 gamers expect from their titles. The environments look clean, though there are a few instances where the texture quality of some walls and buttons seems blurrier than it should be. Most of the enemy character models don't look too bad but aren't exactly the high-quality ones that gamers are used to. The exception to this would be some of the larger bosses, which sport some great textures. The same goes for Ben, who looks pretty average, but his alien forms get some amazing texture work to make up for that. The real disappointment comes from the many effects the game throws out. Electricity looks fine, but the explosions show off some Wii programming roots here. Rushing water, toxic waste leaks, and other such effects are much worse since they look like the same explosion effects, only with a different color. While it's fine to see the game run at a solid 60 frames per second most of the time, there's no excuse for having bad effects in a game at all.
The sound is exactly what you would expect from a video game tie-in to a kids' TV show. The sound effects do their job well. They won't blow away your sound system, but they don't sound half-baked either. Thankfully, none of the effects sound out of place, so some will be able to forgive the lack of polish here. The music does a fine job of conveying the mood of each environment and battle. Special notice has to be given to the devs for trying to re-create the quality and vibe of the title track and maintaining it through the game, especially since fans know that music doesn't really appear that much in the series, aside from the opening and ending credits. As expected, the voices are the same ones used in the series, and most of the cast members seem comfortable reading both their character lines and some basic tutorial text. For some reason, though, the tutorial lines delivered by Grandpa Max sound disjointed and incomplete. This is not the fault of the voice actor, who some video game fans will remember as the Colonel from the Metal Gear Solid series, but of the editor for not ensuring that the fragments sound more like natural speech than disjointed sound fragments.
As stated time and time again in this review, it's the young fans of Ben 10 Alien Force: Vilgax Attacks who will get the most enjoyment out of this game. For them, the adventure is good enough, and the fact that they have access to almost all of the different alien forms all of the time will make them enjoy it even more. For the older fans, however, the game isn't all that it's cracked up to be. The adventure feels tedious, and the overall package seems like it doesn't have as much polish as it should. Unless you know a young child who is a big fan of the series, it's best to just rent this title.Score: 6.7/10
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