Ask any young boy about his favorite cartoon series, and one of the more popular answers you'll get is "Ben 10." The adventures of a young boy who can transform into 10 different alien forms struck a chord with its intended audience and helped Cartoon Network shift its focus from comedy to action with good results. The sequel series, "Ben 10: Alien Force," did a good job of not only keeping its core audience intact but also introducing a new, older audience to its brand of action and good storytelling. The subsequent video games have done well, and the ones featured on the Nintendo Wii have been good titles for the license. While the next-generation consoles are now just getting their fix for the series, the Wii has received the third game in the successful line. Ben 10 Alien Force: Vilgax Attacks is a little bit of a departure from the previous titles, and while young fans won't mind the change, older fans will be wishing for something better to come along.
The premise of the game plays out just 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 Earth was invaded 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 Vilgax needs to repeat history and be successful in his bid for domination.
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, clearing 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 itself is solid, though it can get a bit repetitive unless you learn 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 are not accustomed to how other games have handled similar situations and patterns. Luckily for them, Vilgax Attacks features unlimited lives and plenty of hints; just about every breakable object in the game contains health, making tough fights bearable as long as you have something non-living to punch. It's also a fairly long adventure so gamers will appreciate having a title that takes longer than an afternoon to finish.
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 some of the series' past problems. For starters, this is the third game in the franchise that has only let you play as Ben. It was understandable in the first game, but with both Kevin and Gwen doing a fair amount of fighting in the series, it's disappointing to see them simply guard Ship at every level. 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 in this title, especially if each player could be a different character with different powers. With other kids' games going in that direction, it's disappointing to see this one go back to a purely single-player experience. Hopefully the next entry in the series sees them putting some focus into co-op along with the standard single-player.
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 block your path and hurtle toward you. 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 starting at the beginning of the session. While the shooting portions are a nice break from the brawling aspect of the game, the developers made them entirely skippable. It's an odd move since it shortens the overall game length, but it's welcome if you really want to punch an enemy instead of shoot it.
While Vilgax Attacks may have been built with the Wii in mind, the controls don't seem to convey that. Movement is handled by the analog stick on the Nunchuk, the A button does quick attacks, the B button initiates stronger attacks and down on the d-pad does special moves. The Z button makes the player jump, and the C button performs actions. Even by Wii standards, having the player jump with Z feels awkward, especially since the controls can't be customized. Shaking the Wii Remote would feel a bit more natural, but since that's also used to initiate special moves and perform a few actions like moving safe doors, that's out of the question. Another puzzling aspect has to do with camera movement, which is done by holding down the minus button and using the analog stick to change camera angles. Like the Z button, this feels awkward when you consider that the player will be constantly changing camera angles to get a better idea of where to go and how to tackle things.
It was stated in the next-gen reviews for this game that the graphics were simply upscaled from the Wii version. Because of this, the Wii version looks almost like the next-gen versions and becomes stronger in this category as a result. Character models look pretty good and animate very well, though Humongosaur still looks like he's grabbing air anytime he holds an object. The textures aren't as detailed as other versions, but the downgrade here isn't as noticeable as one would think. What seems to be lazy texture work on other consoles ends up being great on the Wii iteration, with some detail lost but no blurry pieces in sight. Particle effects, like rain and fire, may not be as robust on other systems, but here, they end up being much better than what Wii gamers are used to seeing. The 480p resolution on 16:9 widescreen is a great touch, but what makes this all shine is the constant 60fps. The whole package runs smoothly and looks nice, which is what young fans will care about the most.
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, but there's a sense that they could have been stronger. They're audible but would have benefited from being louder to lend more impact to each hit and explosion. The music does a fine job of conveying the mood of each environment and battle. Special notice has to be given for trying to re-create the quality and vibe heard in the title track and maintaining it through the game, especially since fans know that music doesn't appear that much in the series outside of 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 their character lines and some basic tutorial text. For some reason, though, the tutorial lines delivered by Grandpa Max sound disjointed and incomplete. It becomes especially fragmented whenever a button or direction is announced, as you can tell the pauses and different vocal inflections given for each part that has to be said. It's distracting and should have been fixed before releasing to retail. The voices for the aliens are just as muffled as the sound effects. You have to strain to hear each alien say its name as it transforms, even though this doesn't occur in other versions of the game.
As stated time and time again in this review, the young fans of Ben 10 Alien Force: Vilgax Attacks will get the most enjoyment out of this game. For them, the adventure is good enough, and they have access to almost all of the different alien forms all of the time, which will make them enjoy it even more. The Wii version is almost on par with the next-generation versions, which is also a plus since the console usually ends up getting the short end of the stick. For the older fans, however, the title is another example of a mediocre kids' game. The adventure feels tedious, and the overall package seems like it doesn't have as much polish as it should in a few areas. Unless you know a young child who's a big fan of the series, it's best to rent this title in order to get your money's worth from the game.
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