Ben 10 is your classic cartoon do-gooder. He stands up for everything that is righteous. He's got a hip show on the Cartoon Network. He can turn into 10 different aliens (each with a separate superpower) at the drop of a hat. Among the pre-teen set, Ben 10 is something of a household name, so it's no surprise that the young hero already has a line of video games to his name. Unfortunately, none of them have really landed much above average, and Ben 10 Alien Force: The Rise of Hex isn't about to buck the trend.
The problem with The Rise of Hex is that it is about as bare-bones a game as you can get. Yes, all the individual pieces of a game are here, but they don't really work together as one synchronistic whole. Rather than feeling like it was put together with a specific theme in mind, The Rise of Hex feels like an exercise in programming. The developers got the parts, but they're missing the magic that makes a game fun.
To start off, the game is lacking anything resembling a coherent story. Yes, it can be assumed that most players are familiar with the source material, but even avid Ben 10 watchers are sure to be scratching their heads at this one. Basically, Hex has returned, and he is about to do some vague "Bad Stuff." Ben and his friends have to stop Hex. That's about as specific as you're going to get. Trying to make sense of the rest is an exercise in futility. A perfect example is the first of the three bosses. Defeat the robot, and one of Ben's friends is inside. No explanation is given.
Playing as Ben, you start off with only two alien transformations, though others are quickly added to your arsenal as you progress through the levels. The quick pace of the new forms is appreciated, as it helps to keep things moving along and gives players a chance to experiment a little. Selections are made by pausing the action and choosing a form from a radial menu. There is a quick change button to revert back to Ben at any time, but oddly, the reverse is not true. There is no option to quickly change back into your last alien form.
Combat is straightforward, with each form having a basic attack and a super attack, with the latter using up some of your power. Attack strength is roughly equivalent to the physical size of your character, so the smaller aliens do less damage than the bigger beasties. Enemy AI is just as straightforward, with little more than line of sight attacks. If a creature sees you, it will either shoot at you or rush you. If it doesn't see you, it'll happily stay where it is, staring into space.
The biggest problem with The Rise of Hex has to do with the level design. Split into three main chunks, each group of levels shares a theme. The only problem is that in this case, "theme" is more like "uses all of the same assets with a repetitive map layout." As you play through each third of the game, the individual levels are more or less indistinguishable from one another. There is no creative hook, nothing distinctive, nothing to make you feel like you're exploring a new area. Even though you know you're making progress, it feels a lot like Ben is wandering in circles because the décor simply does not change. Along with that, neither does the music. Expect to get the same tune blasted into your head over and over again.
Puzzles are equally uninspired, relying more on flipping switches and jumping back and forth across moving platforms rather than any innate challenge based on using the correct abilities. As a result, the puzzles don't feel integral to the adventure. Instead, they're somewhat out of place and aren't naturally occurring parts of the individual levels in any way. When it comes to the jumping puzzles, frustration abounds in the strangely differing ways that the game handles hazards. A perfect example is the spikes on the wall. Some spikes cause a bit of damage, while others inexplicably kill you on the spot.
Finally, there are the technical issues. Visually, The Rise of Hex looks pretty good in screenshots. The characters are crisp, effects are solid and the cel-shading approach works well for the game, especially since it's based on a cartoon. Put it in motion, and some of the flaws start to appear. Character sprites clip enemy sprites when in close combat, and some sequences with a lot of action result in visual slowdown. Loading screens, which crop up between levels, are also long enough to be annoying.
With an 800 Microsoft points ($10 USD) price tag, Ben 10 Alien Force: The Rise of Hex is positioned as an impulse buy, but even then, it fails to impress. Take away the license, and you're left with an extremely generic platformer that manages to achieve mediocrity at best. There was potential here, but it went unfulfilled.
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