Marvel Ultimate Alliance Review
“(Insert Team Name) ASSEMBLE!!!”
As a casual comic fan I was really looking forward to Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The idea of making my own dream team consisting of my favorite marvel heroes just seemed like an awesome idea for a game. Unfortunately, the game play could not quite match the appeal of the premise.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is an Action Rpg in the fashion of the X-men Legends series. In the game, you create a team of 4 heroes from around 30 or so of Marvel’s most popular heroes. The game play consists of wailing on countless enemies as you make your way through to the end of the level. A button punches and B button does a harder punch (which oddly doesn’t do any more damage than the light punches despite taking longer to pull off.) Each hero can map up to 4 powers to the X, Y, A, and B buttons which can be accessed by holding down the R trigger.
As you kill enemies and accomplish quests your characters level up and you can customize them to a degree by spending skill points on various powers, choosing to focus on certain powers making them more powerful or spreading them out over a wide variety of powers. Also, a nice addition to the traditional X-men legends formula is that your team, (consisting of the 4 characters you use the most) levels up as well. As you do various quests, your team gains reputation which operates as experience points for your team. When your team levels up you can put points into increasing the damage of all members of the team, increase their energy, health, allow other heroes to be benched members of your team (so that you can switch them out with your current heroes and still get the team bonuses) or various other things.
I found the character advancement aspect of the game to clearly be the most enjoyable part. It really drives the game forward, providing motivation to relentlessly mash the A button and occasionally throw a few powers around. Unfortunately, maxing out powers can be a bit anti-climatic. You spend the whole game pouring skill points into a certain move and the final point it takes to max it out doesn’t really give you any big bonus or pay off. It’s just 10 more points of damage added to the attack and you’re left sitting there saying, “meh” and wondering what else you are going do with your skill points.
The use of money has also changed dramatically. The uses of money have really been streamlined compared to the previous X-men Legends games. One key example of this is that the store has been taken out completely. You can sell your items directly from the menu screen without having to return back to the hub world. You can also no longer buy items either. Money now is spent on two things: buying skill points, and upgrading your costume. The addition of costume upgrades has also been an interesting addition. Each character has various costumes (typically 4) they unlock throughout the game and each costume offers different bonuses that can be upgraded with money. I always found myself unsure of whether or not I should place an investment in my current costume though incase the next one I unlock might have a more appealing set of bonuses, which would render my investments wasted. Often times I found myself sticking with one of the first costumes after unlocking all of them simply because I had already invested so much money in maxing out their bonuses.
The combat itself was hit or miss. Sometimes I found myself having a blast and at other times it simply seemed monotonous. The powers were great fun when they are effective but the game simply felt repetitive if I found myself fighting non-boss enemies who took more than a couple hits to take down. The beginning also suffers from the lack of powers available. With only one power available and limited energy in the beginning, the game transforms into a rather pretty version of mash the A button. There are some combos you can throw in there that did various things such as pop enemies into the air or stun them but they seemed to be of dubious effectiveness and I never really felt inclined to bother with them. Later on certain enemies can only be hurt by specific combos and when you get your extreme powers you need to pull off combos to charge them up but other than that they just seemed rather pointless. On harder difficulties they do become a bit more important, but they still seemed rather dull regardless.
Unfortunately, Marvel Ultimate Alliance’s biggest issue derives from a lack of polish. Some of the skins just seemed ugly up close and it is a bit disappointing that when you complete one of the game’s acts, no one acknowledges it and the characters just keep asking when you are going to get around to doing the thing you already did. Also, many of the boss fights have quick-time events which at times made the fights a bit more interesting but ultimately felt repetitive as you were simply doing the same canned animation over and over until the boss fight is done. Another thing about the quick time events is that the sound was often off during them. You’re characters will be flying about, flipping off things, and jamming sharp objects into places where they shouldn’t be with the soft foot steps of a ninja, barely making a single sound despite the fact that you just toppled a building over.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance however, excels thematically. The game starts with an exciting full on invasion by a coalition of super-villains on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, a giant flying fortress, and quickly escalates exponentially to the point where you are battling gods to save the universe from utter annihilation. The game is at it’s best when the powers being used really feel like the character. However, this is hit or miss depending on what character you are using. Spider-man starts off with the ability to shoot web balls at people like a machine gun, which is a good enough power game wise, but it didn’t really feel like Spider-man. When I picked up Thor later however, I was having a blast conjuring up cyclones with my hammer and flying into the sky to make thunder rain down on my enemies.
Strangely enough, I found the title to be a more enjoyable single player experience than a co-operative one. Pausing and sitting through each player deciding how to spend their skill points and money got to be rather annoying, especially in the beginning of the game when the players are unfamiliar with the different options available to their characters. You can choose to let the game level up your characters for you but seeing how advancing your characters is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the game, the game wouldn’t be nearly as fun with auto-leveling.
Ultimately, (HAH!) the game was a rather enjoyable experience over-all despite its short comings. I simply do not get to travel across the universe to battle world-eating cosmic entities enough, and this game fills the niche well. At 10$ this is good gaming on the cheap and well worth picking up.
Is this game worth 10$? YES! Rating: B-