Marvel Ultimate Alliance
The best of Activision's comic book beat 'em ups, but it could still use some depth...
Do I read comic books? Not as much as I'd like, but I can still say that I recognize quite a bit from the Marvel universe. And to think, all those people who thought I was a joke for playing that Punisher arcade game for hours on end thought that my research would be for nothing. Ha! Showed you! Now I'm an illustrious game journalist and...well, OK, so maybe I didn't quite show you. Back on topic- even if you're not a comic book fan, you'll find Activision's Marvel: Ultimate Alliance rather approachable on the Sony PSP. But if comic books are your bread and butter (or rather, ink and paper), then this game will be your ideal utopia.
It turns out that Doctor Doom and his league of villains have formulated a devastating plot to take over the world. To give it away here would kind of tarnish some of the surprises included in the game, but let's just say that Galactus, a gigantic robot, gets involved midway through the proceedings. It's up to you to form a team of four Marvel superheroes to go after him and stop his evil plot. There's a variety of superheroes to choose from here, each with their own strengths and powers that fit them just right. Spider-Man, Wolverine, members of the Fantastic Four, Captain America, and Thor are just a few of the faces that can be found in the game. Over the course of its events, even more can be unlocked, including Blade, Silver Surfer, Hawkeye, and Ghost Rider.
The gameplay needed to be adjusted a little to work on the PSP. Some special attacks take some practice to pull off as a result, and character selection is managed by holding down a trigger button and then using the D-pad to switch off- something that can be a real pain in the ass in the midst of a fight with a boss or several enemies. Regardless, the control scheme feels right after a few minutes in, and players will be brawling against all kinds of enemies in no times. It's just too bad the gameplay never really rises above the "beat up everything and move along" tactic. It's like a modernized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles almost.
The graphics, considering the PSP's capabilities, are well done. The widescreen format seems to be the ideal choice for the superheroes' exploits, and the detail doesn't disappoint. Although the Xbox 360 version looks better, the stage layout is ideal, taking players through a number of familiar locales from the comic books. Animation is mostly smooth, although things can get rather hectic during a super-battle, and the screen junks up with all kinds of special effects.
Audio-wise, the game features your typical heroic music, which isn't too shabby. There's also a smattering of great voicework for each character, even minor faces such as Bruce Banner and the Human Torch. Some of it gets cheesy, especially with villains, but really, if they didn't boast an ego, that would kind of lose the point. Wouldn't it? The sound effects are meaty and sufficient for the PSP.
The single player mode will take no time to get through, probably a few hours. There are scattered hidden items and action figures hidden throughout, allowing you to unlock even more hidden characters. But the real likable aspect of Ultimate Alliance is the ability to hook up with four friends via AdHoc, where players can drop in and out at any time and help you beat the crap out of the bad guys. There's also an online service that keeps track of your stats, and gives you a bonus fighter for going through the trouble. Very cool.
The repetitive nature of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance may turn off some, as the game hasn't really changed in formula from Raven's previous X-Men Legends games. Regardless, this is the best comic-book beat-em-up from Activision to date, with a huge list of characters to choose from, many villains to defeat, and the ability to go at it solo or with friends. Even if you don't know all the lyrics to the Spider-Man theme song (I only heard the Ramones version myself), it's well worth a play. Hmmm, maybe I should hum a few bars. "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can..."
What's Hot: Lots of characters from the Marvel universe; enjoyable multiplayer; solid presentation.
What's Not: Gameplay never really evolves past punching over and over again.