|Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006)
Available for: Xbox 360, Xbox, PlayStation 2
Comic fans rejoice – your ultimate dream has been fulfilled with the release of Activision’s latest brawler, “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.” As an unofficial sequel to the popular beat-‘em-up “X-Men Legends” series, you’re no longer restricted to playing exclusively as members of Professor Xavier’s superteam. Instead, you’ll be in control of twenty of the world’s greatest superheroes, including mainstream characters like Colossus, Storm, Human Torch, The Thing and Daredevil, as well as lesser known headliners like Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Spiderwoman and Luke Cage. My personal favorite has to be Deadpool, who is not only one of the most enjoyable players to control, but also incorporates a lot of humor into the game. For instance, when he’s low on health, Deadpool will yell “I need health… and a pony!”
Of course, while the line-up may be a little different, the gameplay most certainly is not. As if that actually mattered. “Legends” was a massive success with the gaming world when it was released back in 2004, and its follow-up, “Rise of Apocalypse,” only further capitalized on a job well done by Raven Software. “Ultimate Alliance” follows the same formula as its predecessors (form a group, beat down the baddies and earn some cool loot along the way), but it doesn’t feel quite as repetitive as you would think.
Recently recruited as reinforcements for an emergency situation by Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D, you’ll start out playing as Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Thor. It seems that Dr. Doom has taken a cue from the good guys and formed his own little group – The Masters of Evil – consisting of just about every villain you can imagine; from staple Marvel heavies like Scorpion, Bullseye and Mysterio, to more obscure baddies like Radioactive Man, Winter Soldier, MODOK and Tiger Shark. Fanboys will be absolutely drooling at the prospect of seeing some of their favorite childhood supervillains taking on your group of superheroes, but what’s even better about these mini-boss encounters is that they don’t all play out the same. Some are ridiculously easy, others are incredibly difficult, and there are even a few that require a little thought behind their destruction; like Fin Fang Foom and The Mandarin’s own special gift.
The gameplay is fast, furious and, well, a little confusing at times, but it doesn’t get in the way of having a good time. This is a button masher after all, and so it hardly matters if you can actually see what’s going on. The controls are intuitive and incredibly easy to learn. You have a light attack (A), heavy attack (B), grab/throw (X) and jump/fly (Y). On top of that, each hero also has four special powers that can be executed by holding down the right trigger and pressing the button that correlates with each specific skill. Switching between heroes is also a breeze (just press the D-pad in the direction of which character you want), and you can also single-handedly control all four of your characters by giving out orders like “aggressive,” “defensive” and “follow.”Visually, “Ultimate Alliance” far exceeds the blocky, cel-shaded crappiness of the “X-Men Legends” games. The character models are much smoother and actually reflect the various textures of each hero’s costumes, while the cut scenes are (for once) enjoyable to watch. I haven’t had a chance to take one of the current-gen builds of the game for a spin, but it doesn’t look to offer any better visuals other than that extra sparkle you’re used to seeing on the graphics side of things. Pair this visual experience with the title’s great gameplay, and throw in loads of unlockables like different costumes (each with their own upgradeable skills), concept art and character-specific training missions, and you have one great game on your hands. It’s not Best of the Year great, but at least it’s better than that other action brawler starring the fine men and women of Metropolis.