Reviewed: July 17, 2005
Released: June 27, 2005
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s… a huge disappointment! (Wrong comic-book, I know.)
It didn’t have to be this way. Some of my all-time favorite video games were inspired by movies. A review of my Blockbuster membership will confirm that I’ve rented the game “The Goonies II”, by Konami, approximately 24 times over the life of my old NES. One of my favorite platform-action games for the SNES was the game based on the original Star Wars movie. Even movies with crappy box-office receipts or poor reviews have had their memories salvaged by good games. I played copious amounts of Willow (a satisfying action RPG based on a 1988 movie about hobbits or something) and 007: Goldeneye growing up. More recently, The Chronicles of Riddick received good reviews in the gaming press even as its movie namesake bombed. Even the Fantastic 4 games for the consoles look amazing.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some true stinkers in the movie-to-game genre. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which Atari rushed to market to capitalize on the success of the hit movie, bombed so colossally that most copies of it were returned to Atari unsold, and were eventually condemned to a landfill. Some game historians say that E.T. helped bring about the collective shark-jumping of the U.S. video game industry in 1983. Even now, bargain bins at gaming stores are filled with old movie-licensed games that were pumped into the market to make a quick buck.
Fantastic 4 for the GBA is one such game. To be sure, it’s not as bad as E.T. But in the end, Fantastic 4 is a forgettable isometric beat-em-up game with crappy graphics, abysmal sound, and generally poor production values.
You play as every member of the Fantastic 4, a group of scientists who go into orbit and get exposed to cosmic radiation, imbuing them with super powers. Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, has an elastic body that can stretch and bend to almost any shape. Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, can create force fields that can deflect energy, matter, and even visible light, rendering her invisible. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, can cover himself with flames and fly, and Ben Grimm, the Thing, is a monstrous clobbering machine made of rock.
Although the game has clearly been created to coincide with the movie, Fantastic 4 includes several “mini-boss” villains from the comic book, including Blastaar, Annihilus, and Diablo.
The gameplay for Fantastic 4 is so simple it’s stupid. There is a slow attack and a quick attack for each character. Later on in the game the player can activate special attacks by pressing a combination of buttons. At certain points where a character can or must use a different special power, you simply walk to an obvious Fantastic 4 symbol on the floor and press the B button. Occasionally there are “hacking puzzles,” where you must match four symbols on the screen before a ludicrously long amount of time elapses. I’m sorry, but I was matching shaped blocks with holes when I was in the crib.
In a typical mission, two of the Fantastic 4 are dropped in an area while wave after wave of thugs with chains, revived science museum mummies and other monsters come after you. The levels are uninventive series of rooms with monsters and doors that must be opened either with “hacking” or by using a special power. Although the waves of minions have different looks, they all attack the same and go down the same.
It feels like there is no challenge to this game. I’m not exactly a video game master, but Fantastic 4 felt so easy that I quickly got bored with it. “Hidden” rooms are so obvious that they might as well have neon signs leading you right to them. Beating monsters felt like a pointless exercise in pushing the same buttons over and over again. Even the “challenging” boss battles were only challenging because they kept throwing the same implausible situations at you over and over again.
In one, The Thing tries to rescue a fire truck that is about to fall off the George Washington Bridge. The remaining three must protect The Thing as a police helicopter comes in and shoots missiles. After the chopper exhausts its payload of missiles, a wave of gang thugs comes in and tries to beat the Thing up. Strangely, the thugs with chains seem to do almost as much damage as FREAKING MISSILES; never mind that the scenario makes zero sense. Then, once you have fought off explosives and gangstas, you have to repeat the same process two more times.
Sadly, it doesn’t get any better. The dialogue is painfully bad and the levels are increasingly inane. The gameplay experience took me back to some of the worst titles on the SNES; boring train-wrecks rushed to market to sell a couple thousand copies based on name recognition.
Digitized graphics are so 1994. Or maybe they’re really bad pre-rendered 3-D graphics a la Donkey Kong Country. Either way, the graphics in Fantastic 4 are a complete squandering of the GBA’s potential for sharp, colorful images. I’ve seen better graphics on the Game Boy Color.
The graphics don’t get in the way of the gameplay for the most part.; I know that the large, orange colored blob is The Thing, and that the beige blobs are supposed to be mummies. However, it would be nice to have some sort of visual confirmation that I’m hitting the beige blobs. Maybe blinking, maybe some “POW” bubbles.
Colors are poorly chosen and look washed out. When characters speak, their grainy digitized portraits appear by their speech bubbles. Supposedly, the portraits are digitized from the actors’ images, but they were so poorly done that I couldn’t tell. Honestly, it’s a game based on a movie based on a comic book; it probably would have been better in a lot of instances to use hand-drawn sprites and portraits (although undoubtedly more expensive).
Good sound can make a good game great; conversely, bad sound can ruin a good game, or make a bad game even worse. Unfortunately, the audio in Fantastic 4 falls into the latter category. It’s not the music that makes listening to this game a miserable experience, although it certainly doesn’t help. The sound effects in Fantastic 4 are truly rotten.
Human Torch and The Thing have some digitized speech sound effects in the game. Now, when programmers first worked speech into computer games back in the 80's and early 90's, there was a sort of wow factor associated with it. But 1980's style digitized speech doesn’t play out so well in the world of 2005. Lines like “Flame on” or “It’s clobberin’ time” sound like they were recorded, played back over the telephone, programmed into a Speak ‘n’ Spell, trained to a parrot, and then spat back into the game.
When you punch baddies, it doesn’t sound like clobbering at all. All I heard were sounds I can only assume were the grunts of the Fantastic 4 laying the smack down, and some sort of high pitched whining. It’s not that the sound is mediocre; the sound is atrocious, and after a few minutes I had to turn the volume off to be able to stomach playing further.
Fantastic 4 currently retails for $29.99. However, with its short, uninteresting, and unchallenging gameplay, it wouldn’t be a good buy at $5.99. Life’s too short to play games that aren’t fun.
Fantastic 4 for the Game Boy Advance is anything but fantastic. If your nostalgia for the early 90s extends to muddled graphics, tinny sound effects, and tepid gameplay, you’ll be thrilled with this game. Otherwise, you’d be better off playing an original action game.
I was especially disappointed with this game because the Fantastic 4 games for the other platforms look so good. The money thrown at developing a GBA port of these games is money that could have been spent producing good games.