Reviewed: September 18, 2009
Released: September 15, 2009
While you’re at the store today picking up your copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, you might want to slip over to the game aisle and check out another new superhero release that is sharing the “New Release Tuesday” spotlight. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is swinging, clawing, smashing, and flying into stores today with surprisingly little fanfare.
As a big fan of the original game, plus all the X-Men Legends and to a lesser degree, the Fantastic Four game, I’ve enjoyed these four-character, four-player button mashers ever since the days of Gauntlet, but after a few hours with this latest sequel I’m finding my tolerance for mindless button mashing has diminished in favor of the more original game styles and designs that have emerged over the past decade.
n-Space has taken the helm for this Wii port of Vicarious Visions next-gen superhero romp, and make no mistake, this is indeed a “port” and a rather limited one at that. It’s just further proof that the Wii is good for original titles but is not a good platform for shoddy knockoffs of 360 and PS3 games.
The Wii offers 26 characters (instead of 24) out of the box including most of the heroes from the next-gen version as well as some new additions like Cyclops and Blade. But before you start heckling the next-gen gamers because you got extra characters keep in mind they have future DLC, so chances are we’ll get them eventually…and more.
Ultimate Alliance 2 is surprisingly up to date when it comes to storylines, at least if you follow the comics. Borrowing elements from Secret War and Civil War, the game kicks off with a standard tutorial chapter that has Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Wolverine being led into Latveria by Nick Fury on a covert operation that was not sanctioned by the government. When Lucia von Bardas strikes back with an attack on New York City the issue of superhero registration surfaces – much like the whole mutant registration in the last X-Men movie.
It’s about this time in the story and the game where you must choose sides. Will you register with the government, forsaking your secret identity, or will you go underground to carry on the battle more covertly. Choose wisely because your choice will dictate which characters are available to play for the rest of the game. Of course this also means you can already revisit the 12-15 hour single-player campaign and play the path not chosen, essentially double your game time. While the story is relatively unchanged, the selection of superheroes offers untapped gameplay potential.
With 26 selectable heroes going into this missions four at a time you have some pretty cool collaborative efforts and hundreds of mix-and-match formulas to play with. You play the game in control of one character and can cycle through the rest with the +/- buttons. Unlike the next-gen versions of Ultimate Alliance 2, you cannot swap out characters or modify the team at will, but rather you must find a blue SHIELD spot to make changes and save your game. Each level has only a couple of these spots, so you can easily get stuck with an undesirable character for much of a level.
The Wii replaces the monotonous button mashing of the 360 and PS3 with the monotonous and even more unreliable motion input of the remote and nunchuk. It’s physically exhausting after an hour or so of gameplay and overly complicates things like the new Fusion Powers where you must hold down Z while shaking the nunchuk then point at the character you want to combine powers with to unleash the attack. It’s an awkward and unreliable system that fails as often as it works.
There are loads of other gameplay problems that are exclusive to the Wii. Balance is totally off for the characters and their abilities, and their superpowers often seemed no better than their standard attacks. Should it take as many punches to destroy a crate as it does a soldier? I think not. Attack stationary objects is frustrating since the attack animations actually repel you back from the object you are striking so you continually have to move-punch-move-punch.
Assuming you can manage to pull off a few, the Fusion Powers are the highlight of this game. These require you to interact with another member of your party, essentially combining their skills, so Iron Man can fire his beam into Wolverine’s claws, diffusing the beam into a spread of five beams for greater area affect. It’s an overwhelming collection of more than 250 unique hybrid powers since you must start with one hero then choose the second one to combine with, for interesting and satisfying results.
As with previous game in this genre, you have your health and ability bars that are slowly draining as you take damage and engage your various powers, but they refill nearly as fast as you defeat enemies and collect orbs from the large and destructible environments. You’ll earn Ability Points throughout the game that you can spend in the Powers Menu to upgrade your existing powers and experiment with new ones. You can also reconfigure your points distribution, which is a great feature since powers in one part of the game might not serve you so well in another.
In addition to managing the members of your team you also get to manage the team itself with Team Boosts; badges that you can assign to the team to modify everyone so they do more damage or take less damage or enhance their attacks. There are 200 of these modifiers to collect and mix and match, and again, if you don’t like to micromanage stats and abilities, just have them auto-assigned.
If all this sounds like too much work for one person you will certainly be glad to know the game supports co-op play for up to four people. Now the only battle will be deciding who gets to play whom. While online play has been removed you do have the BRAG system that keeps a leaderboard and allows you to send your results to your friends.
My big complaint with the gameplay on the other systems was just how boring and repetitive it got over time, and now the Wii takes that formula and adds quirky and unreliable motion controls making the game a physical chore to play, and nobody likes doing chores, at least without rewards and there is nothing rewarding about playing Ultimate Alliance 2.
As far as presentation, the game looks pretty good, both in level and character design. Given the comic book nature of the source material, the Wii is up to the task of creating a living graphic novel flavor without going for the slick ultra-realism of the next-gen versions. There are random glitches and poor models and textures scattered about, but it’s no worse than what we’d expect from any other Wii ported title. The cutscenes are identical to the next-gen versions, but not quite as sharp.
The music is good but the voice acting is pretty lame and downright awful for a few characters – Thor comes to mind, but the Wii minimizes the speech to one-liners. Special effects are solid, mostly smashing and breaking noises punctuated with some flashy superpower noises that sound reasonably appropriate. The Pro Logic II is spatial but not quite as dynamic as the Dolby Digital sound on the next-gen versions.
Ultimate Alliance 2 starts off slow, which isn’t good since most people make their decision to finish a game within the first one or two hours. Sadly, it only goes downhill from there with clunky controls and an overall lack of effort to do anything original with the franchise. All systems are not created equal so you can’t expect to seamlessly lift a game from one piece of hardware and make it work on a lesser system.
Wii owners and Marvel fans certainly deserve better than this for a superhero action-RPG, or any game for that matter. While I did enjoy the glimpse at a few new heroes, there was nothing about the Wii version of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 to keep me playing to the end. The game offers very few moments of entertainment and for the most part you are simply going through the motions, and on the Wii those motions are painful and repetitive.