Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Review
Posted by Sean Aaron
Marvel heroes trapped in a Wiirld they never made!
As the title suggests, this is the ultimate game featuring Marvel super heroes. The storyline resembles many classic Marvel title-spanning events: Doctor Doom has assembled The Masters of Evil to undertake an audacious gambit to assume ultimate power in the universe. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., has assembled the greatest team of heroes the world has ever seen to combat this menace to life and freedom across dimensions of space and time!
The presentation of the Wii version is the same as on the PS3/Xbox 360, though the Wii does suffer a bit in the detail department as expected; even in 480p mode some in-game HUD features can be hard to make out. You can have 1-4 heroes from your team on screen, each selectable by a D-pad press (or better still controlled by a friend -- sadly no Wi-Fi). A small graphic in the lower left corner of the screen shows you which one you're currently using, whether or not their special attack is ready and their relative energy/health levels, whilst their currently selected power is displayed in the upper right.
The environments are largely indoor with the party moving through a series of interconnected areas towards a single destination. Backgrounds are colourful and well-textured with plenty of destructible elements and objects for your heavy-lifting characters to toss about. Enemies and your heroes are well-animated and nice special effects for powers remind you that you're playing a modern video game. The CG cut scenes are of a such quality that you could sell them as a show on their own -- though some of the character modelling is rather amusing with most male heroes having calf muscles as large as their thighs.
The voice-acting is superb and uses known voice actors from animated TV shows. During the game the heroes will make various quips and even after multiple plays it's hard to get tired of hearing Luke Cage and Dr. Strange deliver their witty comments after dispatching foes. Other sound effects are functional and surround sound is used to decent effect with orchestral music that changes between the different locales.
The teammate AI is pretty decent: they don't necessarily use their powers to the same effect that a human player would, but thankfully they don't need to be bailed out of danger and can be given simple commands. Using the default option of having computer-controlled heroes automatically respawn near human-controlled heroes is recommended because they have a tendency to drop down to lower levels or get hung up on parts of the scenery when moving between locations. Outside of jumping and some heroes' ability to fly up to a fixed ceiling, it's very much like a classic 2D side-scrolling brawler with the majority of the action being devoted to beating up enemy goons of various types and a series of objectives to complete. Breaking up the never ending battle against Hydra agents, Ultron Warriors, Doom Bots, Galactus Punishers and Skrull soldiers you'll enjoy mid-level boss fights against familiar villains from the pages of Spider-Man, Thor and other comics who comprise the lieutenants for Dr. Doom's Masters of Evil(tm). In-between these are larger boss battles against the Masters of Evil board members culminating in a showdown with Doom himself.
In typical RPG-style your heroes earn experience points which build up stats and level-up powers. You can have powers level-up automatically, but choosing to do this manually ensures you get powers you like increased. The same goes for costumes which feature three aspects of stat-enhancement and which you level-up using currency you get from defeating enemies and destroying background items. During the course of play you unlock other costumes for your heroes after defeating a set number of opponents. Most heroes have a fourth costume which is unlocked by achieving a target score in a matching Solo Mission which is accessed through finding CD tokens scattered throughout the game. Additionally you can find tokens which unlock concept art, comic book covers and original hero artwork.
After getting familiar with some of the heroes in the first series of missions you can form your own team -- an Alliance, if you will. You get to choose a name and symbol and assign a large number of heroes to be the core team and reserve members. When these characters are used together your team earns experience to use in levelling-up unique attributes that will confer bonuses on the team when they work together. Changing out members will cause you to lose levels in your team's experience, so it's best to keep the roster consistent. You can always have "guest stars" join the team on an ad hoc basis at the expense of not having the team bonuses apply, but at least this way you won't lose any team experience.
The controls are the main problem area as motion controls are unevenly implemented. Thankfully very few motions are actually required to play the game as every button on the Remote and Nunchuk is put to work. Movement is via the , is used for grappling and either or a Nunchuk shake will open doors or interact with items. Well-executed examples of motion control are tilting the Nunchuk left and right to rotate the camera and moving the Remote in circular motions for some of the super-powers that involve whirling enemies around. or Nunchuk shake whilst moving will cause your hero to perform a roll to avoid attack. is used to jump with a double-tap causing flying characters to become airborne. Once in the air they can change altitude using and .
The + and - buttons bring up in-game menus for saving and loading games, playing solo missions, viewing bonus artwork, displaying game controls as well as hero stats, experience allocation and team select screens. is used in combination with and to toggle through available super-powers and special attacks. The HUD display also indicates the gesture required whilst pressing to use the power currently selected, however in practice this is fairly unreliable so holding and pressing to execute the currently selected power is a better (undocumented) alternative.
A wave of the Remote back and forth is used for the primary attack, but this gets quite fatiguing in a game which involves a lot of fighting; thankfully a simple press of achieves the same result, saving comic fan forearms everywhere! More problematic are other Remote gesture-based attacks which are in opposite directions (up for a "pop-up" attack and down for a "stun attack") and have no button alternative with detection of the opposite motion being common. Strong primary attacks involve a forward Remote thrust which also has spotty recognition, but thankfully can be pulled off simply by holding to charge the primary attack. This area could have used some more work or been improved with the ability to change the control config or having an option to do some in-game tuning of the motion controls. Still it's rare that gesture-only controls are required (usually through QTEs and a handful of very large bosses or leaders of the hordes of flunkies who are only damaged by certain attacks to add a bit of difficulty) thereby minimising the impact of their generally poor implementation.
The fan service is outstanding. Not only do 2nd string Marvel heroes like Dr. Strange, Luke Cage and Moon Knight make an appearance, but so do many off-beat villains like Fing Fan Foom and Arcade. As you progress through the game your team's headquarters will change to match new story locales. The various HQs are located in many classic hero abodes like Stark Tower, Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum and even Attilan (home of the Inhumans). Any Silver Age comic fan will just endlessly geek out the first time playing as Marvel comics history is continually referenced in the conversations and artefacts encountered during calm periods between action-filled missions. In fact playing this game may well inspire you to pick up many of the Marvel Essentials collections which provide some much-needed contextual history for your favourite characters.
After playing the game through once you can replay using a previous save game as a foundation to keep on building up your heroes, though sadly you cannot change the name of your team or its symbol without starting a brand new game and losing their experience. Nevertheless getting your team to the level where they truly match their printed exploits is very satisfying even if it does eventually make even the hard difficulty level less challenging. You have additional replay incentive in the form of trying to collect figurines to unlock Daredevil and Black Panther as well as defeating all the Solo Missions as they're encountered in order to unlock the Silver Surfer. Finally there are many extended conversations with villains and other characters that only take place when you're controlling certain heroes. For example Dr. Strange has an extended dialogue with Fing Fam Foom, but since you don't unlock the good Doctor until later in the game you'll need to replay the game and be in command of him to view this exchange of comic book dialogue. This is true for all the characters, and given that the game already has loads of missions and locations and lots of characters the die-hard Marvel fan can easily replay this game a dozen times and still experience new things.
Some may be disappointed that their favourite characters are absent, but the Marvel universe is vast and in trying to appeal to the broadest cross-section of fans this means some heroes didn't make the cut. The sequel (creatively titled Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2) has been announced as a cross-platform release; hopefully they do an even better job of the conversion and add more heroes to the roster as well as provide downloadable content for the Wii (sadly this facility wasn't available when the Wii first launched so Wii owners didn’t get to buy the Hulk and a few other characters which can be downloaded to the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the current game).
Activision's efforts in bringing this title to the Wii and doing as good a job as they did deserve some praise, despite some poor gesture implementation. Marvel comics fans with Wii consoles should definitely buy this game and bask in the glow of nostalgia -- 'nuff said!