Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters Review
Posted by Jamie O'Neill
"Anything I see in my mind, I cannot create"
The premise behind the superhero powers of the Lantern Corps, in which a Green Lantern can use their willpower to create solid green light constructs based upon anything they imagine, is a near impossible ability to recreate in a video game. It would take a brave developer to truly innovate in a game utilising these powers, perhaps through an ingenious Scribblenauts-inspired engine, in which you could create whatever ludicrous construct entered your mind to attack an enemy. It would be fun to spontaneously summon a shark with a laser beam attached to its head, but Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters on 3DS is not that inventive. The recent Green Lantern film was mildly imaginative in this area, and while this game is not directly based the film it is set in the same universe, so Griptonite Games takes its inspiration for constructs from the movie, as they are used to open up exploratory Metroidvania-style progression.
Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters is a single player side-scrolling action adventure game in which you control Hal Jordan, a loud-mouthed, charismatic Green Lantern from the Silver Age of the DC comic books. The plot is simple, in that The Guardians of the Universe created Manhunter robots as a precursor to the Lantern Corps to be an intergalactic police force, but the Manhunters’ programming became corrupt, so they were exiled. However, the androids have returned and must be stopped before they vent their vengeful retribution upon the universe.
After a training level on the Guardians’ home planet of Oa you are introduced to a communications room from which Hal can access the lantern and travel to four areas that have been invaded by the Manhunters: Coast City, Mogo, Ovacron 6 and Ranx. Each level can be approached in any order and gamers familiar with titles like Super Metroid will be instantly familiar with the mechanic of unlocking abilities to access new areas. Therefore, Hal learns a new technique at the beginning of each of the four planets: a hammer smashes through blocked tunnels, his shield reflects lasers at barriers, he can fire missiles at closed entry points and there is a claw that can rip objects away from obstructing a path. Similarly, on each of the four planets a new Will Feat construct is introduced, which are powerful abilities that are easily accessed on the touch screen. Two of the Will Feats are defensive (invulnerability and repulsion) and the others are offensive attacks (spinning blades and a minigun). The minigun is an example of a construct that is lifted directly from the movie, while Hal’s spinning blade upgrade feels similar to Samus’ screw attack, and both are effective at taking down groups of enemies for a limited time.
Finally, on each of these four planets you meet a fellow member of the Lantern Corps, after which you're able to call your allies as reinforcements using the touch screen, which is particularly useful as they can help you to instantly refill the meter that charges Hal’s power ring. Therefore, the player does not only keep an eye on Hal’s health meter, but also the power ring’s gauge to release constructs, and you can hold down the L and R buttons to drain the ring to regenerate health. As you develop new abilities there is a sense that you are in control of a powerful superhero, and while the constructs may not be imaginative you'll certainly feel empowered as Hal projects a War Hammer to crush larger enemies. It's also appropriate that he can effortlessly fly and glide around stages and does not take damage when he plummets down huge drops.
However, the pace of the gameplay detracts from this. Hal runs as though the ground has been smothered in treacle, his movements are slow and unresponsive and it's frustrating that you encounter a delay period as attacks take shape. It is also disappointing that even if you fully upgrade Hal’s melee and ranged attack speed, the combat still feels too sluggish. The game also suffers from slowdown when a large number of enemies are on-screen, but perplexingly on a couple of rare occasions the pace suddenly picks up. It's unusual to find a game that offers brief moments of random ‘speed-up’ during gameplay.
The draggy pace spoils the sense of being a superhero, which is unfortunate because there is variety as enemies present individual attack techniques that require the player to approach each one differently with ranged, melee or grapple attacks. Some vampiric enemies cannot be damaged by construct abilities and others have a shield that needs to be shot down with Hal’s ranged weapon, which gives the game a run-and-gun feel, as well as being a melee-based brawler. Similarly, you can protect Hal with a shield using the R button, which is helpful for getting close to enemies that fire projectiles. It is clear that Griptonite have put work into this game, but they have neglected to smooth out the movement of its core engine. Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters also has sections that will not allow Hal to progress until he clears a wave of enemies, usually involving a timer as you disable a bomb or hack security computers, but these sections are repeated too often and if anythong slow down the action further.
Once you complete the four main levels you encounter the most frustrating design choice in the game: Hal is sent back to the exact same stages on a fetch quest to find a Data Core on each planet and complete a multitude of busy-work objectives that superficially extend the game’s longevity. This concept of returning to levels was tiresome in 1988 in Ghouls 'n Ghosts and it feels cheap in 2011 — the areas are not exciting enough for a forced re-run and it is a repetitive addition that makes the latter Triforce quest sections in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker feel like masterful game design. You can use this opportunity to grind to defeat enemies and search for hidden items using a scanner technique similar to Metroid Prime. This earns Hal experience points, which can be used to purchase upgrades for enhanced attacks and building health and ring capacity stats.
Many gamers will not be willing to slog through recycled areas, which is a shame because they could miss the final level set on Vega, and its Hive Lord end-of-game boss, both highlights of the game. The final level has the strongest showcase of 2.5D graphics and a decent sense of 3D depth effect as foreground spikes and spider webs parallax scroll alongside honeycomb structures. This is mixed with electrical currents that fire in the background, as an example of how the graphics are most effective for colourful outdoor environments. The visuals also benefit from the camera being scaled out, the chunky character design and predominantly murky background colours do not impress during close-up cutscenes. The sense of graphical variety to the stage design is spoilt by recycled levels and the audio also suffers from repetition. The military drum themed music is fitting but can grate after a while, although boss battle music can be suitably daunting and tense.
In a similar approach to Star Fox Adventures, the game attempts to add visual and gameplay variety by allowing the player to control Hal’s journey between planets, in this instance through Space Harrier inspired moments. However, these simple shooting sections are too basic and slow to really add to the gameplay. Ultimately, the game is far too easy and laborious to finish, and with no extra choice of difficulty level it's unlikely that you will be motivated to restart a ‘New Game Plus’ after you have slogged through seven hours to complete this game.
Despite the game's slow place you may warm to the effort Griptonite put into creating exploratory Metroidvania side-scrolling gameplay, where you earn experience, unlock new techniques and learn construct abilities to open progression. However, frustration sets in when the game forces you to return to previously completed planets on a tiresome fetch quest and you slog through banal objectives as a cheap way to extend longevity. It is a shame that many gamers may tire of recycled areas and give up before reaching the Vega finale and its excellent Hive Lord boss. Even if you do decide to trudge through to completion, the game is far too easy to complete, so the scope of the Green Lantern's inventive green energy construct power is yet to make a successful transition to video game land.