Licensed games are a slippery slope. You’d like to believe that developers and publishers are going about them from a good place; obviously there’s something there that people love, so why not make an interactive experience of it? A devil’s advocate would say they’re nothing but a shill, a way to prey on somebody’s fandom and put minimal effort into it for maximum revenue. Regardless, sometimes the stars align and you get a title that does right by both video games and the license it’s based on.
Some, like Ben 10, feel conceptually designed as if it were a game to begin with, so the kernel is already there. The Cartoon Network show stars a young boy named Ben Tennyson who surreptitiously discovers an alien wristband called the Omnitrix, which gives him the ability to change into ten different beings that he’ll freely change into when certain situations arrive - based on their different powers. He travels around in a beat up RV with his Grandpa Max and sister Gwen, where they happen to stumble upon super villains left and right; naturally Ben then tackles them with his superhero multi-tool.
Ben 10 the game takes the 3D beat ‘em up route by sending our stalwart hero towards small town city streets, forests and junkyards to battle the likes of Zombozo, Queen Bee and her Bug Gang and the Weatherheads. By pulling up a wheel with a shoulder button you can cycle through Ben’s alien cohorts, all of whom have their own move sets including different traversal options and ultimate moves that’ll clear the screen of enemies when you build up a meter.
The combat feels a bit loose, there’s a lack of weight behind your attacks and a delay in enemies flinching that makes it feel as if you aren’t always connecting. While there is a variety of characters to choose from, none of them seem imperative to any given situation. You’ll occasionally need to switch in order to progress up a cliff side or go through a small door, but combat-wise having Heatblast doesn’t give you the ability to burn anybody or Grey Matter to solve puzzles for you. You end up finding your favourite heroes with combos you feel comfortable with and plow through.
The lack of diversity is quantified when you realize that collecting green orbs - which you in turn spend to upgrade your move set - is moot as you can never really tell if a new perk you unlock is useful. Most enemies fall quickly, so being able to stun them or freeze them never comes into play. There are a few exceptions, but they make so little a difference it doesn’t really matter. It’s a mechanic meant to invest players in their heroes, but it’s superficial at best. It could have been a literal game changer, but instead feels like filler.
Where Ben 10 does keep players engaged is the setting and story. While not overly complex, stages are distinct and stylized. There are occasional platforming sections to break up the fight rooms, as well as punchable scenery that net you extra green orbs. The game also offers up challenges like using specific aliens or countering attacks a certain amount of times to also fill your coffers. It forces players to switch up their tactics, but they feel arbitrary and aren’t mandatory so you can tackle it how you please.
With six full stages, each set feels like an arc of an episode of the show. You’ll start out working your way towards a foe's base, followed by a stage within their lair. While paltry, the levels are long, ranging from 20-30 minutes to complete. The only downside is a lack of mid-stage checkpointing or an ability to save your place should you have to stop in between. The game tries to encourage players to return to previous areas by gating off certain sections that can only be entered by using an alien you unlock later down the road. All this usually nets you is a superficial extra in the form of a “sumo card” and more green orbs you may or may not be interested in.
What keeps the game moving along is the story, which is told using lots of voice over and well-animated cut scenes. For fans of the show this will surely delight and prod you into going further into the game. It’s actually very cleverly written if a bit clichéd, and adds a nice layer of personality to an otherwise competent game. It uses the source material to great effect and is all the better for it.
Ben 10 does its license justice, but unless you're a fan of the show it just looks like a slightly above-average brawler at best. It definitely looks the part, but with its ability to switch characters missing its potential it offers an unimaginative combat system; only those seeking a trip on the Rusty Bucket to play as the likes of XLR8 or Four Arms should check it out.