Is it just us or has Wii U already amassed a swath of licensed beat-em-ups in the three months since its November launch? It seems like there's no shortage of ways to punch and/or slice hordes of bad things, between the reasonably OK Transformers Prime and the why-oh-why of Rise of the Guardians, so forgive us if the thought of yet another didn't send our digits into anticipation twitch-fits. Nintendo Life is all about occasionally taking one for the team in our quest to cover the world of interactive entertainment software, though, so we plopped down and popped in Ben 10: Omniverse for some more animated bam-thwockery.
In case you aren't familiar with the Cartoon Network show, teenager Ben Tennyson is a kid in possession of the Omnitrix, a watch-like device that allows him to transform into a whole bunch of aliens each with their own powers and skills. Ben's ever-present co-op partner, Rook, a new member of alien law enforcement agency the Plumbers, somehow winds up slipping back in time and losing an important piece of technology to supervillain Malware, which does some terrible things to the timeline that the duo have to thwart in both periods.
No matter the time period, the game plays just the same. Players march dutifully between enemy encounters and beat the snot out of them either alone or with a drop-in co-op buddy, transforming into assorted aliens new and old to do so. The aliens are Omniverse's saving grace: combat sticks with the same basic button-mashing throughout, and without their variety in abilities the game would bore to tears by the end of stage two. The back of the box advertises 16 playable heroes, which is mathematically accurate but not without a caveat or two, as that includes two identical Bens as well as Rook, who can only be controlled by a co-op partner.
That leaves 13 aliens in Ben's arsenal to unlock, fight with and gain new attacks and special abilities. While not all aliens offer vastly different approaches to the same formulaic encounters — some feel like they're strictly there for switch-pulling "puzzles" — many do include their own built-in strategies, and there's a handful who get some extra attention in regards to enemy encounters. Feedback, for instance, is able to absorb an electric charge and then blast it at baddies, so having a stage with lots of electric foes gives him an opportunity to fight in a way the rest of the cast can't. Other aliens have strengths and weaknesses against certain enemy types, but they're seldom significant enough to stop players from sticking with the ones they find look the coolest.
(Pro tip: it's Shocksquatch.)
Monkey Bar Games has done an admirable job of creating a world that captures the show's look and feel, but we really wish they had created more of it. The writing and voice acting suit the show, and no matter how crisp and agreeable the cel-shaded art style is, there's an awful lot of repetition in how stages look. Nor are they particularly varied, mostly interested in funneling you forward to the next big room to fight a bunch of enemies.
We also wish that the rest of the technical side of things nailed it like the art style does. Character animation is flimsy and the sound has a tendency to glitch out — on more than one occasion we thought our console was about to explode. And despite the box advertising compatibility with all sorts of inputs, Player 1 has no choice but to play with the GamePad, even if you'd prefer the Wii Remote + Nunchuck or an alternative dual-analogue controller. Outside of off-screen play, the GamePad isn't used for anything of importance, so this limitation doesn't really make sense. Player 2 has their pick of the litter, though.
Ben 10: Omniverse falls into a lot of the same traps that lesser games in this genre do — lots of repetitive button-mashing gameplay, uninspired level design and clunky controls. Through the license's inherent variety it somehow manages to stave off crushing boredom for a bit longer than we anticipated, but eventually does succumb to it — tolerance may vary depending on how interesting you find the franchise. Younger Ben 10 fans may still spot a lot of where the game goes wrong, but as Omniverse manages to get enough right with the fiction it likely won't matter in the end.