Let's face it – for the uninitiated, the fighting genre can be daunting. Millisecond-perfect timing and the memorisation of several-button-presses-long combos are often essential to win, and unfortunately not everybody has enough time to spend shining up their Shoryukens. Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth lowers the entry barrier to the genre, ensuring that anybody can get in on the action, though its overly simplified approach may have hardcore fighter fans sneering “zero” rather than “hero”.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth offers up a selection of 20 battle-ready Marvel superheroes and supervillains, including big names such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, Doctor Doom and Hulk. Based on the Secret Invasion comics, the all-powerful cast must fight back against the invasion of the Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race intent on taking over Earth by impersonating its heroes and using their powers against them.
It's a 3D fighter that doesn't shy away from putting you right in the action. At the beginning of each match you pick two characters, who can be switched between throughout a bout; if one loses all his or her health, the round is lost. The camera sways behind your character the majority of the time, almost slotting you into the shoes of your chosen warrior – and if you're playing using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, you have to act out the moves with motion controls, following action prompts at the bottom of the screen. If you don't feel like getting physical on your feet, you can also play on the GamePad, sketching out shapes on the touch screen to the same effect.
Each method works well, though our preference firmly lies in the camp of motion control; striking poses to launch attacks is much more involving, fluid and – if you can shake off the embarrassment or have no shame to begin with – just plain fun when you let loose. Unfortunately, the enjoyment is quite shortlived outside of small play sessions, as there isn't a whole lot of gameplay variety on offer here.
It boils down to an extended game of rock-paper-scissors, with punches, kicks and projectiles taking the place of the more traditional elements. At any one time there are only a maximum of eight commands available to you. Worse still, each fighter only has just three unique moves to call their own, a few of which are actually shared between several characters – though it's at least partially masked, as they're appropriately re-stylised to fit each combatant.
You can tag between your pair of fighters at any time and dodge from side-to-side with the analogue stick – or a horizontal touch screen swipe on the GamePad – but that's about the extent of free movement outside of offensive manoeuvres. By pressing forward on the analogue stick you can rush your foe with a close combat kick, which might send them flying up into the air for some extended punishment, but otherwise you're generally restricted to long range attacks.
Clicking an icon on the GamePad or waving the Wii Remote and Nunchuk sends out streams of energy / web / whatever fits your character best. Super moves are activated by hitting further touch screen icons or Wii Remote D-Pad directions to bring up a pattern to draw or pose to strike; the amount of damage inflicted depends on how accurately and quickly you complete these actions. To this end, we found the Wii Remote far easier to use; it's more natural to swiftly switch stances than it is to click icons and draw patterns at pace.
Finally there are Breaker and Ultra moves, built up through successful combat via a meter. The former breaks whatever stance or move your opponent is conjuring up, smashing open an opening for you to strike, while Ultras are devastating assaults that generally start with a hard-hitting bang and end with you tapping or waggling frantically to land as many punches as possible for maximum damage.
As you'd expect with such a low number of possibilities, there isn't much room for strategy. There's a very limited combo system that lets you chain together a few Super moves, and each attack is strong against another type – so you can block incoming moves by choosing an appropriate counter in good time — but that's about it. Battles tend to play out in very similar fashion due to the minuscule move pool, which is a real shame as what's there is pretty solid. A larger range of actions could have really opened it up, and it didn't necessarily have to damage the simple approach; there could have been different sets of actions depending on context and character positioning, for instance.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth does get a quite a lot right, though. It sounds the part, with characters uttering plenty of glib one-liners before and after battles, and there's some quality comic art sprinkled throughout. It looks reasonably good on the television, though appears even better on the GamePad, which hides some of the deficiencies in backgrounds due to the smaller screen. Off-TV play is present; when using GamePad controls you only play on the handheld screen, while the Wii Remote option takes over the TV.
There's a 40-level campaign mode that lasts a couple of hours and can be played through in fairly linear fashion – you can skip between locations at your leisure, though each area's missions have to be completed in order, and the first 20 levels have to be beaten before the final 20 become available. Each character has a set of objective-based combat tests to help you get to grips with them, while there are also 20 trials to overcome that bump up the challenge with restricted conditions; beat an enemy using only certain moves, for example. Eight of these trials are unlocked with uPlay reward points earned by completing other tasks, such as completing the campaign.
You can also set up tournaments and play versus matches against your friends. Here one person takes the GamePad and the other Wii Remote and Nunchuk, so each player gets their own screen. There's no online play sadly, though part of the fun is actually watching other players making fools of themselves with their best Tony Stark impressions anyhow.
Though it's good to see a fighter that anybody can play, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth takes simplification just a few steps too far. The core gameplay is fun in short sessions, and there's a decent amount of content and care taken, but after a while the battles become overly-similar and begin to grate. With more variety this could have been a super power, but in its present form the concept lacks a certain punch.