In a bold and rewarding creative move for the popular Cartoon Network animated series, the Ben 10 television show recently hit pause on its timeline, fast-forwarded things five years, and relaunched itself as Ben 10: Alien Force
. Main character Ben Tennyson, once a brash young 10-year-old capable of transforming into a variety of alien heroes, became a brash older 15-year-old, capable of transforming into a different variety of alien heroes. His cousin Gwen and rival Kevin both grew up as well, gaining more power of their own and stepping into forefront heroic roles, instead of being the sidelined secondary characters they were before. Overall, the changes made to the show were intriguing, and increased the appeal of the series for many of its most diehard fans.
The video games, though, have not been so lucky. In stark contrast to the advancing progress made by its source material on TV, this latest game adaptation has instead taken significant steps backwards on DS. Whereas last year's Ben 10: Protector of Earth
was a thorough, well-realized adaptation of the character that earned a solid 7.8 out of 10 in its review, Ben 10: Alien Force is much less compelling.
It's just too straightforward. Alien Force plays out as a basic platforming beat-'em-up filled with inessential collectibles -- you run to the right, take out an enemy, run to the right some more, take out the same kind of enemy, and repeat the process ad nauseum until the end of the level.
This is a similar design to what Protector of Earth offered a year ago, but Protector of Earth also mixed up the level designs by featuring set pieces that could only be navigated by specific alien forms. If you needed to scale a sheer wall, you had to turn into Fourarms. If you needed to leap across an extended gap between platforms, you'd often be forced to turn to Heatblast's ability to hover short distances after jumping.
In Alien Force, you get none of that -- each alien form here feels much less unique, and there aren't really any platforming challenges included that force you think critically about how to manage your form choices. Sure, Humongousaur is enormous and slower, and Echo Echo is small and faster. But those differences are never a factor in the gameplay. You're never going to find a tight space that Humongousaur can't fit through, or a massive wall that Echo Echo isn't strong enough to knock down, for instance.
What's worse, Alien Force also takes out a lot of the design's positive tension by making Ben's Omnitrix fully powered all the time. In Protector of Earth, the extraterrestrial wristwatch that allows Ben to shapeshift into his different alien alter-egos would only allow you to stay transformed for a short while, necessitating careful planning about how to manage your time as each alien. It could be annoying when it ran out of juice in the middle of a battle, but that was part of the appeal -- and it encouraged you to rotate through each of Ben's different transformations, to mix things up. Here, with unlimited time allowed in each transformation, there's none of that tension. Players will probably just pick one alien and stick with it, through the whole game, never paying attention to the fact that the entire point of this character and franchise is that he's supposed to transform into lots of different shapes all the time.
One last potential element that could have redeemed a lot of those losses is the presence of Gwen and Kevin, who take on the baddies just as frequently as Ben does in the Alien Force show. But, again, the Alien Force game misses the mark on utilizing these characters, keeping them completely out of the main game action and relegating them to a basic icon-touching mini-game design instead. The mini-game is even flawed in its presentation, featuring colors for Gwen and Kevin's icons that are far too similar to each other and make it difficult to determine which character's buttons you need to be pressing.
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