IGN Review of Ben 10: Protector of Earth
A new animated series kick starts on Cartoon Network, and that means a licensed game is sure to follow. Ben 10: Protector of Earth is the first offering of the new multi-personality superhero show that focuses on a young boy by the name of Ben Tennyson, who came into possession of a mysterious alien artifact known as the Omnitrix. Using the Omnitrix as a gateway to insane powers, Ben is essentially a shapeshifting "Jack of all trades" super hero. Whatever the situation, Ben 10 has a solution.
To be entirely honest, we'd never heard of the show before seeing the game at last year's E3, but we do know videogames, and Ben 10 is actually one heck of a first effort for the series, as D3 Publisher and 1st Playable Productions have teamed up to deliver a budget title - at a budget price, mind you - that is heavy on the action, and light on filler. We don't know the intricacies of the television show, but we do know that as a pure action brawler, Ben 10 pulls off some better core gameplay than the majority of its competition.
Aside from the basic backstory of the Ben 10 series, there isn't a ton you need to know in order to get a kick out of Ben 10: Protector of Earth. You play as Ben, Omnitrix in hand (or on wrist, rather), and with the touch of a button can change from his weaker everyday form to any of five alien forms; each with their own expertise. As the title would imply, Ben finds himself on a family vacation touring the USA, and along the way needs to kick the crap out of any and every baddy. Each level is based on famous landmarks and cities, and with each progressing stage you'll uncover a map of the US "Rampage" style.
We'd go amazingly in-depth about what makes Ben 10 a solid title for younger gamers, but there really isn't a ton to say. Ben 10 harks back to the classic, third person brawler design, making use of light and heavy attacks, as well as a character-specific charge attack. The game is entirely linear, moving generally from left to right in 3D, point-to-point stages. Walk through an area for a while, do a bit of basic platforming, and then dead end in a screen lock. Once all the spawning enemies are destroyed, the screen again unlocks and you're on your way to the next action point. The entire game can be playing either single player, or with drop in/drop out two player action, with each player taking the role of Ben and his five morphing characters. It's simple, but it's mindless fun.
Most of the depth in the game revolves around the five characters Ben can morph into. There's Heatblast, a cocky fire-based brawler with the ability to fire at a distance or coast jump on a surf board of fire, Fourarms, who - as the name implies - makes use of a ton of strength in his four arms, Cannonbolt, a mix between Juggernaught and Monkey Ball, a speedy Flash-like fighter named XLR8 (Get it? Accelerate?), and a long-armed distance fighter called Wildvine. The game begins with access to only Fourarms and Heatblast, but with each handful of levels comes another fighter, starting with XLR8, moving to Cannonbolt, and then finishing with Wildvine. Along the way each character's move sets will develop with general level-ups (experience is shared across all fighters, and moves are unlocked in a linear fashion), totaling over 80 combos. As the final tier of depth the game has to offer, levels can be replayed, and early sets require the use of later characters, so you'll need to backtrack to complete the game at 100%.
And that's really all there is to it. As you progress through levels you'll find new enemies, each accompanied with a quick stat read-out and narrative VO about the character, and battle gigantic bosses that make use of multi-character switching and either IR or button-based (depending on platform) finishing attacks circa God of War's multi-stage mini-game kills. There's also a small amount of puzzle solving based on the character-specific special attacks, but it's as simple as running fast with XLR8, or blasting over ramps with Cannonbolt's speed boost. Again, very simple, but surprisingly fun.
Where the game really steps away from mediocrity and towards success is in the general combat that makes up literally all of the game's lasting appeal. Animations are above average for a licensed game, especially when looking at the fast-moving and comically designed Cannonbolt, as the character rolls and smashes around the screen like an Odama ball gone totally wild. Special attacks like XLR8's speed boost also add some depth to the otherwise "thump n' bump" gameplay, as players will need to trace a cursor around on the ground for a few seconds, having XLR8 then boost over the drawn path in a fraction of a second, kicking the crap out of anything he touches. Other simple - but effective - design choices keep the game interesting, as you'll fight through a level while watching the soon-to-be-boss make his way from the background all the way up to the front lines. It's these little movements of interesting gameplay and truly smart design that push Ben 10 from being "just another brawler" to actually achieving the old school beat-em-up style. Yes it lacks depth, but it's also tuned perfectly for the younger crowd despite its flaws.
If you're looking at picking this one up for Wii, we've got a few things to keep in mind. For starters, the game is virtually identical to the PS2 version, with added vertical and horizontal waggle for light and heavy attacks. The price point, however, is $10 more, so if you're a multi-console owner you should pick up the PS2 version over Wii's SKU without hesitation. That being said, if price isn't an issue (or if you don't own a PS2) the Wii version is still an above-average licensed game, and is still pretty entertaining minus some depth and overall presentation issues. The game's IR moments are also pretty simplistic, having on-screen icons that you'll simply need to touch in order to successfully beat the mini-game. It doesn't add a whole lot of depth over the button-based PS2 version either.
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