IGN Review of Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects
With the flood of software that the PlayStation Team here at IGN had to sort through last holiday season, a few games were bound to slip through the cracks. Electronic Arts' handheld version of Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects was one such game -- a title released in the beginning of October, that for some reason or another, we completely overlooked. It's really too bad that we did too, since the PSP edition of Marvel Nemesis actually turned out to be slightly better than its console counterpart. Then again, it really wouldn't have taken much to beat out those rather mediocre PS2 and Xbox efforts.
In any case, the PSP version of Marvel Nemesis does share a number of similar elements with its console brethren. Though developed by a completely different studio (EA Canada instead of Nihilistic), the one-on-one fighting engine is essentially the same beast with far simpler controls. In other words, four basic commands still make up the meat of your arsenal (Block, Jump, Throw, and Attack), while two modifiers (Mobility and Super Power) allows you a little variety along the way. Needless to say, this straightforward approach didn't work very well for set-tops, but does lend itself better to the handheld concept.
Keep in mind, the reason that Nemesis is better as a handheld game isn't necessarily because of its simplicity -- but rather, because of its inclusion of some badly-needed adjustments. To start, EA has actually improved the gameplay by adding a card collecting element. Totaling more than 170 in all, these cards (which are randomly chosen face-down by players after each victory) can be assigned to hot keys on the digital directional pad. Once assigned, the cards can then be spent in the middle of battle for varying effects (offensive bonuses, defensive power-ups, recovered health, etc), and it can really make a difference if you find yourself in a bind... especially against another human player.
But back to the "far simpler controls" point, and the fact that the lack of a second analog stick changes the way in which you keep track of your opponents. Now, a quick tap of the Block button (Triangle) also acts as a camera centering device and despite its awkwardness during combos, actually works better than the manual adjustments of the PS2 and Xbox versions. This doesn't mean that the game still isn't without its camera issues, because it definitely still has them (expect plenty of annoying readjustments thanks to spastic flank-jumping opponents and constant juggles during combos), but it is an improvement nonetheless.
Another happy change is that the piss-poor clone of Tekken 5's 3D "Devil Within" beat 'em-up (which served as the single-player campaign) has been nixed in favor of a more traditional ten-tier one-on-one fighting ladder. This means players are no longer forced to throw down with a street full of no-names just to duke it out with a couple of well-known characters. And when you take this more straightforward approach and combine it with the card collecting element, as well as the camera lock button and two PSP exclusive characters (Dr. Doom and Captain America), you can certainly make the case that the PSP edition of Marvel Nemesis is THE edition to own... but then, that's only if you ignore its problems..
Tweaked and modified as it may be Rise of the Imperfects still has a large number of issues that ultimately keep it from being an ideal fighting experience. To begin with, the base game itself doesn't offer enough variety between characters to avoid becoming repetitive. Sure, the 18 heroes and villains may look different on the surface, but most of them play so similarly (and with small move-sets) that it really feels like you're using three or four different fighters in alternate costumes. Another big issue is the doubled-edge sword that comes with card collecting. It's a strong feature, don't get me wrong, but having those cards to save your hide only makes an easy game (and yes, it's very easy) that much less challenging. Do yourself a favor and only use cards when facing another human, that's where the feature will really stand out.
Electronic Arts should have also done better with how it handles character unlocking. For a game that's as simple and straightforward as this, it makes finding new combatants to mess around with a real chore. Sure, you'll begin with The Thing of Fantastic Four fame and the newly-created Johnny Ohm, but that's it. Most of the remaining 16 fighters all have to be uncovered by systematically going through and beating opponents again and again and again. This can make two-player games, which is the guaranteed highlight of the experience, even more repetitious in the early going. Plan to spend a lot of time unlocking folks if you want to have any fun with it.
At least the decision to include Terry Dodson instead of Jae Lee as the character designer for the project was a good one. The handheld iteration of Rise of the Imperfects looks much more like a comic book than its bigger counterpart, and it works really well on PSP. It's just too bad that the storyline (which was actually pretty intriguing on consoles) gets lost in the shuffle with the god-awful intro paragraphs that accompany each fight.
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