Before I even get into the real review of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, I need to say something: Wii owners deserve better. I can't tell you how many times I cover a cross-platform title and find Nintendo's golden child getting watered down versions of games and stories the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 people are eating up.
That's what's happening here with Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 on Wii.
This is as exciting as it looks.
Ultimate Alliance 2 actually combines two of Marvel's best, fairly recent storylines -- Secret War and Civil War. The game opens with SHIELD Badass Nick Fury leading Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Iron Man into Latveria to take down the new prime minister. Seems even though she's been making nice with the U.S. brass, Lucia von Bardas has really been supplying villains with deadly technology. Trouble is, Fury didn't mention to the supers that this wasn't a government-sanctioned mission, so when Latveria retaliates by attacking New York, people kind of flip out about the team's "Secret War."
With feathers ruffled over the terror attack, people begin kicking around the idea of a superhero registration act that would require capes to register with the government, give up their secret identities, and take orders from commanders and such. Anyone who refuses to register would be a criminal, and suddenly, we have the superhero world split in two -- there are the people ready to fall in line with the law and those ready to go underground and fight it.
When you're dropped into this battle, you'll have control of one character who is part of a four-person team. You can cycle through the active players with the Plus and Minus buttons to control whomever you want and then have access to all of that person's superpowers. Spider-Man's got his webbing, Iron Man can fire off his repulsors, and Cap can throw his shield. As you play the game, you'll unlock 26 characters you can put into your squad. There are most of the folks from the PS3/360 versions of the game such as the Green Goblin, the Thing, and Venom as well as new folks such as Blade, Psylocke, and Cyclops. You'll be able to sub these characters into your lineup and move ahead with them from preset points in the game.
When you have a hero or villain on your team, you can pop into his or her menus and start toying with their stats. As you play, you're going to earn SHIELD tokens that you can then take and put toward your super-moves. Hulk's Pulverizing Punch and Deadpool's Assassin Strike have ten stars a piece, and you can pour your tokens into unlocking those stars to make the moves that much more destructive. Similarly, you're earning XP as you play and leveling up each of your characters as you go. These levels grant you the ability to make your moves better.
Speaking of making your moves better, Ultimate Alliance 2 introduces the ability to use Fusion powers -- co-op moves that make use of both characters' abilities. You hold down the Z button, shake the nunchuk, and then point at the Wiimote at whichever character you want to combine moves with. The heroes will team-up -- such as Spider-Man webbing a bunch of baddies and pulling them in so Wolverine can slice them all at once or Hulk hurling Wolvie for the Fastball Special -- and a name for the move pops up in comic book font. You'll need to fill a quartet of stars around your hero's icon to be able to do a Fusion, but the attack does a hefty amount of damage and helps heal the party. If you like, you can spend the stars on reviving a fallen teammate and forgo the attack.
Trouble is, none of the stuff I just described works all that well.
To kick off the misses in this game, let's talk about how annoying it is to have to cycle through heroes. When I'm in the middle of a cheap battle with Lucia, I don't need to take my eyes off the action to see which hero I'm about to become. I want to be Wolverine; let me hit one button and become Wolverine.
In a similar vein, one of the coolest things about the Ultimate Alliance series is getting to have this massive stable of superheroes you can pick and choose from -- it's like having a box full of toys where you can grab your favorite action figures at will. Trouble is, you can't switch your characters on the fly on the Wii. Rather than be able to change out characters at anytime, you can only do so from the blue SHIELD spaces at the beginning and middle of most levels. (These are the only places to save, as well.) This kind of sucks. It means you're free to pick the Human Torch, Blade, or whomever you like, but if they stink, you're stuck with them for the next healthy portion of the level.
Is your Spider-Sense tingling?
Sometimes, this can be a real pain in the ass because of goofy difficulty spikes in this game that don't appear to be on purpose. You're constantly being attacked by Doombots and different soldiers, which is whittling down your health. Boxes and stuff will give you a few red orbs to bring you back to a healthy state, but the best way to fix this is by pulling off Fusions. Trouble is it takes a fair bit of time to work up a Fusion, and getting the stars to pull one off is pretty difficult with your teammates sprawled out on the ground. True, you can revive individuals once you have a couple stars, but the act of initiating the Fusion move -- holding the Z button and shaking the nunchuk -- is finicky a lot of time and you'll take damage while doing it. So, if you're already on your last legs, it can be a tall order to wiggle your left hand, point at the character you need brought back to life with your right hand, and not get whacked.
Adding to the frustration level is the fact that nothing feels right here. You'll burn through your blue meter representing your superpowers in a flash with attacks that just don't feel powerful. As Wolverine, I was clawing and clawing with my special spin attack and slash move, but enemies weren't really dropping. When the blue stuff was gone, I was left to slug it out with simple punches. Add in the fact that it takes multiple punches to drop a trash can, and you're left feeling like an under-the-weather hero.
Beyond the look and feel, the controls just aren't that solid. The D-pad is an awkward place to map the super-moves, and when you pull these things off, you move off target. When Lucia was deploying a bomb in the middle of Times Square, I had to beat down some shield generators before making my move on the explosive. Now, I was told to defuse it, but in this world, that meant punching this device to death. Of course, this thing had an insane health meter, so I had to punch forever -- more than a minute of just punching away. Thing was, my attacks actually moved me off target, so I'd have to readjust after every swing.
When I finally had those shield generators destroyed and I was just sitting there punching the thing, my other three teammates just ran in circles around the bomb -- not helping -- and Lucia and her troops ran around the area below the platform I was on.
Sigh. Wii owners deserve better than this.
In terms of bells and whistles, the characters themselves look good and so do most of the environments. Some trees and stuff are blocky, but it's almost forgivable because the Human Torch's flames look sick and a swingin' Spider-Man is sick. The characters have voices, but they're not used all that much outside of one-liners and they sound alright.
Although four players can join up and play the game locally, there's no online play to speak of, but there are leaderboards. At the end of each chapter, you'll get a score card telling how well you just did. The score will post to the online leaderboard, but you can also use the BRAG system to send the report the score to five Wii friends. Hilariously, the BRAG system asks you not to send too many reports. I'd assume it doesn't want me annoying my friends, but that didn't stop me from sending every report to Bozon and Matt.
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