Marvel Ultimate Alliance Review

Joe Otis (GT: OtisFamily)

A comic book nerd’s dream, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance graced the Xbox 360 in late 2006 bringing a slew of twenty-five of Marvel’s most famous heroes to the table (and eight to be featured in DLC), courtesy of Raven Software (of X-Men Legends and Quake 4 fame). This widespread cast of everyone’s favorite virtual vigilantes ranges from the patriotic Captain America to the hardcore Luke Cage, each with their own unique powers and abilities. All this gives the player nearly endless combination choices of their four favorite heroes (control of which can be switched at will as long as no other player is controlling the hero at the time); certain hero combinations also give the entire team bonuses like extra experience and stat bonuses.

In addition to team customization, you can also go as far as changing the move sets and costumes for each of your heroes, all of which affect their stats and offer different ways to play the game. Credits and experience points (gotten throughout the game) are used as currency and leveling tools, respectively, making MUA a stereotypical RPG game: the player needing to collect a certain amount of either in order to unlock various extras. Credits are plentiful, but should still be spent wisely when upgrading attacks and costumes, as one could possibly add to the wrong attack, or end up never using it, putting all the hard-earned pixels to waste. Other collectibles are featured prominently in the game, such as the hero action figures needed to unlock characters, power-up and equipable items used to increase various stats, and simulation discs for extra fights and insight into the heroes’ backgrounds. With all the items out there to find, the game has plenty to offer for those dedicated players.

It’s clobberin’ time!

Fighting is about as straightforward as it gets: you attack repetitively with the buttons. There isn’t much to the fighting aspect of the game as far as basic attacks go, but where the real fun begins when you use your special powers, activated with the Right Trigger. You start off with just one special power in the beginning of the game, but as you level up with experience points (gained by killing enemies and opening various containers), you eventually have around 10 at your disposal (though only four can be set at a time). Typically, your primary special is set to the Right Trigger + A combo, your defensive set to the R + B combo, your boost set to the R + X, and your Xtreme power set to the R + Y combo. Learning to use all of these at the right times will help you a lot when you find yourself surrounded by enemies.

Boss battles in MUA are often simple but fairly time consuming, as each boss has weaknesses, but can also take quite a beating. Some fights involve strategy, needing to use the right move at the right time, and sometimes needing a specific ability to progress further. Battles against larger foes require timing and utilization of the “press the button on the screen” feature in order to dodge your opponents blow and return some damage. One major example of this feature is halfway through the game when you encounter the Kraken and need to dodge its various attacks, causing it to inevitably hurt itself in the process. The easier difficulties are perfect for beginning gamers and provide solid, yet not impossible challenges to learn from.

Once you’ve started the game, you’re immediately brought into a short video featuring Col. Nick Fury’s call for help, wanting you to save the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier that is under assault. After the cinematic, you find yourself starting off with the four default characters (which are featured throughout most of the cut scenes), Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, and Wolverine. Later in the first level, you find yourself confronting your first mini bosses and level boss: Scorpion, Winter Soldier, and Radioactive Man as the mini bosses, and the mighty Fin Fang Foom as the ending boss.

Early on as you progress through the storyline, you’ll learn that an alliance of villains called the Masters of Evil plan on fulfilling the cliché dream of taking over the Earth, led by the one and only Dr. Doom. I won’t spoil any more plot lines, but further into the game you meet and confront many other heroes and villains, encounters that could spark in-game conversations based on the characters on your team at the time. Switching out your team at opportune moments can prove vital if you lack a hero with a specific ability (e.g. flight or super strength). Some characters are effective primarily as close-range fighters, while others were made for long-range. Having a nice spread of powers increases your ability to be prepared for certain tasks and enemies in the game.

Parts like this provoke a trip to your nearest arcade.

Amidst all the violence and witty banter, MUA also offers many puzzles and trivia placed throughout the campaign. Knowledge of certain comic book stories can be a lifesaver in the battle versus MODOK, as you must answer trivia questions in order to preserve enough life to defeat him quicker. Trivia stations are also strewn about the various bases where you stay after completing levels, which offer fairly easy achievement points if you know the answers.

An extra bonus to those who love completing side-quests is placed after the ending credits, where a certain character met in the campaign narrates the effects of all the player’s actions throughout the game. By not completing specific missions, the player could accidentally cause the deaths of heroes and even the end of the world (though this has no effect on the actual gameplay). This final cinematic is mainly just a bonus feature for those that paid close attention to the storyline and are interested in seeing what they caused in the Marvel universe.

There’s a whole lot of fun to be had in single-player campaign, but Marvel’s greatest feature is a cooperative mode allowing up to four players. The addition of this feature makes it a great game for families and friends to team up against the forces of evil and act as their own favorite hero. For the sake of friendly competition, an arcade mode is also available to those who wish to find out which in their group is truly the greatest super hero. The Arcade Mode (similar to Halo 3’s Meta-Game) basically counts everything each player does and at the end of each level the highest scoring player gets experience and credit bonuses.

As mentioned earlier, simulation discs can be found in the campaign and used to unlock comic missions for each hero. Upon completion of each mission, you can unlock one of the character’s costumes or bonus items, and once all are completed, you get the ability to play as the mighty Silver Surfer, and while all his costumes are the same, his attacks can be devastating. Take note, though, that these comic missions can be difficult, more so than the campaign itself, and will most likely take some time, especially since there are so many to beat. If you’re a fan of the Surfer or just love fully completing games, be aware that you’re in for some challenges.

I got the power!

Graphics-wise, Marvel stands strong, with each character and level beautifully detailed. Attacks are well animated and special powers are exceedingly vibrant and colorful, cartoony enough to be entertaining, yet fierce enough to show just how strong the heroes can be. The alternate costumes for each character stay true to their roots, as each costume is from a different era of the respective hero’s life. With four choices per character and four characters per team, that’s sixteen opportunities to show of your favorites with just one group. The only real flaw in the visuals is the fact that most enemies of the same class look exactly alike, but this is no problem as most games are like this, and MUA more than makes up for it with its wide variety of villains to take down.

The audio in the game can go either way. On one hand, the background music and in-game quotes get repetitive, but both serve their purposes: the music providing insight into what’s coming around the corner, and the quotes being extremely funny, especially Deadpool’s. The voice acting in the cutscenes is superb, with the actors’ voices suiting their respective character’s personalities very well. Spider-Man is a smart-alec teen, Captain America is authoritative, and Wolverine is, well, bad-ass. All the actors’ lines and expressions stay true to the comics, and that’s something I must applaud them on.

Now for the selling point for any 360 game, the achievements. Typical to any RPG, there are the “Beat ____” boss achievements. These are simple and straight-forward, and can be gotten the first time through on the easiest difficulty quickly if you can manage to find the boss’ weaknesses. Only slightly harder are the achievements where you must unlock specific characters. These can either be done by finding their Action Figures hidden throughout the campaign, or in Nick Fury’s case, by beating campaign on any difficulty. The majority of the rest are mainly just killing a certain amount of baddies, answering trivia questions, or working along side of friends. Some can take a good amount of time to accomplish, but a handful can be knocked out in your first play through. Along with the characters released in the DLC, you are also given access to several more achievements, all of which are gained by either unlocking all the costumes for each character or finding secret conversations available only with certain DLC heroes.

The music and banter can get very repetitious at times, but the cutscenes and voice acting more than make up for it. As far as a selling point, you won’t be getting this game for the audio, but it’s a nice bonus.

They did a great job with the animations and characters on this game. Everything both feels like the comic-retro that made it famous, and has enough color and shine to make it feel like a new age for the heroes. Still, it’s nothing new as far as 360 graphics go, but cutting-edge visuals were probably not on the designers’ agenda in the first place.

The controls are simplicity at its finest. Easy-to-learn combos and addictive gameplay make this game a must for starting gamers and veterans alike. Fighting is primarily instinctive, as random button mashing can still prove effective against many of the foes found in the game.

The campaign mode is detailed and versatile, allowing the player to meet and defeat many popular villains and solve plenty of puzzles. With the nearly endless combinations of heroes, powers, and costumes, there’s plenty of replay value, especially when you throw in the four-player campaign feature.

Most of the achievements are easy and can be earned in the first play through, though ones like Dressed For Success and Golden Age of Comics could take quite a while. All in all, Marvel has a nice lineup of achievements that are right in the middle as far as time and skill required to 1250 is concerned.

Overall, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a real treat to all types of gamers, along with fans of comics. While nothing new is brought to the industry, the four-player campaign is something that has been shown successful, and definitely was a great feature to implement. This is recommended to anyone who likes violence, RPGs, and large casts of characters.

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