Saturday, July 31, 2010

I'm gonna punch the entire goddamned world

I'm a half-reformed comic book nerd. I grew up on comics: some of my earlier memories are reading my dad's issues of Superman or Green Lantern. Naturally, since my dad liked DC, I quickly became a Marvel Zombie. I spent my early adolesence subscribing* to Classic X-Men and, especially, Classic Spider-Man. Absolutely formative for me, these four-color epics, these soap operas and superhero fantasies.

I've gotten back into comics a couple times over the years, coming out of hibernation for this or that--Doom Patrol under Grant Morrison, the unutterably brilliant Goon series by Eric Powell, but the comic book industry is unrefixably broken, and I refuse to support its business model. So I'm irredeemably out of date and behind the times. I guess there's probably some pointless year-long crossover event going on right now? That will have no consequences whatsoever? Despite being presented for a full year as really, really important? Anyways, I found a ten-buck copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 for my DS the other week and I've been playing the hell out of it. It ties in with the Civil War storyline, if that means you can't live without it.

The punchline of the review is simple: for 10 bucks, I played the hell out of it, but it's not all that good. 15 would, I think, have felt like a ripoff.

The graphics are...okay. Brown environments with the occasional nice flourish. Small characters with somewhat muted colors, but they're all adequate. The special attacks look pretty good. Lot of hero/playable characters, not enough good bad guys.**

The game's second-biggest problems come with performance: four hero characters on-screen at all times mean that two on-screen enemies at any given time are about all you get.*** And when you run into a room and those enemies spawn? Slowdown. And in the middle of a battle, if you want to switch heroes to use some special move? Major problems handling this operation. Takes forever for the DS to register your input, both on the switch itself and then on the special you're trying to use. This seems particularly bad when that special is graphics-intensive, like a heal or a buff move.**** Some boss battles are all but unplayable, b/c the AI essentially shuts off, leaving your characters just standing around; this can't be fixed easily, b/c the machine simply won't let you hop quickly from character to character to get them into place.

Worst, there's a sub-boss in the first major story mission that, once beat, locks up the game. This happened 3 of the 5 times I beat the thing. I think I had two other hard locks while playing. Plus, there's only 2 save slots, and you can't switch them.

All in all, I'd forgive anybody who found the technical issues and drab visuals a dealbreaker. Also the map is spectacularly useless. But, I'm on record as stipulating that most men are completely helpless before the desire to: move right; beat up fools; move right again. And this game, partly b/c of its technical limitations, offers many, many opportunities to move right and absolutely stomp enemies. Boss battles often quickly devolve into your four characters surrounding the boss and stomping his mouth onto the curb; there are likely men who would charge that this game is too easy, but fuck it. Sometimes I like winning.

This game is marketed as a sort of actiony game with light RPG elements: character upgrades, tiny bits of statistical information, etc. However, this game is nothing but a straight brawler. No depth to speak of, and as a brawler the straight melee combat is quite sub-par, but again: beatdowns for fools abound, and there's something in there that was compelling enough for me to kill my DS' battery at least twice last week.

Indifferent writing is hampered by the RPG-lite format and by the best thing about the game, which is that you can pretty much swop out team members at any point. You've got four slots to fill (at all times) and you don't have to be at a save spot to change cats out. This helps fight boredom pretty well, but it cripples the writing, b/c whoever you happen to be controlling is the one who's talking during the story sequences. Blend in the odd appalling typo and these moments become something to be skipped past with alacrity.

Anyway, as a very easy brawler with some moderately appealing and familiar characters, this was worth my week-long 10-yua relationship.

*I shit you not. Back in the dawn of time, you could write a check to a company and they would use the U.S. Postal Service to send you comic boks. You'd get home from the sixth grade, all spun out on the Challenger blowing up and wondering if your soccer coach was hitting on you as he'd drink beer while driving to the game and there'd be comic books in your mailbox!

**A reasonable and fair trade, I grant: spent your make-it-look-nice budget on the characters your player will spend the most time with. I get it. But still, endless faceless...dudes...whatever. And again, I'm super out of touch, so it's probably not an indication of roster weakness that there's a character I've literally never heard of.

Funnily enough, that character is a favorite of mine game-wise, as the only character with party-healing capacity. So, uh, thanks...Sentry.

***Hell, even the super-powered Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble only ever had 2 enemies on the screen at one time. Come to think of it, that game, though flawed, was substantially harder than this but much better.

****Luckily, there's only like one each heal or buff.

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