Mindless beat-em-up brawlers occupy a special place in my heart. First off, they’re the easiest games to pick up and play: just grab a controller and mash the hit button until everything is dead. Second, brawlers are awesome for co-op, especially if they are vested in a universe that both you and your co-op partner are interested in.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 takes its cues from a lot of different games and smashes them together with the Marvel universe in hopes that you’ll like the offering. It does have a lot going for it: the Civil War storyline that Marvel published a couple years ago is the main background for the game even if it does make a left turn at the corner of Metal Gear Solid 4 and go all nano-bot on us, forgoing the actual conclusion of the comic series. It is a lot better than the “cram everything in for fan service” campaign from the original Ultimate Alliance where you would be fighting Arcade one second then dusting up Mephisto the next. A more coherent story helps move the game along at a fairly brisk pace while keeping you engaged. The voice-acting is a little hit or miss, however, but the most painful gaffs are confined to the minor characters. Visual representation for the game is serviceable, as you always know what your looking at and your characters are easy to follow. It’s not the most beautiful game by any means, but it’s far from being the ugliest.
Of course, a decent story doesn’t count for much in a brawler if the combat can’t keep you interested past the training missions. Ultimate Alliance 2 comes very close to skirting into the dreaded territory of tedious repetition, but it tries a lot of tricks to steer itself away from that blasted wasteland. While super-heroes of similar powers will fight the same (Hulk and Thing, Wolverine and Deadpool for example), every hero has a unique move-set to call upon by pressing the appropriate button to bring up their powers menu. This helps to mix it up from the usual rigmarole of light hit, strong hit, grab attack that you’ll be doing. Using the powers depletes your Stamina bar, so you need to be mindful of that, especially at earlier levels.
New to MUA 2 is the Fusion gameplay element where two of your heroes will combine their strengths to deal massive damage in three possible ways. Depending on whom you chose, the Fusions will break down thusly: Guiding has you leading two characters around the map while you hammer the “A” or “X” button to build up speed. Clearing involves gathering up to twelve enemies and pulling them into a massive area attack and Targeted consists of dealing a ludicrous amount of damage to a single target. It sound cool, and pulling off a successful Clearing or Targeted Fusion is really satisfying. Seeing robot parts blast into the air or watching the numbers for a massive critical hit roll off a boss is really gratifying, especially if you’re nearing the edge of your health.
Unfortunetly, the Fusions are basically copy-pasted from one to the next. For example, if you choose Captain America and a hero who uses an energy-type blast for their power, say Iceman, then Cap will deflect the ice beam off of his shield and use it to catch foes in the middle. Repeat for every projectile hero, and you get the idea. That being said, it is still a novelty to see Wolverine pull off the Fastball Special with Thing or Venom.
Besides being a fighter, MUA 2 also incorporates some RPG-lite elements into its structure. While it is a massive step down from the in-depth trees of the previous Ultimate Alliance, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fans of meticulous stat manipulation will be disappointed, but your average Joe who just wants to yell “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” while hurling the Thing around the screen won’t mind (I know I didn’t). Besides putting points into your various heroes’ powers, you also have the ability to equip Team Boosts which add multipliers to a whole bunch of statistics, everything from your usual Health/Damage upgrades to bonuses against specific enemies and resistances to a wide array of effects. A nice feature included with this system is that you can upgrade on the fly during gameplay by pressing the correct button. This brings up a small menu over your portrait where you can upgrade powers, abilities and swap Boosts. If you’re playing co-op, a computer takes over your character so the flow of combat keeps going.
Being a Marvel game, the roster does bear mentioning if only to point out some glaring omission from the first game. Several heroes have been relegated to NPC status (like Spider-Woman, Black Panther and Colossus), while some additions are just puzzling. Iron Fist and Songbird aren’t interesting characters, yet they made the grade for playables. It’s also worth pointing out that each character only has one alternate costume instead of the three available in the original game. Some of the unlockable costumes are pretty lackluster, as well.
As nice as it is to spend a few hours bashing away with the Marvel crew, Ultimate Alliance does play hosts to a number of game-stopping bugs. During my X-Box 360 play-through, the game crashed no less than seven times, each failure requiring a restart of the console. The camera is also a problem through-out; though you do have limited control, the response to the movement of the stick is sluggish, and the action will have moved on by the time you get the view to where you want it.
The AI is also about as useful as a bag of busted behinds: your team-mates will often confuse “being helpful and attack the enemy” with “running around on the side of the screen and dying”. Thankfully, your AI buddies do not use the Health Tokens, which would have made playing through solo very aggravating. As it is, solo is a rather bland affair; these types of games always benefit from playing with at least one other person so you can yell out epithets together when the going gets tough, or celebrate a victory in an appropriate manner, such as a fist-bump or a friendly back slap.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is a very un-complicated game, and that is both a blessing and a curse in some ways. It’s a lot easier to get into than the first game, but that may turn off fans of the original. The camera is problematic, and the amounts of bugs, ranging from the simple to the show-stopping are both confusing and infuriating. This game was also made to be played co-op. Of course, you could do it alone, but you’d be depriving yourself of one of life’s greatest pleasures: punching your friend in the shoulder when he bungles a fight-winning Fusion.
My gift to you guys, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 in a nut shell. As always, we have some questions for you that I’d like to hear your opinion on: Did you play the first game, and how does this sound like it stacks up? Just for kicks, what’s your favorite Marvel hero? Mine? Spider-Man and Deadpool. Go at it!
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