Monday, January 31, 2011

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a Gameboy Advance: January

Ultimate Alliace
from Barking Lizards

Perhaps this wasn't the best game to start with, but with limited time I figured if I grabbed something I was familiar with I could still make the deadline.  I was half right, the deadline would be met, however I would quickly discover this wasn't quite a game I knew.

I loved Ultimate Alliance for the Wii when it came out six years ago, and I still think it is one of the best Marvel Super-hero games I have played.  I knew a version had been made for the Gameboy Advance, but at that time, I wasn't really much on handhelds or their watered down versions of superior console games.  While my interest in handheld systems has certainly increased, I cannot say that my experience with Ultimate Alliance has left my impression of their ports much improved.

It's not that UA is a bad game.  As games go, it's fairly average, but when held up against its bigger, better Wii brother, it comes up ridiculously short.  I realize this is comparing apples and orangutans, but the comparison is inevitable nonetheless.  With that in mind, I will try to limit such analysis to a single paragraph.

In a way I set myself up for failure because I was totally blown away by Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the Wii.  The game was huge, the missions were epic, and there was a host of great Marvel characters at your command.  You led a team of four characters of which you could alternate control.  Each character had a body of special attacks and gained new abilities and skills as they gained experience.  The missions took place all over the Marvel Universe and featured a veritable who's who of Marvel bad guys.  The game was amazing.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the GBA is just like that, except with all of the extra-special parts boiled out.  You get ten Marvel characters to command and an additional six that you can call upon for a super-attack a limited number of times per mission.  You do not play with a team of four all at once, but instead rotate through the three you build your team out of, plus the super-attack character.  Characters do not possess a bevy of special attacks, but instead have a punch, a kick, a combo attack, and a special attack.  The combo and special attacks are limited and are used up pretty quickly.
These condensations alone would not be all that terrible, but they are compounded by extremely short, uninspired missions littered with repetitious, bland enemies.  There are roughly six kinds of enemies and they appear in every level in groups of no more than three.  Levels are mostly straightforward affairs that run, at most, five minutes long.
The result is a game that says, "system limitations should have prevented me from existing." A game like Ultimate Alliance is probably better suited to the DS than the GBA.  The game you get is decent for what it is, but it is almost a misrepresentation of the game it has been derived from.  On its own, the game is a very simple, side scrolling smash 'em up with Marvel characters.  The plot is minimal and not terribly fluid, but the base action is decent enough, if controls are a bit sluggish at times.  A few more special abilities would have been nice, even at the cost of the special characters. Graphics are decent, the characters look like who they are supposed to, and the game play music is forgettable at best.  The biggest problem lies in the length of the game: it is incredibly short.  As a complete novice, I was able to complete the game in just over two hours.  I highly suspect that the brevity of the game is the result of the effort to pack as much into the game as possible.  Sadly the result is an overall less than amazing experience.

At the end of the day, Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the GBA is certainly worth the $5 I paid for it, however I would say that paying much more for it would be fairly disappointing.  If you see this game cheap, you like Marvel Super-heroes, and want a quick beat 'em-up, then go for it.  If you want a port of Ultimate Alliance for a handheld system, give this one a pass.

See you next month!

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