WoQW: Ultimate Alliance vs. My Spare Time

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Here at the Inside Pulse family of websites, we usually let the fine folks at Not a True Ending handle the video game reviews. However I believe that Marvel Ultimate Alliance has subtleties that we here at The Nexus are best left to appreciate.

Superhero videogames are pretty much a hit & miss affair. For every Spider-Man on the PS1 there’s an Superman 64. For every Marvel vs. Capcom 2 there’s an X-Men: Mutant Academy. Now superhero fans are asked to choose between Warner Brothers’ “Justice League Heroes,” and Activision’s “Marvel Ultimate Alliance.” I have yet to play Justice League Heroes, but over at Not A True Ending you can read William Quinn’s Review. While Justice League Heroes is generally regarded as a solid, but unspectacular first effort Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a bigger and better version of Activision’s earlier X-Men: Legends action RPGs.

Ultimate Alliance Logo Boasting over 20 characters players can choose between, Marvel’s three biggest superhero teams (The X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four) are well represented. Additionally each character has four different alternate costumes and players are given the option of building their own superhero team. Want to team up Beta Ray Bill as Thor with the Daredevil in his yellow & red costume? You can do that. While these variations do affect your stats, they do little affect their offensive powers so your Julia Carpenter Spider-Woman plays essentially the same as Jessica Drew. While most of the characters are available from the start of the game some are unlocked after certain events unfold in the plot. Daredevil and Black Panther can only be used after finding action figures hidden along the game’s five acts. Finally there are some characters that are exclusive to certain consoles. The PSP version includes four exclusive characters: Black Widow, Captain Marvel (Genis-Vell), Hawkeye, and Ronin. X-Box 360 owners meanwhile can play with Moon Knight and Colossus. Some heroes like Hank Pym and The Vision meanwhile a relegated to merely being on the sidelines of the game. Supporting characters like Tony Stark’s butler Jarvis, Dr. Strange’s manservant Wong, and even Deadpool’s nerdy associate Weasel figure the plot.

The plot of Ultimate Alliance is an remarkably complicated affair revolving around Doctor Doom forming an all-new version of the Masters of Evil so he steal some experimental super soldier serum, a mind control device, and a mutant amplifier so he can”¦ well you’ll just have to see for yourself. Along the way you’ll visit many corners of the Marvel Universe from the depths of Atlantis, to the far reaches of Shi’ar Empire. Strangely the only time our heroes will spend in New York, the traditional stomping ground of Marvel characters, is in-between missions at Stark Tower and Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum.

Like the earlier X-Men Legends games (as well as Justice League Heroes) Ultimate Alliance is an Action/RPG game in which players control groups of four superheroes brawling against legions of foes. After defeating dozens of robots, AIM goons, and trolls you’ll eventually run into some bona fide super-villains to face off with starting with minor guys like The Scorpion before working your way up to giant-sized bosses like Fin Fang Foom! Conventional slug-fests often won’t work against the big bad guys and creative use of surroundings or “God of War” style button pushing combinations are sometimes implemented.

screenshot from ultimate alliance

What keeps the game from falling into the repetitive trap of such repetative beat-em-ups as Batman: Rise of Sin-Tzu is great deal of being able to customize your characters and the respective super powers you want to use. If you want Wolverine to focus on his melee attacks or ability boosting powers it’s up to you. Multiple players can team-up to conquer levels together, or play in an “Arcade” mode where players compete for the title of “Most Valuable Hero.” Online play is also offered.

“Until I can make Araña team up with Rom the Space Knight, Devil Dinosaur, and Shang-Chi the perfect Superhero RPG remains out of reach, before that time comes I‘ll be happily playing Ultimate Alliance.”

One of the minor downsides though is that sometimes the characte’s powers seem to shoe-horned in to fit into the conventions of a video game. Am I really going to believe that Ms. Marvel needs to find a key to open a wooden door? While being able to grab weapons on the ground is a nice touch, it seems absurd that a common sledgehammer does more damage than Tho’s Mjolnir? Also there’s a few minor camera and platforming glitches in which sometimes result in characters getting stuck. Also if you’re going to make Luke Cage’s 70s costume available, you should put Iron Fist in the game dammit!

Still the pros outweigh the cons. While it’s possible to plow through the game in around 20 hours or so, failure to carry out certain optional missions, or making wrong decision will affect the storyline, sometimes to disastrous affect (like wiping out the West Coast.) Some scenes also play off differently depending on which characters are in your party. There’s also a lot of unlockable tidbits hidden within the game ranging from concept artwork of the characters to solo missions where you can win more character skins. There’s even a trivia game on each act which will allow you to test your knowledge of the Marvel Universe.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance isn’t a perfect game, but it’s come the closest an action RPG on a consol system has come to capturing the look and feel of a superhero adventure. It’s the kind of game that can cause you to disappear for several says and is even better played with friends.

Still I can’t help but wonder what kind of improvements Activision might place in future sequel. Maybe we’ll see the roster of heroes expanded to represent newer characters like the Young Avengers and Runaways. Perhaps we’ll see an adaptation of Marvel’s current Civil War event storyline with different rosters of character and different plots based on which side you’ll choose. Also a character creation mode would be a fairly awesome feature.

Until I can make Araña team up with Rom the Space Knight, Devil Dinosaur, and Shang-Chi the perfect Superhero RPG remains out of reach, that time comes I‘ll be happily playing Ultimate Alliance.