In today’s fantastical pop culture realm, superheroes reign supreme. Every summer, our eyes and ears are treated to multi-million dollar tales based on popular characters from comic book lore. The list is massive, and sitting atop its popularity throne is The Avengers – a great cinematic experience that was expertly directed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. Employing a great cast and expensive technology to give life to several of Earth’s mightiest ink drafted saviors, the blockbuster took a stronghold on a large majority of the movie-going populace, and for good reason.
What’s surprising is that a big budget video game adaptation wasn’t released alongside the film, which is abnormal in today’s world. However, into the movie’s theatrical run, we learned about Marvel Avengers: Battle For Earth. Designed as a superhero fighter, the motion-controlled title allows fans to pick from twenty different characters, which can be mixed and matched into powerful duos. Using limb gestures, they come to life, and battle it out on screen using elemental, physical and technological abilities taken straight out of the books. That way, the user gets to become characters like Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Hulk, Venom and my personal favourite, Captain America.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth doesn’t follow the film it’s loosely tied to. Instead, the Kinect and Wii U release tasks players with battling against an alien force known as the Skrull. The maniacal group is hell-bent on taking over our world, and they’ve set about doing so through multiple avenues. First off, its force – which includes shape-shifters and alien versions of Marvel’s heroes – has attempted to create a negative space portal inside of Avengers HQ, which would wipe the building out instantaneously. If that’s not enough, they’ve also tried to brainwash, confuse and defeat the good guys in other regions, including jungle badlands, outer space and Times Square. All of the stories tie in to the final outcome, but they act as individual mini tales until then.
The two to three hour-long campaign is split into two parts, but it’s done in a basic and understandable way. Each one of the mini stories includes eight fights, all of which basically take place in the same, progressively damaged location. During part one, only their first four conflicts are available for players to tackle. Then, following the completion of those twenty encounters, the next twenty open up with story updates. It’s an interesting way to structure a fighting game’s main mode, and it works well, thanks to decent voice acting, relatively interesting storytelling and quality comic book panels.
On top of the aforementioned narrative-focused gameplay option, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth boasts a bevy of interactive choices. You’ll find the required arcade mode, a two-player versus setting, a brief tutorial, three or four player tournaments and three types of challenges, including character, tutorial and test chambers. Needless to say, there’s quite a bit to bite into, and that’s a list that doesn’t contain any mention of online play, which is also available, complete with leaderboard support. That will surely make people happy, as will the fact that two-player co-op is available in different modes, including the campaign.
Unlike its peers, this fighting experience is able to support co-op because of its gameplay structure, which sees teams of two competing against each other. Players can switch between their heroes (or villains) almost instantly, by raising their left hand, which is helpful whenever death is imminent. In fact, switching a character out can allow him to heal if part of his health bar is red, as opposed to clear. Therein lies a lot of the inherent strategy found within what is a rather basic and accessible combat system that superior players will be able to master. That is, if they can remember to move their body out of the way of every attack. I kept forgetting to do so.
How things work is rather simple. To start, you pick your team, or the game does it for you. Then, you enter an arena and stand directly across from one of the enemy team’s members. Attacks are mapped to certain motions, though they’re not always the same with every character. Some, like the ranged basic attack, can always be executed by punching forward, while others require more advanced gestures, like crossed arms, an upward then downward swipe and more. As mentioned above, it’s all rather simple, with jumping being the most strenuous of the required actions.
The game’s move list is categorized, though those categories aren’t displayed during battle. You’ll learn about them as you progress, or through tutorial challenges, and will quickly get used to how things work. As with any fighting game, you have your basic, advanced, special and ultra attacks. We’ve already discussed the first list item, so we’ll move on to the advanced and special attacks, which employ the characters’ unique abilities through the use of slightly more challenging gestures. Then there’s the ultra attacks, which become available once a metre is filled through dishing out and taking damage. When it’s half full, the player can jump to use a breaker, allowing he or she to knock the enemy over. However, it’s best to let it completely fill up, because that sets the table for ultra attacks.
In theory, the ultra attacks should be the highlight of the game, but they’re not as exceptional as expected. The reason is that each one boils down to the same thing: the character in use attacks the enemy with a unique, skill-based hit, such as Ice Man’s ultra ice blast, then proceeds to close quarters pummeling. Following the original impact, the foe is sent hurtling into the air – something which can also be accomplished through a powered-up kick – which provides a brief window wherein a flurry of punches can be sent towards the unconscious baddie.
For the most part, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is an enjoyable and well-made experience, but it does have some issues. To start, Kinect had some trouble picking up my jumps, which left me open for some hard-hitting attacks. Going further, the odd frame rate issue was noticeable, and the presented enemy A.I. was occasionally suspect. At times, the challenger would counter my sliding kicks by sticking a leg out. However, there was more than one occasion where I was able to exploit the game by repeatedly kicking without any repercussions. Other than those problems, my lengthy review session went over well, and I was slightly impressed with the motion tracking, apart from its frustrating jump detection skills.
As the previous descriptors have mentioned, this fighter doesn’t cater towards the seasoned folk who value stiff competition through online and physical tournament means. In actuality, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is geared more towards children, and that audience will surely get a kick out of becoming Marvel heroes and villains. It’s that market which will find a lot of replay value on this retail disc, thanks to unlockable characters, costumes and collector cards, not to mention its experience point based ranking system. One of the game’s most prestigious achievements is actually tied to achieving its top rank, which will take a long time to do.
Employing colourful, cel-shaded visuals, Ubisoft Quebec’s brand new offering is a lot nicer-looking than most licensed titles. Its character stable is filled with detailed renditions of heroes and villains that happen to look like they’ve been pulled out of a modern comic book, with decent animations that tie into the game’s slower-paced battle system and its limited combo options. Complementing that artistic look is decent voice acting, which comes into play during pre-fight briefings, ever-important move announcements and character one-liners, the latter of which became annoying due to a lack of variety.
Fans of the Marvel universe who are in the market for a new Kinect game should consider picking up Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth. While it’s not a top-tier fighter or anything revolutionary, the provided experience is a competent detour from the genre’s norm, which would be more enjoyable if its jump registration was better. Still, even with that problem accounted for, interested parties can look forward to a decent experience, which may make it more difficult to get superhero-loving children to go to bed at the correct time.
This review is based on the Xbox 360/Kinect version of the game, which we were provided with.