This year, Joss Whedon impressed the hell out of everyone with The Avengers – arguably one of the greatest and most successful superhero movies yet. Now that the holidays are upon us, the Blu-ray has hit the shelves and was closely followed by an Avengers videogame. Does Ubisoft’s Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth rise above the normal (horrid) quality of videogames based on superhero movies? While not the game we might have been hoping for, I think that it is pretty good, and deserves a look.
Battle for Earth is not really based on the movies; it seems more inspired by the comic book stories (the Skrull invasion of Earth) – and it also has a much larger roster than the film did. The fact that there is no direct movie tie-in might have been a surprise were it not for every other Avengers character movie-tie in being the equivalent of the scrapings off of the rim of a well-used toilet. To put it into perspective: even the menus of Battle for Earth are better than most of the previous Avengers character movie videogames.
And how can that be? How can a motion-based game obviously created for a more casual audience trump more “hardcore” experiences? The answer is simple: production value. Ubisoft really put a lot of work into this game. In a way, this is really like a spiritual successor to a 2011 Ubisoft title called PowerUp Heroes, which was actually quite good. For one thing, Battle for Earth is pure fighting. The plot is practically nonexistent and is revealed by brief motion-comic-style clips and intense level introductions by one of the characters. I’m not really sure how important a plot would be to a casual gamer; really, this game probably goes a long way with a larger demographic due to the uncomplicated story and direct mission assignments. In any case, the only thing you need to know is that there are clones of the good guys that must be put down – a simple explanation for why Marvel heroes would fight each other*.
But if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you kneed.
Menu selections are made using the select-and-swipe method; or, you can say “assemble!”, which triggers the voice-activated commands. Both options work very well – and so they should: Kinect has been around for a while now, so the interface glitches should be worked out. What is great about the Avengers game is that the level of precision related to the gesture controls doesn’t stop at the menus – it continues on into the game-play.
All moves are done with Kinect (no gamepad control whatsoever); on-screen prompts indicate what moves are available using easy-to-understand figures – all the player has to do is copy the diagrams and time their attacks and defenses. There are basic attacks: punching motion for simple melee or ranged attacks; raise a knee to initiate a kick. There are also Super-attacks that are performed by slightly more complicated gestures (in two stages). Super attacks require a recharge once used (time based) while combo-breaking and ultra attacks require you to do damage (or take it), which fill up your Breaker/Ultra meter. Stringing combos together is a matter of initiating your next attack as your previous one ends; the more combos you can chain, the faster your Breaker/Ultra meter fills up.
The Ultra attack starts with a cinematic of a major assault (triggered by a jumping motion), followed by the opportunity to do some follow up damage by harnessing the power of your fists and punching like a mad person. Super kicks (fully-charged kicks) can also be used to launch your opponent into the air to perform similar follow-up battering action. While it can be silly to watch, the player involved is experiencing a totally fun level of immersion that one doesn’t really get from a traditional brawler.
Iron Man performs cosmetic surgery on Thor.
Breakers interrupt your opponent and cause them to suffer some knock-back damage – they are an effective way to dodge while giving something back; but the jumping action to trigger them is a bit involved. The only other way to dodge is to lean left or right. Also, since the fighting is done by teams (duos), you can “tag” between fighters by raising your left hand. This causes your other fighter to swap places with your current one, and is a really effective way to continue a combo chain (your timing has to be pretty damned good, though).
This game-play requires some memory-work to be implemented effectively. Since everyone’s trigger mechanisms are not necessarily the same, the player has to ensure that they memorize at least some of the moves so that they can perform an uninterrupted combo. This really adds to the fun and the “authenticity” of the powers, as the motions required to activate certain moves are appropriate to each character. Want to shoot a repulsor beam when you’re Iron Man? Shove your hand out. Want to throw a giant boulder as the Hulk? Just do the motions!
Graphics are appropriate for the genre – bright colours and strong edging really make this feel like a comic book come to life. Voice samples and music are a bit repetitive, but that is forgivable given that you will be concentrating on not having a heart attack as you contort your body into poses of destruction. Animation is smooth and the special effects are comic-bookish.
No matter how you slice it, this can’t possibly end well for Black Widow.
While fun, the action can get somewhat repetitive. With the plot being as thin as it is, you’ll eventually realize that the game is just fight after fight after fight – with not too many move options for each character. This could be a problem if you were forced to play it for a long time – but luckily we were born with free will and can choose to play this in smaller doses, keeping the enjoyment high. Replay comes in the form of experience, which is earned for fighting. With twenty different characters, multiple game modes (including online co-op and competitive) and variant costumes, you may find yourself enjoying this game for a lot longer than is expected.
Ubosift’s Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is a fun Kinect fighting game that looks great, has good audio, and is fun to play. If you enjoy the Marvel universe and don’t mind some occasionally repetitive game-play and audio, then you will like this game. Solid Kinect controls contribute to a positive experience overall (most likely aided by a limited move set). Pick this up if you want to try a different kind of brawler, or if you liked PowerUp heroes and want to experience the next stage in its evolution. If jumping around and sweating are not your bag, you might want to take a pass and leave the fun to more experienced twitchy people.