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Marvel Ultimate Alliance
Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Hero dungeon crawls are all the rage this season with the big two comic publishers squaring off, putting their best heroes on the line. While DC is letting players take the Justice League for a spin around the universe, Marvel is letting players take a sizable portion of their roster for a ride with Marvel Ultimate Alliance. As is usually the case with the whole superhero gig, the console versions have been getting most of the attention, but the PSP versions is around and ready to show that it is no mere sidekick.

Though there are some downgrades, the PSP version of Ultimate Alliance is on par with the current-gen console versions of the game. Rather than using the 360 version’s darker palette, the PSP version is much brighter and has a deeper, inkier look. Characters all look and move like you would expect and even showcase multiple costumes, chronicling the various looks the heroes have had over the years in both the 616 and Ultimate continuities. Most of the game is viewed through a mostly isometric view that shifts around to follow the action, sometimes even going for dramatic shots when it suits the gameplay. Levels are packed with details and have their own distinct feel. The plains of Asgard have a look befitting the land of the gods, while Stark Tower is every bit the sleek, attention-grabbing icon Tony Stark would want it to be.

The soundtrack is varied and amazing. Every level has its own set of themes that fit with the environments. Voice acting doesn’t fare as well. Characters have only a handful of comments, a few of which are flat-out poorly written. Combined with the voice acting, they make the characters feel more like cliché spitting "Who Wants to be a Superhero" rejects rather than Marvel’s mightiest.

Things begin on a grim note in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Dr. Doom has formed the Masters of Evil, a coalition of some of the Marvel Universe’s worst villains. Their first act is to attack a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, prompting Nick Fury to call upon the world’s superheroes to help divert the attack. After saving the world from a nuclear disaster, Fury enlists the heroes to help track down and thwart Doom’s plans.

As the game starts, you begin with the team of Captain America, Wolverine, Thor and Spider-Man. Once you’ve completed Fury’s first mission, you are given the option of creating your own team from a group of heroes including The Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Deadpool. As you play through the game, you’ll add to the roster of available heroes by unlocking characters like Blade, Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider. The PSP version also throws in three exclusive characters: Captain Marvel, Ronin and Hawkeye.

The roster of available heroes is extensive, to the point where it can sometimes be hard to decide which four you want to take with you. To counter this, all available characters level up as you go through the game. Unused Characters will not be as strong as those you use a lot, though they are still strong enough that you can easily swap to them during a game and not suffer a massive disadvantage.

All of the included characters have their own unique abilities and powers, so there are none that are simple palette swaps. As characters level up, they earn skill points that can then be used to upgrade their special moves. Each has a selection of abilities at their disposal, so one player’s Spider-Man might be different than another’s. Also, you aren’t locked into the abilities you choose to upgrade, so if you decide you don’t like a particular ability, you aren’t stuck with it.

Characters also have a set of four stats (health, energy, XP gain…) that you can upgrade using S.H.I.E.L.D. tokens. All of the characters have alternate costumes that are unlocked by playing with them. Each costume has a different set of four stats, allowing for a little more flexibility when deciding which roles your characters will play. For example, if you want Captain America to act as your tank, you might select a costume that favors Health and Strength over one that promotes agility and energy.

When selecting which characters to use, you can either create a pre-existing team, like the Fantastic Four or Avengers, or create your own user-created team. Playing as a named team gives your characters additional advantages that level up similar to character abilities. Once you choose a team the membership is stuck, so if you don’t like a particular character you’re stuck, at least until you unlock additional roster slots. There are even a number of secret teams that you can unlock by combining certain characters in a group.

After selecting a team, Ultimate Alliance follows the same core gameplay as any other dungeon crawl. You control your team through a series of maze-like levels defeating hordes of enemies and leveling up. The story takes you nearly everywhere in the Marvel Universe, from Namor’s underwater kingdom to Mephisto’s Realm to a planet about to be consumed by Galactus. Generally, levels are well crafted, though there are some rough spots, like Mephisto’s Realm, which feels way too long and borders on being cheap towards the end.

Both ad hoc and infrastructure modes are available. Playing with the A.I. is fun; playing with friends is even better.

I came into the PSP version of Marvel Ultimate Alliance after completing the 360 version of the game – so I didn’t find the PSP version all that hard. However, based on my experience with other versions, pacing is mostly well handled. Most levels are easy to tear through if you’re smart about your team’s makeup and learn to use their abilities. At the same time, one or two levels (like Mephisto’s Realm) border on frustrating. There’s nothing fun about having to fight a challenging mini-boss, only to walk into a room with a never-ending swarm of enemies and then have to face a boss with no save point between.

Puzzles are also thrown into the mix at times, with their difficulty ranging from very easy to obscure and annoying. Regardless, Ultimate Alliance is still a fun game that you’ll want to keep going back to.

Game Mechanics:
Even with the superpowers, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is still a hack n’ slash dungeon crawl at heart. When not using powers, attacks consist primarily of button-mashing and basic combos. Some enemies can only be damaged by certain combos, adding a twist to gameplay. Though it adds challenge and a slight bit of depth to gameplay, it can also become incredibly annoying when you are facing off against a number of enemies and can’t seem to get the perfect timing down.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance may not be the most innovative of games, nor is it the most impressive – but it is a solid, fun game. If you are a Marvel fan or just like fun action games, pick this one up.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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