Wednesday, September 16, 2009

MUA2: first impressions

When superheroes split apart, forming opposing factions to fight for the cause they feel is right; when hero battles hero with no quarter given even if they had been the closest of allies before, we have a Civil War on our hands and literally so with "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2" for the Wii.

Gameplay is in a similar format from the original MUA, a 4-hero team of which the player controls one hero, teaming up with the other three to fight waves of enemies. There are basic melee punches and kicks, custom superpowers (special attacks and buffs) for each hero, and the latest addition to the game: "fusion powers" by which team members combine their special abilities in a devastating attack against enemy hoardes. Fusion powers have limited usage, so there's a strategic element in choosing when to use them, and with whom.

The tone of MUA2 seems slightly more serious too. The opening sequences set New York amidst a massive terrorist attack, the perpetrator and her army spouting clearly anti-American sentiments. However, her attack is not unprovoked and this revelation begins unravelling the seam that ties the heroes to a common cause, and sows deep-rooted mistrust against each other.

The player has to choose which side to fight on, Iron-Man's pro-government side or Captain America's personal freedom side. Two sides to choose from allows for two separate story threads with separate missions, and great potential for replayability after playing one story through. Other replayability factors are the vast array of superhero team combinations and their resulting fusion power effects, the strategic use of item buffs (so many items, what's the best combination to use for which situation?) and alternate costumes among the many other unlockables including more heroes to use in the team roster.

Wii controls between MUA and MUA2 are a little different from each other and I have to get used to the new controls. My fingers have to be retrained to use them properly. Less shake for example, and more thumbs-on button mashing.

In MUA2, the isometric perspective brings us a little closer to the action so it's easier to observe character animations, though it's still easy to lose your character in the onscreen chaos. Also for the Wii, activating fusion powers involves pointing the wiimote at the hero you want to "fusion" with and finding the cursor to match with your desired hero can sometimes be a challenge because of the short time limit to "fusion", and sometimes because the hero is out of position for the most effective use of that power. Kids are more likely than grumpy old me to be able to keep track of everything going on at once and make the best of the fusion effect. Me, I'll just do it for the pretty colours.

In between the fighting are cinematic cutscenes that stitch the story together and sets up the next mission. There is decent voice acting, but what I like about the cutscenes, oddly enough, is the superheroes' costumes. The heroes look like they are really wearing clothes and not just having painted-over nude bodies because the artist can't be bothered with such details. The cutscenes make an interesting contrast with the results screens that appear at the end of each mission. The results stats appear on stylized renderings as 2-D artwork which is reminiscent of the comic book medium that inspired the game. Nice touch, I think.

As it is, I've only had time to play through the Prologue. Even then at 'Easy' setting the Boss battle was quite a trial and error -- until I figured out the rules of the game I was supposed to be playing. It was a matter of matching verbal instructions with the automap with the onscreen action, which took my brain a bit more time than usual to process. Duh, slow. But I think I've got the hang of it now.

MUA2 promises to be a fun romp through a dark period in the Marvel archives. I've only scratched the surface of what feels like a ripping story, and there's the other side yet to be explored. That's gonna keep me occupied for a while. 'Arkham Asylum' (released on the same day) will have to wait.

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