Game: Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U
Reviewed on: Wii U
If you’re a fan of Marvel comics – and many more likely are since the recent hash of movies like Iron Man, Thor and, obviously, The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, or whatever it was actually called – the one with Samuel L. Jackson in it. No, wait…) you’ll likely have read those issues and graphic novels and books dealing with the Secret Invasion storyline, circa 2008. The basic premise is that a race of shape-shifting alien beings called the Skrulls have invaded Earth by assuming the identities of several superheroes and villains, leading to a large scale war between the New Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D, various other superhero contingents and the Skrulls themselves.
It’s this handy storyline that forms the basis of Ubisoft’s masked mash-up, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth (originally released onto Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and more recently onto Nintendo’s Wii U), giving them an ideal excuse to pit hero against hero or villain against villain without having to worry about allegiances.
Unfortunately, unlike the comic line from which it draws inspiration, the game’s plot is paper-thin and barely coherent. The campaign – which can be played either solo or in co-op – is nothing but a series of two-on-two bouts loosely woven together by short, pointed narrative bytes in between. The potential for some kind of storyline a la say, NeverSoft’s Mortal Kombat or even the cringe-worthy Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, is completely squandered, and Battle for Earth simply throws you into the thick of it and expects you not to ask “Why?” too loudly. And the truth is you probably won’t.
This is not a game made for complex character building and deep contemplation; it’s a brawler, and as a brawler it appears at first to possess all the necessary ingredients: Collection of otherworldly combatants with bizarre, unique gifts? Check. A variety of locations recognisable to franchise fans and at least interesting to newcomers? Check. Deep, complex combat system requiring nimble dexterity and cat-quick reflexes to fully master? Che– Er, actually, no. Don’t check that one.
The central conceit of Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth – and indeed any dedicated fighting game – is the one thing that lets it down the most: The actual fighting. The problem isn’t that it isn’t fun – because it really is, at least at first – but that it’s so woefully limited. Each character has a paltry three special moves, rounded off with a special launcher kick and forward attack universal to all. That’s your lot – five moves that barely vary across a roster of 20 combatants. And not only are they incredibly generic, they’re also incredibly easy to master. This being the port of a Kinect/PlayStation Move title, the controls in the Nintendo version are mapped either to a Wiimote-and-Nunchuck set-up or the main screen of the Wii U’s Game Pad.
Playing on the former is a little unwieldy given the speed of the combat, but it’s not particularly complicated. In the bottom right corner of the screen are three little hexagonal symbols, which represent your special moves. Pushing left, up or right on the Wiimote’s D-Pad will select one, and then to perform it you simply have to move your arms in whichever direction it tells you – invariably straight up, down or forwards. Regardless of which character you select, you’ll repeat these three movements until repetitive strain injury kicks in and you switch to the GamePad. The Nunchuck’s trigger will switch between your tag-team partners, while pushing the stick forwards will activate your launcher kick, allowing you to leap up after sending your opponent skywards and hammer their face in on the way back down (again, this move is universal across all 20 fighters). Added to the slim roster of moves is a left-right dodge and a basic attack activated by thrusting the Wiimote forwards. There’s a small amount of strategy involved, as each of the three attacks work better against a particular opposite in a Rock/Paper/Scissors kind of way, but I finished the Arcade mode three times in a row without ever bothering to learn which move is best against what, so I’d suggest it isn’t essential. Each character also has an Ultra bar which fills up as you fight; at the halfway mark you’ll unlock a Breaker move to disrupt your opponent’s combos, and when it’s full your Ultra move will unlock, allowing you to obliterate a good third of their health bar in one fell swoop.
Using the GamePad feels slightly more innovative than the Wiimote, if no less shallow. This time you can perform every move with just a stylus (or a fingertip, if you like), as tapping a special move icon will display a pattern on-screen that you have to copy to execute the move. These maneuvers vary far more than the Wiimote gestures, but the ultimate premise remains the same. Oddly, when playing on the GamePad the action will switch to the smaller screen and won’t be watchable on the TV unless you use the Wiimote to change the camera. It’s not a major issue, but it does seem a strange choice for Ubisoft not to simply include a camera switch option in the pause menu. It’s also worth noting that if you use the GamePad, you’ll manage to get in a lot more punches during a Special Kick or Ultra move by tapping the screen with the stylus than you would by simulating punches with the Wiimote, essentially making the fights that bit easier if you use the Pad.
To be perfectly fair, though, Battle for Earth does seem to have its heart in the right place. The visuals, for example, are lovely; bright, cartoonish characters and colourful environments are easy on the eyes, and character animations are slick and responsive enough. Each fighter is well-represented and, while certain heroes and villains are more recognisable than others (most would take Wolverine over Dr. Strange, for example), credit should be given to Ubisoft for not simply packing it full of X-Men and The Fantastic Four. Including characters like Scarlett Witch and Queen Veranke is a smart move, even if other protagonists of the Secret Invasion story are notably absent (Mr. Fantastic, Wasp and Nick Fury are all missing). Perhaps there will be future DLC, as there’s already an option to buy secondary costumes for some characters through the eShop.
On the face of it, it would appear that Battle for Earth is packed full of content. The main campaign is quite hefty for a brawler, but it will almost certainly run out of steam and ways to hold your interest long before you reach the credits. Beside it there’s a standard Arcade mode, a 3 or 4-player tournament mode, and a collection of challenge modes. These challenges come in three flavours: Training asks you to complete mini tutorials, Character challenges give you fighter-specific tasks to overcome such as performing particular combos several times, and Trials will put you through the paces with a variety of combos, counters and special moves to perform. While it’s nothing unusual to hide unlockable alternate costumes away behind such optional challenges, Ubisoft’s decision to make only half of the full roster of characters playable from the get-go seems a little arbitrary, though it does pad the game out by a few more hours if you decide you simply must unlock everything.
VERDICT: Ultimately, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is not a terrible game. Aimed at a younger audience than most brawlers, it provides a simple, effective combat system and a decent-sized roster of recognisable characters (with a few obscure faces thrown in for the sake of balance). If it wasn’t so limited, or was able to at least provide some real variety it might have been far better. As it is, it’s simply too repetitive and too lackluster. Being forced to perform the same moves over and over again regardless of which character you select is, at best, tedious, at worst downright lazy on Ubisoft Quebec’s part.
The greatest shame is that there is a decent game in there somewhere. My first few hours spent with Battle for Earth were great fun. I laughed, cheered, cursed and generally had a good old time – but then I found that, quite all of a sudden, I’d mastered the combat system, perfected the linking of combos and seen pretty much everything the game had to offer. After just four hours of play, I had gotten everything from Battle for Earth that I was ever going to get. For a younger audience, it’s a decent enough title, and in co-op or versus mode there is genuine fun to be had – but played alone in any mode against the poor AI, it’s an incredibly shallow experience. The worst thing is that the premise, the universe, the storyline and the Wii U’s abilities could have produced something so much more memorable. Just like the Secret Invasion from which it takes its inspiration, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is likely to go unnoticed by the majority of gamers; and Ubisoft Quebec have only themselves to blame.