Ben 10: Alien Force
Developer: Monkey Bar Games
Genre: Beat’em Up
Release Date: 10/28/08
I would wager that a significant portion of those reading this are familiar with Cartoon Network’s Ben 10, either the original or the new series, Alien Force. For the uninitiated, Ben Tennyson started the series as a fairly average 10 year old boy. During a camping trip, Ben finds the Omnitrix, a sort of Green Lantern ring for the preteen set. The Omnitrix affixes to his arm and grants the rather Golden Age DC power to turn into one of 10 alien creatures, each with it’s own special powers. Along with his hep grandpa Max and the requisite redheaded sidekick, in the guise of his female cousin Gwen, Ben traveled the countryside in the Rust Bucket, righting wrongs and catching aliens.
The Alien Force series features a more mature 15 year old Ben and Gwen, along with a mostly reformed Kevin Levin, taking on the Highbreed aliens and the returning Forever Knights. Pretty easy to get into if you have ever read a comic book. Speaking of comic books, the series has a nice modern comic book look, reminiscent of Mike Allred. At least that is what I say when people catch me watching Ben 10…
The plot of Ben 10: ALIEN FORCE the Game is pretty straight forward. Well, except for the underage kids hanging out with an arms dealer in his Super Camaro… Anyway, the storyline goes something like this: bad guys want super powerful alien tech, you try to stop them. Basic, easy, and perfectly acceptable. What is not perfectly acceptable is the way this plot is passed along to you. Ben 10 has pretty nice cel animation, so why does the game have truly mind meltingly awful looking CG cut-scenes? I mean, the animation is right there. Chop up an old episode or three, spring for some new stuff. Heck, they could have used Post-It notes to tell the storyline in a less nightmarish manner. The cut-scene versions of the characters, especially Gwen, are disturbing. The character designs are nice enough to be used as is, so this choice makes no sense.
See what I mean?
Anyway, when you get past the (horrible) opening cut-scene, the real gameplay kicks in. The set up is mostly basic side scrolling beat’em up 101. Your initial character, Ben Tennyson, has a weak attack, a strong attack, a block, and a jump. Oh, and if you push C and tap the Wiimote to your wrist, he kinda, well, turns into an alien soldier. That’s different enough, I suppose. As Swampfire of Big Chill, you gain a ranged attack and, eventually, combos. Combos are unlocked by collecting chips that fly out of defeated foes, a mechanic 10 years older than 99% percent of the people who will be playing this. God, I’m getting old. The good news is that the combat is pretty quick and responsive and inoffensive. The bad news can be summed up in one word: platforming.
Why the makers of beat’em up games see fit to weld a platforming section onto their games I will never understand. I am here to pound faceless hordes of ninjas/ Forever Knights/ street punks/ McDonalds employees/ angry Boston Bruins fans. I am not playing a beat’em up game so that I can flail about, trying in vain to hit a platform. Yes, Ben 10: ALIEN FORCE has double jumping, infinite lives, and endless continues, but these are a panacea to allay the pain and suffering caused by the platforming. The best solution would have been to leave the awful platforming bits on the developer’s hard drive.
On the subject of control, there is also the small matter of two-player co-operative play. This feature is one I most look forward in games, especially on the Wii, a system made for social gaming. The co-op mostly works with a few rookie mistakes muddying the water. The first issue is that each player has to play as the same character. The exact same character, down to the color of their clothing. In the middle of a brawl, it is impossible to figure out which green shirted teenager is your own. At least when it’s a Ben stage you can select different aliens, unless you are working on a puzzle requiring both players to be the same character. The other, more crippling, problem with co-op is the way that the camera goes mostly insane when the first player misses platforms but doesn’t die. This can leave both players hung up, trying to free themselves from a morass of polygonal limbo.
The in game graphics are nice enough. The aliens are easily recognizable, the special attacks look special enough, and there are a few really choice combos. The Kevin Levin segments are ugly, but that is mostly due to the uninteresting look of the character and how hard it can be to tell what form he is in at any given moment. In a perfect world, the Kevin stages would not be there. If only there were more usable characters they could have used. Oh wait…
My number one pet peeve with this game is this: the series is called Ben 10, not Ben 5. I hate that I am stuck with the uninspiring Kevin and Gwen stages, but Ben only gets half of his alien forms. Three additional forms pop up in the DS version, but that is still only eight. This sort of questionable decision making mars an otherwise average game.
The music is unobtrusive. The voices are superb. Ben quips almost as well as he does on the show, with the same kind of self-awareness that makes the character likable in other mediums. If the cut-scenes weren’t so heinous, the voice acting would probably seem even better, but I have not been this put off by cut-scenes since Line Rider 2: Unbound.
Control and Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal Factor: GOOD
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE
Short Attention Span Summary
For fans of the show, this game is a fun diversion, with enough unlockables to get a few quality hours out of it. If you are not a fan of the show, this is a highly average beat’em up with few redeeming features. At full retail, this is a hard sell to anyone, but it is a quality rental with a couple days of co-op fun, for the patient. You could definitely do better, but I know you could do worse.