Review: Ben 10: Omniverse (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Ben 10: Omniverse
Genre: Action
Developer: Monkey Bar Games
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: 11/13/12

I have a generally vague understanding of the Ben 10 series; aside from knowing that it’s been on TV somewhere around seven years, I’ve been exposed to it all of once, in Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Cosmic Destruction, a video game that was simultaneously not terribly illuminating and not very good. The concept always seemed like one that would lend itself well to a video game theme, however, as a super-powered kid who can transform into powerful alien forms seems tailor made for gaming, though so did Avatar and that doesn’t make The Burning Earth any better. Ben 10: Omniverse marks the seventh attempt to bring the Ben 10 franchise into the digital realm, and the fourth game in the series developed by Vicious Cycle Software subsidiary Monkey Bar Games. Cosmic Destruction, developed by Papaya Studio, was a single player affair that focused more on being a simple third person action game focused on Ben and his alien transformations. Omniverse, on the other hand, can more readily be compared to Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, as it’s more of a one or two-player beat-em-up that focuses on beating up enemies and the odd smattering of puzzles here and there, and as such, it’s a much better experience. It’s certainly geared more toward younger gamers, mind you, so you’re not going to get anything extensive or complex here, but the game is generally fun, if nothing else, and it does a fine enough job of making a game where a kid can transform into freaky aliens interesting, so that’s something, at least.

For those who, like myself, aren’t well acclimated to the franchise, Ben 10 follows the exploits of one Ben Tennyson, who finds a device called the Omnimatrix, which, when worn, allows him to transform into various alien forms to do… whatever he’s going to do at the time. In the Omniverse series, Ben is working with a Plumber (basically this universe’s answer to the Men in Black) named Rook, as his friends have headed off to college, which is usually the point in a franchise where Fonzie starts putting on his water skis, so to say. As the game begins, Ben and Rook are working through a Plumber test simulation, which goes horribly wrong and ends up messing up the time stream as a result, sticking Rook with eleven year old Ben. This causes all sorts of problems for both Bens as a result when Malware ends up getting his hands on Rook’s Proto-Tool, thus making him massively powerful in the past, and in turn making him nearly godlike in the future, which both Bens and Rook have to undo, somehow. As game plots go, this one’s adequate, as you’ll have a basic idea of what’s going on and who does what to who by the end of the game, though it does nothing to acclimate you to the cast by any stretch of the imagination. It’s one thing to assume the player has a basic idea of what’s going on before you start, but the game introduces basically no one and nothing when it starts up, so even if your kids love the show and want you to play the game with them you’ll be flying blind here. Aside from the fact that Ben is in both games I’ve played, I’d be hard-pressed to explain anything that connects the two titles in any capacity, and while hours of explanation would be too much, a brief explanation of the gist would have been helpful. Kids who like the show likely won’t be lost, but parents who are unfamiliar with it will be taking a trip to Wikipedia to figure anything out beyond “robots bad, smash robots”.

Cel-shading was basically invented to make games look like animated cartoons, and as such, Omniverse looks pretty solid. The character models generally look fine, and a good amount of effort is put into giving them detailed animations and variance when you’re dealing with the same alien transformation across both Bens. The environments look acceptable, and while some environments repeat as the game goes on, they’re generally serviceable enough to get the job done. The same can be said of the regular enemies, as they’re both just fine and repetitive as time goes on, though more effort is put into the bosses, making them more interesting to see and fight as a result. Aurally, the music can also be a bit repetitive, but is mostly adequate and fits the theme of the game without being anything really exciting or amazing. The voice acting is generally very solid and each alien form and enemy you face sounds different from the last. The dialogue is occasionally amusing as well through the voice work, as lines that probably wouldn’t have as much to offer can generate a mild chuckle thanks to the delivery, which is something. The sound effects are generally serviceable, and while nothing particularly stands out, the futuristic effects and grunts and groans from enemies all sound acceptable enough to carry the experience along.

The controls start off simple, though there are some mild intricacies that pop up as you progress. The left stick moves Ben or Rook, depending on who you’re playing as (Player 1 is Ben, Player 2 is Rook), while the right stick is used for dodging attacks; there’s no manual camera adjustment here as the camera is always in a fixed position. X is used for weak attacks, Y is used for strong attacks, B is occasionally a third attack for some forms, and A is your default jump button, which may allow for a double-jump in some forms. Holding the Right Trigger and pressing X, Y or B can also generate some sort of special attack for your alien forms or Proto Tool forms, depending on how high their level is and the form in question. Right Bumper works as your “interact” button when the situation calls for it, the Left Trigger blocks damage, and the Left Bumper reverts Ben back to human form when the situation calls for it. You can also use the D-Pad to select one of four forms that are hotkeyed; in Rook’s case, this is all he has to work with, while Ben can hold the D-Pad in a direction to bring up a menu to switch which alien form is hotkeyed to that direction if you want to change who’s available at what points. You’ll have most of this down by the end of the first level, as the game is full of helpful tutorials to explain how each of these functions work, but even a player who’s jumping into the friendly jump-in jump-out co-op the game offers should be able to figure out most of this on their own without much trouble.

The game alternates between forcing you to pummel enemies and forcing you to solve puzzles in order to progress, and while whalloping enemies is simple enough, solving puzzles can take some more effort. The puzzles generally revolve around performing simple tasks by using the abilities of your aliens to their best effect. Most of the aliens in your possession have some type of skill they can perform that can resolve environmental issues, so for example, Arctiguana can freeze platforms and hot objects to allow passage, Wild Mutt can sniff out paths others have taken, Feedback can absorb electricity from conduits, and so on. You’ll find that you’ll have to swap between aliens to solve puzzles across all stages, since the puzzles you’ll face often take multiple forms throughout the stages, and while none of them are terribly complex, they might take some thinking for kids to resolve. Some puzzles are also strictly optional, but may hide Tech Repositories, which are power-up containers that can hold energy power, as well as Codons, which extend your Omnitrix power (as you can only stay powered up for so long) or Smoothies, which extend your health. As you solve puzzles, beat down bosses and open Tech Repositories, you’ll also frequently collect Omnitrix energy, health and experience points. Omnitrix energy will replenish on its own, and health replenishes when you swap between normal and powered up forms, but experience is useful, as it allows you to power up Rook’s Proto Tool forms and Ben’s alien forms. Powering them up grants new combinations of attacks and special attacks, based on the form, though Ben maxes all his forms out at Level Three (since he has more forms) while Rook maxes his out at Level Five, so you’ll be at it a while either way.

You can basically plow through Omniverse in around five hours, though the game does offer some mild incentive to come back. You can replay any stages you’ve completed from that save, so if you miss any power-ups or enjoy a particular stage you can jump to it at any time. There are also three difficulty levels to take on, and you can switch difficulties on the fly as you see fit so you can plow through Easy and swap to Hero with your powered up characters if you want to clear it out. The game also offers jump-in jump-out co-op locally that works pretty well and makes for some fun if you have a friend over, or your kids want you or a friend to jump in while playing. There are also a decent compliment of Achievements to unlock, and while several are tied to the plot, a few will require some extra effort and additional playtime beyond simply completing the campaign. Fans of Ben 10 may enjoy being able to play as the different alien forms if nothing else, but even if you aren’t a huge fan you’ll find there are reasons, such as they are, to return to the game if you’re so inclined.

Honestly, though, Omniverse is a game you can almost entirely clear out in one and a half runs; if you start the game on Hero (which I did) and plow through it, it’s not terribly hard to survive even so, and you’ll only have to spend about an hour or so playing through a few additional stages beyond the main campaign to unlock all of the Achievements should you wish to (which I did). The game lacks anything new to see or do outside of the main campaign, which is only going to be so entertaining outside of the first run. That’s probably for the best, though, because Omniverse is a really tedious experience after about the halfway mark, as the game has nothing new to show off, and just makes you bang your head against the same groups of enemies and puzzles until the end. A puzzle boss towards the end of the game livens things up a bit, but most boss battles are “beat on the boss for anywhere from five to fifteen minutes, depending on the difficulty,” followed by AN ACTIVE TIME EVENT. Cosmic Destruction did this too, and it wasn’t welcome there, either, but the later events in this game become more annoying than anything else to a level where one has to force ones self to play the game beyond that point. The final boss, in particular, is absurd on any difficulty; two forms of the same boss that can (and will) fill the screen with damaging attacks, followed by a nearly ten prompt long Active Time Event that starts over if you fail one prompt? No, thank you. I had a friend bring his kid over to play this sequence and he handed the controller back to me after ONE attempt, said “I’m sorry,” and asked to play something else.

I can’t really come up with any more problematic of a disagreement with a game than “a member of the game’s target demographic did not want to play the game any more after one sitting with it,” so there you go.

It’s not that Ben 10: Omniverse is a bad game, it’s that the game occupies this weird space where only Achievement Hunters are going to care about it, as it’s too tedious for normal players and kids will get frustrated with the last stage and boss to a point where they won’t want to go back. The plot is presumably entertaining for fans and adequate enough to carry the game along for newcomers, the game looks okay and sounds slightly better, and the game is simple enough to play but offers a fair amount of variety thanks to all of the different alien forms you can play as. There is some small amount of replay value through the two player co-op that allows players to jump in and out as needed, as well as the multiple difficulty levels and Achievements to collect, for those who want to come back to the game after one go. That said, Hero difficulty isn’t significantly more difficult than the easiest setting, save that it takes longer to beat on bosses, so you can do basically everything there is to do with the game inside of six hours, and the last stage and boss are frustrating on any difficulty level to a point where the target audience (that is, kids) will likely find it frustrating and unenjoyable. A little more time spent balancing and playtesting the game would have made Omniverse a fine, if unremarkable, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe sort of experience that’d be easy to recommend for kids, but as it is, it’s a little too unbalanced for kids and a little too meager for adults.

The Scores:
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: POOR
Balance: POOR
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: BAD

Short Attention Span Summary:
Ben 10: Omniverse is the odd sort of kids game that is too simplistic for adults, but not balanced enough for kids, and while the product does a fine job bringing the franchise to life, the final product becomes so tedious and frustrating that only a small group of people will really get anything out of it. The plot is adequate for what it is and seems to do the show sufficient justice, the game looks acceptable and sounds slightly better than such, and the gameplay isn’t terribly difficult to understand once you spend a little time with it. The basic design of the game has its moments, and with local co-op that offers jump-in jump-out support, multiple difficulty levels, plenty of Achievements to earn and a decent variety of play options, the game could have some mild staying power. However, the game itself offers nothing to do outside of the campaign, and the Hero difficulty isn’t much more difficult than the Easy difficulty save that enemies take much longer to beat down, making it more tedious than challenging. Further, you’ll have seen everything the game has to offer halfway through, which makes the second half of the game even more tedious, which is then capped off by a frustrating final battle that will leave kids frustrated more than anything, while the rest of the game will leave adults bored. Omniverse could have been vaguely enjoyable for younger gamers with a little more time and effort put into balancing it out, but as it is, at best it’s a one-and-done affair, and at worst it’s a game your kids will give up on in favor of something that doesn’t hurt their feelings.



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One response to “Review: Ben 10: Omniverse (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. […] doesn’t seem odd that we’d get a sequel to last year’s Ben 10 Omniverse game, but it does seem odd that a direct sequel would be created by a different developer. On top […]

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