A couple of years ago Raven Software created a game that made fans of Marvel Comics cry with joy. X-Men Legends and its sequel took everyone’s favorite superheroes and turned them into videogame superstars. Combining a top-down action RPG game set with the powers of the X-Men turned into a winning formula that has been copied several times since its release in 2004. This year Raven has taken off the gloves and created the biggest alliance of superheroes ever seen in a single game-ever! Marvel Ultimate Alliance builds on the successful aspect of XML and adds just enough to keep it fresh and exciting. The most impressive thing about the PSP version of this game is that developer Vicarious Visions has managed to squeeze all of the fun of the console version into Sony’s handheld gaming machine.
The storyline of MUA follows Dr. Doom and his legion of supervillains appropriately named the Masters Of Evil, whose first attack is on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. This is where you come in, forming your own alliance of superheroes to aid S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury as he tracks these villains across the universe. The story is straight out of the pages of just about any comic book, but there are a few twists and turns that are timed just right to keep the storyline interesting.
The cast of characters is also hit or miss. On the hero side you have obvious choices such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, and Thor, but then you also have some truly b-label heroes such as Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel. There are also four new heroes exclusive to the PSP version. These include Ronin, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. The villains are also a mixed bunch with heavy hitters such as Doom, Galactus, and Loki alongside such rejects as Fin Fang Foom, Grey Gargoyle, and Arcade. Regardless of how lame some of the characters are you cannot deny that this is simply the greatest collection of comic book avatars ever in a game.
There is definitely an imbalance when it comes to the heroes. For instance many of the lesser known characters are almost worthless whereas players can easily blaze through the entire game with fan-favorites such as Wolverine and Spider-Man. Thankfully you can level-up all of the characters to kick-ass status, but it will certainly take some time. With so many to choose from it would literally take you hundreds of hours to level every single one of them to the max. As you level up you are also granted new powers as well as points to upgrade your current ones. There is even an option to auto distribute points so you won’t have to fool with the clunky menu system.
Each character also has a small collection of costumes that can be obtained as you progress through the game. The best part is that these costumes not only change your appearance, but they also give you certain modifiers such as extra HP or more resistance to certain types of damage. If all of this isn’t enough to get you excited Activision has also thrown in the ability to create your own custom teams. Here you can name them and select a base group of four heroes to be your team. This will allow you to earn team experience points and eventually add roster slots for new heroes.
Combat should be familiar to anyone who has played the previous X-Men Legends titles or just about any other top-down action RPG this generation. MUA does add a few new touches that really enhance the experience, for instance this time you will not have to worry about collecting potions for health and energy. This will also eliminate AI partners hoarding all the potions leaving you without a chance to heal, instead defeated enemies drop red and blue orbs that will regenerate health and energy power-ups. The best part of this is that if a certain character is already stocked up on health it will be distributed to the next available hero. Controls can be a challenge on the PSP due to a lack of buttons on the handheld. Camera control is handled by holding down a trigger button and pressing the face buttons. While some of it is awkward, you will get used to it extremely fast.
Unfortunately this still does not help the overall performance of the AI as your partners will still stand around and watch you pummel enemies more often than not, which is why Ultimate Alliance is best played in the multi-player variety. Thankfully the PSP version does support just about every single possible way to play the game with your friends outside of playing on the same handheld. MUA supports both Ad-Hoc and Infrastructure multi-player modes on the PSP and even throws in voice chat as an added bonus. The game supports of to four players for either co-op or competitive play, and surprisingly all of this runs relatively smooth with just a hint of latency during four player games with lots of onscreen action.
Co-op is your standard story mode that can be played through with up to three friends. Activision has also thrown in the ability to track all your stats online at their specified website. The competitive mode, also known as Arcade, though is a completely different story. In this mode you will trek through the single-player experience with your buddies, but you will also be vying for points against everyone in the game. Things such as pick-ups, enemies defeated, and fewest deaths will all factor into the final score and have players fighting amongst themselves more than the enemies in the game.
Along with these standard modes the PSP version has three exclusive modes that can be unlocked after completing the game. The first of these is called Uber Hero, where the game automatically levels your avatar up to level 99, but it also forces you to go solo without a team. The second mode is called Hardcore, and here anytime you lose a hero they are gone-forever. The final mode is probably the most challenging; it is basically the same as Hardcore, but you are limited to just four heroes for the entire game. You get to choose which four you want, but once one of them is dead, they are dead for the rest of the game. It would have been nice to have these open from the beginning, but it does give you incentive to play through more than once.
For being on the PSP MUA does look quite impressive. Vicarious Vision has done an amazing job of squeezing almost all of the animations and effects from the console versions into the PSP hardware. The only problem is that sometimes there is so much going on in the environments it is easy to lose your character or fall into hazards scattered throughout the game. The sounds are also very well done considering the system it is on. All of the voices and music have made their way into the PSP version and with minimal loading times which is always nice for games on Sony’s handheld.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is one of those games that does so many things right it is hard to not enjoy it. There is plenty of room for improvement, but if you enjoy some mindless button mashing with tons of recognizable characters and some stellar co-op play then you simply can’t go wrong with MUA. Considering all that Vicarious Visions has squeezed into this version it is a must buy for owners of the PSP, but if you already own the console versions there isn’t really much reason to buy it again, as the exclusive characters and extra modes aren’t worth purchasing the game twice. However if you only snag one copy of this game this year, the PSP version is definitely more than worth your money.