"Why not just throw in Paul Bunyan and My Little Pony and be done with it?"
Genres: Action RPG
Multimedia: Marvel Ultimate Alliance
Platforms: XBox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Wii, XBox, Playstation 2, PSP, Game Boy Advance
Number of players: 1-4
ESRB rating: Teen
US release date: 2006-10-24
Instead of the conventional 'it's good/it's bad' game review, we thought it would be more interesting to print a transcript of a conversation between two video game executives about the making of Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Here's what we found:
Video Game Executive 1: '"Alright, so we're here to design another action/roleplaying Marvel videogame to follow up the X-Men Legends titles. The first thing you should know is that we plan on making the project leader a self-professed hardcore comic book fan, a 19-year old named...What, why are you looking at me like that?"
Video Game Executive 2: "Because you want to put a fanboy in charge of the game. Why are we taking this approach? Isn't part of the reason we had so much success with the Marvel movie franchises like Spider-Man and X-Men that we were willing to toe the line of appealing to the widest mass audience possible while staying somewhat faithful to all the comic nerd stuff?"
"Sure. That strategy worked well for movies because there you're trying to skew to females and older adults as well as the male adolescents that were going to go to these movies anyway even if Justin Timberlake played Wolverine. That's why there was such an emphasis on love interests and character development in those movies. However, let's face it -- this is an Xbox 360 video game we're working with, not a Shakespearean play. We don't care about anything except our bread and butter consumer -- the 12 to 26 year old male demographic. I say let's consider MUA a sort of love letter to the fanboy. The types like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons who wear Incredible Hulk boxer shorts and write erotic Wonder Woman fan fiction."
"Nice. So how is this game going be different than X-Men Legends?"
"More superheroes. More supervillians. A billion million of them. As many as stars in the sky. More than your mind could ever even conceive of."
"How many are you talking about practically?"
"What? You're kidding me. How would that even be possible? Are there even 140 comic book characters? I can think of Spider-Man and the X-Men, of course, and Fantastic Four which was only good because Jessica Alba was in it and...what was that stupid movie with Ben Affleck as the blind lawyer who dressed up in a red S&M costume and fell in love with the hot ninja chick?"
"Right. What else is there? Superman?"
"No, Superman is from D.C. Comics. That reminds me...there is actually a competing D.C. comics action/RPG game being released at the same time as ours. We have to make sure our game is bigger and better. So I'm thinking we can have all of the characters you mentioned as well as lesser known, B-list heroes like Iron-Man, Moon Knight, Black Panther..."
"Black Panther? Is that some sort of racial Louis Farrakhan type thing?"
"Umm, no. He's the prince of a make-believe African country called Wakanda. Then we can also throw in Captain America..."
"Hmm, maybe it's me, but isn't the idea of a stars and stripes spandex-wearing symbol of World War II era nationalistic propaganda a little trite?"
"Yeah, but he's got a kickass shield he can throw around like a boomerang, so we're keeping him. Plus, there are lots of other cool supervillians we could put in: Scorpion, Mandarin, Arcade..."
"But what about a plot? Isn't having to juggle 100-plus characters going to make writing a coherent plot next to impossible?"
"Well, of course. But I think our resident comic expert has something in mind. Umm...apparently, Doctor Doom is going to take over the world by capturing Nightcrawler and stealing the powers of Odin. And, see, there's this Mutant Power Amplifier gadget and...anyway, all of the heroes will have to band together to stop the self-proclaimed 'Masters of Evil.'"
"That's completely ludicrous."
"More ludicrous than a college kid being bit by a radioactive spider and gaining spider-like powers which he uses to dress up in red and blue long underwear to fight crime?"
"Anyway, this game is an action/RPG with an emphasis on the action part. The story is secondary to the experience of killing a bunch of things with Marvel Super Heroes."
"So where does the 'role-playing' part come in?"
"You get experience points for each kill. When you gain levels, you will be able to purchase new super powers like Wolverine's Claw Slash and Thor's Hammer Toss. In addition, you'll be able to equip one item per character to increase their stats. Of course, you'll have the option to able to make this all automatic so you can focus on fighting. It's really not that much more complex than Double Dragon when you get down to it."
"Wait, did you just say Thor? Another mythical Norse god to fight alongside teenagers and blind lawyers. That's silly. Why not just throw in Paul Bunyan and My Little Pony and be done with it?"
"Don't be so cynical. By the way, we're also going to add trivia games to give the player bonuses for arcane knowledge like the fact that Dr. Doom and Mr. Fantastic were college roommates or that Daredevil's dad was a boxer."
"You should probably be punished for knowing things like that."
"This coming from a guy who can name the entire cast of Saved By the Bell?"
"Point again taken. But what about the graphics and sound? How are they going to compare to the DC comics game?"
"Great and good. The graphics will be bright, shiny and detailed right down to Wolverine's fuzzy sideburns. We're getting rid of the cel-shaded cartoony graphics from X-Men Legends and going for a more realistic look. We also have top voice talent to provide voices for each and every character."
"Impressive. And the gameplay?"
"Like I said, it'll be standard action/RPG hack 'n slash with a few simplistic puzzles thrown in here and there. You know, push a box here, and pull a switch there. No big deal. There's also going to be plenty of unlockable content. Hidden bonus characters, special comic missions, extra costumes...Wait until you see Spider-Woman's sexy suit"
"She doesn't have eight legs does she? ...OK, so this is all great, but is it going to be fun to play?"
"For a little while at least. The gameplay will be repetitive and unimaginative. If you're playing by yourself, chances are you'll probably get semi-bored halfway through. But it is fairly fun playing cooperatively, and we're hoping all the bells and whistles will keep players satisfied."
"Good, let's go with it. You sold me. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here. If it looks good, plays OK, and has all these Marvel guys in it, it'll sell like hotcakes. And that's why we're here, right? To sell games. Now tell me one more thing: Can we get Jessica Alba or Kirsten Dunst to come in to promote it?"