In 1995, Marvel Comics created “National Superhero Day” and, in the process, provided comics and superhero fans the world over with a great excuse to celebrate their favourite characters and publications.
Released: 24 October 2006
Developer: Raven Software
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable (PSP), Xbox 360, Xbox One
Perhaps few videogame publishers are as synonymous with Marvel Comics than Activision; the publisher has been spearheading adaptations of some of Marvel’s most popular properties since the year 2000. They weren’t all smash hits, of course, but some of their titles have been praised as among the best for characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Marvel’s resident Mutant team, the X-Men. In 2004, the publisher teamed with developers Raven Software and saw big success with X-Men Legends, a team-based brawler that incorporated role-playing elements and simultaneous co-op gameplay. Following similar success with the sequel, Activision’s partnership with Raven Software expanded to incorporate much of the rest of Marvel’s line-up with this title, which was built on Vicarious Visions’ Alchemy engine. The game also greatly benefitted from utilising the Havok physics engine; in addition to including many of Marvel’s most popular characters alongside those added as downloadable content (DLC), Nintendo staples Link and Samus Aran were initially planned to be Wii-exclusive characters before being nixed. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance received generally favourable reviews; critics praised the game’s presentation and for improving and expanding upon its predecessors, and the game was successful enough to warrant an equally-successful sequel three years later and (eventually) a Nintendo Switch-exclusive third entry that received mixed reviews. Sadly, despite a remastered version being developed for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2016, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is currently delisted from digital storefronts and quite difficult to come back for an affordable price as a result.
When Doctor Victor Von Doom and his Masters of Evil launch an attack against the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate (S.H.I.E.L.D.), Colonel Nick Fury sends out a distress call to all available superheroes for assistance. Steve Rogers/Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor Odinson, and Logan/Wolverine respond to the call and must soon join forces with a myriad of other Marvel heroes in order to put a stop to Dr. Doom after he attains incredible cosmic powers from Odin Allfather.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a top-down, team-based brawer peppered with some very light puzzle solving, opportunities for exploration, and role-playing mechanics. Players can (eventually) assemble a team of four from around thirty available superheroes and journey across a number of recognisable Marvel locations battling against the nigh-on endless minions of the Masters of Evil. Up to four players can play at once, though a single player is able to battle on alone, using the Left Trigger and directional pad (D-pad) to direct their computer-controlled team mates or switching to another superhero by pressing a corresponding direction on the D-pad. Players are given two primary attack options: A for a quick attack and B for a stronger attack, which can be charged up, and alternating between these commands will allow you to string together a few simple combos that will stun, trip, or blast your foe into the air, which can be essential to breaking through some enemy’s guards. X is the “action” button, allowing you to open doors, activate consoles, turn levers, or grab enemies to pummel, throw, or relieve them of their weapons, and Y allows you to swim and jump (you can also double jump, web-sling, or fly by double pressing and holding the button, respectively). Players can block incoming attacks by holding the Left Bumper or tap it to dodge out of the way entirely and each character has their own special abilities, which are accessed by holding the Right Trigger and selecting either A, B, X, or Y. Special powers can only be used if you have another energy, which is represented by glowing blue orbs dropped by enemies or uncovered from smashing crates or opening chests, and allow you to fire energy beams, toss projectiles, entrap enemies (by freezing or webbing them up, among other options), boost you (and your team mate’s) defense, attack, and other attributes, and cause status effects to your enemies like stunning, burning, or electrocuting them. While many of the effects are largely shared amongst the roster, each character pulls them off in their own unique way; Tony Stark/Iron Man’s Repulsor blasts are different from Mark Spector/Moon Knight’s projectiles, even though both can ricochet around the environment, and each character has a variety of special powers that you can power-up and assign to the face buttons from the “Hero Management” menu.
Each character also has a big, character-specific attack that can be performed when your energy gauge is completely full and you press Y while holding RT this will see them unleash a huge, screen-clearing attack specific to them and each character will perform these in succession if their energy gauge is full. You’ll also earn additional bonuses if certain characters pull off their special moves at the same time, and this also happens if your team is formed of characters who have a history together, like the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. The game’s story mode is comprised of five “Acts”, which drop your team in a variety of locations that should be familiar to Marvel Comics fans. After clearing the first mission, which has you retaking a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from Dr. Doom’s forces, you’ll be dropped into one of five hub areas where you can interact with Nick Fury, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, and other non-playable characters (NPCs) to learn more about your current or next mission, gain insight into the heroes and villains, and be given side quests to perform. In the hub area, and scattered throughout each location, are S.H.I.E.L.D. Access Points where you can save or load your game, change up and upgrade your team, or revive fallen teammates. Just as blue energy orbs can be acquired during gameplay, so too can red health orbs, but some environmental hazards or bottomless pits will see you or your teammates taken out of action. It can take about three minutes for your fallen ally to be ready for revival, but they can only be brought back into the fight from one of these save points. As you defeat enemies, you’ll earn experience points (XP) and level-up once you’ve gained enough XP, which will improve both your individual and team stats and unlock additional special moves for you to utilise. From the Hero Management screen, you can switch your character entirely, change their costume (which affords different abilities), equip gear to boost their stats, and name and improve the competence of your team to increase your odds when in a fight.
Gameplay in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance quickly grows quite repetitive; you can charge through most missions by repeating the same combos and special moves over and over, and opportunities for exploration are quite limited as areas generally only give the illusion of being large and multi-pathed. Combat doesn’t get much deeper than tripping, stunning, or blasting enemies, or avoiding using physical or energy-based attacks, and it’s surprisingly easy to get turned around in areas even with the presence of a mini map as one dark, grey corridor looks the same as the last. Puzzles aren’t much of a head-scratcher here; you’ll generally fight your way to a console or power generator that needs to be activated or destroyed, though sometimes you’ll need to activate two switches at once with the either of a partner, and you’ll sometimes have to perform these tasks against a time limit. You’ll need to push or pull heavy objects onto pressure pads, redirect sunlight to free Balder Odinson, defend Dum Dum Dugen in a glorified escort mission, perform character-specific motions to activate statues, or complete quick-time events (QTEs) to open doors or take out larger, otherwise-invulnerable bosses. You’ll jump behind the controls of an anti-aircraft cannon, be joined by NPCs like Major Christopher Summers/Corsair, and have to rescue characters like Doctor Bruce Banner and Prince Namor McKenzie/The Sub-Mariner, though some of these are optional side quests. These optional missions appear during the main campaign and often having you searching for items for a specific character, or destroying certain targets along the way, and sometimes you’re faced with an impossible choice between two options which will fundamentally alter the multiple endings. Gameplay really gets interesting, though, when you end up in Murderworld, a twisted funfair featuring bumper cars, a giant pinball set, a hedge maze, and even an old-school Atari-style mini game that sees you awkwardly swinging from ropes and collecting Golden Tickets to rescue Doctor Jean Grey/Phoenix from Arcade’s clutches.
Graphics and Sound:
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is largely an impressive looking title, despite how old it is now, thanks to the zoomed out, almost isometric camera perspective. This means that the in-game character models, while hardly the most detailed, pop out nicely against the various backgrounds and I liked how they all had their own unique flourishes, like Spider-Man being able to web enemies up when he grabs them and Norrin Radd/The Silver Surfer floating around on his cosmic surfboard. Unlike some similar team-based brawlers, this really helps it to feel as though each character plays a little differently since they don’t just share the same animations and have a little individuality to them; you’ll need a stronger character to move certain objects, for example, and it’s much easier to explore the environment with a character who can fly. While your customised team won’t appear in the pre-rendered cutscenes, they do all have a lot of unique dialogue during the game, and when talking to or fighting against other characters; dialogue trees exist so you can ask a number of questions to NPCs or pick different options, which either helps you answer trivia questions, kicks off a side mission, or has you picking to team up with or save a different character, and villains like “Lester”/Bullseye or Quinten Beck/Mysterio. Unfortunately, the music isn’t really on par with the voice acting; it’s all very generic superhero-y or militaristic themes, and the in-game tracks often awkwardly loop, which is very jarring; the music’s also very loud, so you might want to adjust the sound settings in the options.
The pre-rendered cutscenes also often let the game down a bit; they haven’t aged too well, and have a very rubbery and surreal quality to them (though they are pretty epic, especially when the Masters of Evil are discussion their evil lot and when Galactus and Uatu/The Watcher enter the story) that I’d criticise more if I could actually see them but the cutscenes are very dark and the only way to brighten them is by changing your television’s settings. The game’s environments often don’t fare much better, either; while it’s fun visiting places like the Sanctum Sanctorum and Valhalla in the hub worlds, the actual mission locations quickly become confusing and boring. While there’s a lot to destroy and see in each area, and even some hidden paths to uncover, rooms, corridors, and sections all start to blend together and the levels themselves can outstay their welcome at times, which only makes the monotonous combat more glaring. That’s not to say that there aren’t some visually interesting locations, though; you’ll swim through the depths of Atlantis, travel to Hell itself, battle across the length of the Bifrost Bridge and through the frozen wastes of Niffleheim, and infiltrate the gothic, regal stone walls of Castle Doom. Easily the most impressive area you’ll visit, though, is the Skrull home world, which is currently under attack by Galactus; the World-Devourer is seen lumbering around in the background between the futuristic skyscrapers and even pursues your across the walkways in an exciting (if frustrating) sequence, though the gameplay and visual variety offered by Valhalla is equally fun as you can visit the Warrior’s Hall (where NPCs are enjoying revels) and hop across Viking ships amidst a cosmic backdrop.
Enemies and Bosses:
Since a gaggle of Marvel’s most notorious villains has joined forces in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, you can expect to come up against a bevy of disposable goons during your adventure. It doesn’t take long for you to basically have seen everything the game has to offer in this regard, but each location does at least change up the appearance, dialogue, and some of the attacks of the enemies you face; you’ll battle Ultron’s minions, Loki Laufeyson’s trolls, and soldiers from the Shi’ar Empire and the depths of Atlantis, all of whom can be defeated using your standard combos or special powers. You can set your team mates to follow, attack, or defend formations, but I always like to choose an aggressive approach to overwhelm the hoards of enemies that can flood each area. Some of these carry weapons, either melee armaments like axes, spears, and swords which you can appropriate, or laser rifles for long-range attacks; others shield themselves and need to be attacked from behind or stunned. Some, like the imp-like demons from Mephisto’s Realm, leap onto you and drain your health, while others fly above taking pot-shots at you, and some are resistant to physical or energy attacks or need to be tripping, stunning, or blasted into the air. Some are larger, dealing and taking more damage, while others regenerate their health (or their allies), sap your health or energy, or boost the attack of other foes, so it’s best to take those guys out first.
The Masters of Evil have assembled quite the smorgasbord of allies; you’ll do battle with almost every single villain from Marvel Comics throughout the course of the game, sometimes more than once, as various underlings dog your progress throughout each mission. Often, you’ll battle at least two of these sub-bosses at a time; sometimes they flee after an initial encounter and need to be fought again, other times they’re powered up to be more formidable, and in other cases they’re able to heal or shield each other from your attacks by working together. However, defeating the likes of Mac Gargan/The Scorpion, Bullseye, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier, Chen Lu/Radioactive Man, Valentin Shatalov/Crimson Dynamo, Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino, Herman Schultz/The Shocker, Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard, Hussar and Neutron, Paibok, and even the corrupted superheroes you eventually fight really don’t require much more than you constantly attacking them with combos and special powers. Indeed, while it’s impressive that so many villains appear in the game, very few actually offer much in the way of a challenge beyond being a little tougher than the regular enemies you encounter, with even the likes of notorious villains like Ultron and Titannus proving quite disappointing encounters as, while they keep you at bay with laser blasts or destroy everything in a rampage, respectively, both can be similarly put down without any complicated strategies. Many of these villains are fought in teams, however, and they can also reappear in the simulator missions you unlock by finding discs, allowing you to battle them with different characters and in different situations, but as long as you string together your usual combos and unleash your best special attacks they go down pretty easily, even when bolstered by disposable minions.
Other villains, however, do bring a little bit more to the table: Mysterio uses illusions to throw you off and, while Paul Pierre Duval/Grey Gargoyle can disable you by turning you to stone, Baron Carl Mordo, Kl’rt/Super Skrull, and the Mandarin disable you with elemental attacks to encase you in ice or send you flying with a blast of wind. The Mandarin also ends up being a particularly annoying boss as you need to lure his spider-like robots into teleporting to his safe spot to destroy his endless supply of Ultimos and actually bring him down for good. Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing/M.O.D.O.K. challenges you to a trivia quiz to get closer to him, then brings in waves of Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) minions to annoy you in addition to firing lasers and shockwaves at you. When battling Byrrah Thakorr-So and Krang, you also need to destroy sonic emitters to progress the mission, while Attuma and Todd Arliss/Tiger Shark can be difficult to hit as they’re swimming all over the place, making for a more aggravating encounter. Dragon Man randomly drops in as a tough obstacle to bypass since he’s capable of dishing out some formidable damage, while Blackheart employs multiple versions of himself to attack you and you’ll need to take on all three members of the Wrecking Crew at once (though they fall pretty easily if you’re wielding an axe or other weapon). Amora the Enchantress can allure you and your teammates into not attacking her, and will heal her brutish ally, Skurge the Executioner, Ulik and Kurse can only be defeated by attacking one with melee attacks and the other with energy attacks, and you’ll need to lower the shields protecting the likes of Kallark/Gladiator, B’nee and C’cil/Warstar, and Cal’syee Neramani-Summers/Deathbird (who flies around the arena tantalisingly out of reach and swooping down to grab you otherwise).
Luckily, the game claws back a bit of challenge and intrigue by its large and engaging end of Act boss battles. After fending off Dr. Doom’s attack on the Helicarrier, you’ll battle Fing Fang Foom on the main deck; this gigantic alien dragon blasts fireballs at you from the air, covers the ground with shockwaves when it lands, and can only be brought down by firing anti-aircraft cannons at it and making good use of your ranged attacks. After making it past his robots and death traps, you’ll battle Arcade’s massive mech in a circus tent, which you need to fire yourself at using cannons and succeed at QTEs in order to have it damage itself in frustration. The eldritch Kracken is one of the ore frustating bosses as you can’t damage it directly and must lure it into attacking the nearby columns so you can complete a QTE sequence, but it seems completely random when it’ll actually smash into these columns, meaning the fight drags a bit. Fittingly, Mephisto awaits you in the depths of Hell; this demonic villain spews hellfire at you, protects himself from attacks with a shield, and can even screw up your controls with his powers, though you can disarm him and use his Hellsword to damage him. You’ll have to take extra care when Mephisto compels Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler or Jean Grey to attack you, however, and will lose that character forever when they sacrifice themselves to stop Mephisto. At first, Loki isn’t really too much of a threat; sure, he’s got lightning attacks that stun you and is assisted by his Frost Giant minions, but he goes down pretty easily. However, it’s all a ruse as he then poses s Nick Fury to have you activate the indestructible Destroyer, which you must flee from while desperately searching for the ice-shielded Loki; once you find him, simply attack him until his shield breaks and the fight is ended. Galactus, however, is a threat far too big for you to tackle head-on; instead, you must desperately flee from him (destroying his drills if you have time) and then avoid his massive fists to activate three consoles and blast at him as the Silver Surfer in a QTE sequence. Finally, you must take on Dr. Doom himself; however, despite stealing Odin’s power to become a literal God, the mad doctor really isn’t too difficult to defeat even with the corrupted Fantastic Four acting as his personal guard. Simply destroy the four generators powering his shield, chase him down as he dashes and teleports across his throne room, mashing buttons when he grabs you, and pummel him as you would any other enemy or boss and, eventually, he’ll be defeated without too much problem regardless of his electrical attacks or shockwaves.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, you can refill your energy and health by collecting blue and red orbs, which are dropped by enemies or found by destroying crates or opening chests. While some hazards can whittle your health down pretty quickly, or kill you immediately, health is pretty easy to come back, and you can also grab weapons to dish out greater damage to enemies (in fact, this is highly recommended as weapon attacks easily cut down even the most intimidating Super Soldiers and Doombots). You will also acquire S.H.I.E.L.D. Credits from enemies and the environment, which can be spent on upgrades to your character’s powers, costume-specific abilities, and upgrading your team’s stats; you cans et these to auto-upgrade, but they increase in cost each time you boost them so you can burn through Credits pretty quickly. Defeating the game’s many sub-bosses and bosses will also yield special gear that you can assign to each character; this will boost your attack, XP, or gauges, resist or inflict elemental damage, and offer numerous other perks but you can only equip one item to each character and your inventory has limits, meaning you’ll need to sell some to make way for new pick-ups as you come across them. Finally, as mentioned, you’ll get boosts to your stats and performance for forming teams of related characters, and performing special moves with certain characters, so it can be beneficial to experiment with different combinations and search around the environments for chests for more loot.
There are forty-six Achievements on offer in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, with the majority of them popping after clearing each Act and defeating bosses. Other Achievements include tossing enemies to their deaths, performing a certain number of finishing moves, defeating a certain number of enemies, unlocking every character and costume, and finishing the game on Hard mode, among others. Since the only difficulty-based Achievement you get is finishing on Hard, you may as well play through on Easy unless you’re going for that Achievement, and you’ll also get Achievements for finishing missions with another human-controlled character and upgrade every character’s special moves. Throughout each level, you’ll find a number of collectibles scattered about; art books unlock artwork to view, action figures allow you to unlock T’Challa/Black Panther and Matt Murdock/Daredevil as playable characters (and you can play a claw mini game in Murderworld to unlock Eric Brooks/Blade as well), and you can unlock Nick Fury by finishing the game once and the Silver Surfer by earning at least a Bronze medal in the game’s bonus simulator missions. These are unlocked by finding S.H.I.E.L.D. Simulator discs and recreate key moments and battles from each character’s history in a series of tough challenges. You can also take on five sets of trivia questions in each hub world for additional XP and Achievements, replay and revisit any Act, hub, and mission once you’ve finished the game, view movies and other unlocks in the gallery, and go head-to-head with your friends batting for points in an “Arcade” mode. By defeating numerous enemies with each character, you’ll eventually unlock up to four different costumes for each one, with these offering slightly different abilities that you can upgrade. Unfortunately, you can no longer purchase the two additional DLC packs, which added eight new characters to the roster in addition to twelve extra Achievements, none of which can be accessed on home consoles any more, which is a shame as I wanted to have Eddie Brock/Venom on my team and had to settle for symbiote Spider-Man.
I’d played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance before on the PlayStation 3 and, while I’d enjoyed it, I remember being put off by the lack of Trophies to earn and the fact that the DLC was only available on the Xbox 360 version. When I finally bought an Xbox 360, this game was on my buy list and, coincidentally, was a bit more expensive than I’d like and the DLC was still unobtainable, unless I wanted to shell out ridiculous amounts for an imported version. When I finally got it again, I enjoyed getting back into it; the game is very action-packed and chock full of playable characters, cameos, and villains to fight, but there’s really not a great deal to the combat, graphics, or the story. It’s fine and enjoyable enough, but things get repetitive very quickly and you’ve basically seen everything the game has to offer (apart from a few bells and whistles) after the first Act. You’ll beat on the same generic goons with the same tedious combos over and over, solving simplistic puzzles and spending your Coins on upgrades, but very rarely will you actually find much t set this apart from other, similar brawlers. The character selection and variety is great, and I like how they feel distinctive despite basically all being the same, and I enjoyed how some stages were more visually interesting than others, allowing you to swim or venture onto the hull of a space craft. While the sub-bosses weren’t up to much, the bigger bosses offered a bit more challenge and entertainment, but it feels a bit like the developers maybe crammed a little too much into the game without trying to make each villain a unique encounter. Overall, it’s a decent enough team-based brawler that’s probably more fun with a couple of friends to play with; there’s some decent replay value on offer with the different endings you can get based on your decisions and the extra missions and unlocks to find, but it does feel a little lacking in presentation and overall content to really score much higher.
Have you ever played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance? If so, what did you think to it and who made it into your team? What did you think to the combat, character selection, and the overall gameplay? Were you disappointed that the boss battles were mostly just a tedious log? Which of the characters, villains, and locations was your favourite? What endings did you get and did you ever unlock all of the costumes and characters? Did you ever play as the DLC characters? Where would you rate this game against its sequels and other similar games? How are you celebrating National Superhero Day today? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to leave a comment below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to stick around for more superhero and comic book content throughout the year.
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