I think most people have a favourite super hero, or at least a favourite set of super heroes. For lots of people my age it's X-Men, simply because of the great cartoon series that was on TV every morning before school. The great thing about Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is that it'll please the majority of super hero fans - that is unless you happen to favour anyone from DC Comics or one of the few characters from the Marvel stable that isn't included. With the Wii version sporting gesture controls thanks to the console's motion sensitive controllers, is it the best version yet?
Ultimate Alliance is essentially a fairly simple beat 'em up with some basic RPG elements thrown in. Dr. Doom has gathered together an impressive collection of super villains for a dastardly plan, and it's up to the members of S.H.I.E.L.D. (the good guys) to stop him. The baddies really are a varied bunch, with well-known villains such as Ultron and the Mandarin being joined by lesser characters such as Arcade and Grey Gargoyle. It's an impressive line-up in anyone's book.
You, and the rest of your four-man team, kick, punch and super power through a series of levels, taking out generic goon after goon, and then tackling bigger boss-like characters who are working for Doom - the biggest bosses look great and even make use of a QTE system where you need to hit buttons that flash up on the screen. You can switch between each character in your team on the fly, and each has a selection of special moves that can be used to unleash extra damage on the enemy.
On the Wii a lot of the combat now uses gesture controls, while some basic combat can be carried out by simply hammering the 'A' button. There are five gestures (swipe, lift up, push down, prod forwards and shake) and the result is a game that takes a while to get into. On other platforms Ultimate Alliance was a very simple game to pick up and play, and this made the four-player mode great for playing with friends, but the Wii version is a chore to play by comparison. All the more advanced moves and special attacks require a gesture, and considering the amount of enemies you'll face it soon grows tiresome.
Basic controls like jumping, blocking and character movement are all handled on the Nunchuck, and work well. The Nunchuck also doubles as camera control, with a tilt to the left or the right rotating the camera in that direction. It's not great if you happen to hold the Nunchuck at a slight angle, but it's a clever use of the controller nonetheless. As with most games that have been ported over to the Wii, the motion controls are a decent effort, but simply don't work as well as the standard controls found in the other versions of the game.
The game is a clear extension of what Raven did with the X-Men Legends games, but the variety of environments on offer in Ultimate Alliance is much better. You still get to trawl through some fairly dingy looking areas, but they're joined by some pretty fantastic looking environments, such as Atlantis and the Skrull homeworld. It would have been nice for the background images to have looked a little sharper, but they're only really noticeable when you look for them, and don't detract from the action packed gameplay.
Developer Raven Software has done an excellent job at making the RPG element to the game fairly transparent for people that aren't interested in it. As you progress your characters will level up and earn points which can be used on new powers, items and costumes, and coins you pick up can also be used to buy points. You can choose to handle this manually if you like, but the game does a pretty decent job of automatically spending points if you tell it to. Fairly early on in the game you'll get to form a team. Teams that stick together earn reputation points, which make the unit more effective.
Although there are more than 140 Marvel heroes in the game, the actual playable list isn't nearly that big, and comes in at just above 20. It's by no means a bad list, with the likes of Wolverine, the Fantastic 4, Spider-Man, Thor, and Captain America being plenty big enough to carry the game. The team roster system lets you switch members around if you feel like it, but after a while you'll probably grow to like the four that you've played most of the game with. Losing a team member at the hands of a villain isn't pleasant, but fallen comrades can be revived at save locations set up at various points in each level.
Despite being released across current-gen and next-gen systems, Ultimate Alliance looks surprisingly good, although the Wii version is far closer to the PlayStation 2 version than the Xbox 360 game. On the features front the Wii version is actually the runt of the litter, as it lacks the online cooperative play of the other versions, making the four-player mode offline only.
Being based on comic book characters the over-the-top voiceover work used in the game fits really well. All the lines are delivered with a straight face, but they're so forced it sounds like you're watching an 80's children's TV show. The voice work combined with some excellent super hero music (if there is such a genre), makes for a brilliant sounding game. You'll often be treated to cutscenes to develop the story, but these can be pretty poor. The game's opening movie looks great, but others throughout the game look very ropey, and appear to be made using in-game assets.
If you're a fan of the X-Men Legends games that have appeared over the last few years you'll know what to expect from Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, but on the Wii the simple formula has been tinkered with to the detriment of the game. The new gesture controls simply don't work well enough, and in a game that promotes button bashing the constant use of the Wii-mote is more than a little tedious. Ultimate Alliance is one of the best dungeon crawlers of the year, but don't look to the Wii version for that experience.