Super heroes are cool. That's one of the things that makes films like Iron Man and Thor so much fun - it's great to have a character who's so powerful yet at the same time incredibly charismatic. Ubisoft's Power Up Heroes for Kinect might give the impression that it turns you (well, your Xbox 360 Avatar) into someone on a par with Tony Stark, but the clumsy and broken fighting on offer ends up making you feel like the broken Samuel L Jackson from Unbreakable.
The idea is indeed a decent one. Ubisoft takes your Avatar, puts it in a super suit, each with a different set of super powers, and asks you to fight a string of super enemies. Once you defeat one of them you unlock their suit and abilities, allowing you to pick and choose from your wardrobe. Obviously this is a Kinect game, so the slant is clearly towards younger players, and the premise is perfect. It's just a shame that the gameplay mechanics are so dull and laboured.
Played from a third-person perspective behind your character, movement is limited to side-stepping (by leaning) and running forwards to your enemy (by raising your knee). These are both essential moves, but the combat is the meat and bones, with each suit offering three powered-up special attacks or defensive abilities. These are all triggered by gestures (raising your arms in the air, hammering your fist, swinging your arm, etc), and importantly can be chained together to make combos.
This might sound good, but due to the time it takes to perform each move and the game's inability to accurately read what you're trying to do, it's easy to end up standing on the spot while the enemy pummels you. The game forces that you to be very deliberate with your actions, which lessens the small amount of fun that might have been available.
Combos, which for some reason I found far harder to memorise than a standard button combo, also involve switching between power suits, which adds another gesture command to the mix. On top of this you've got to think about countering enemy attacks. In the end combat, in Power Up Heroes descends into what usually happens in Kinect games: lots of flailing around. This makes for a good workout, but not a good video game.
Aside from the main campaign, which pits you against a string of enemies, there's also one-on-one fights over Xbox LIVE, and a practice mode, which is required if you want to learn all the combos. It's not the most feature-rich title available, but there's only so much that can be done with the super-powered fighting game premise.
Sadly, the package also suffers from some distinctly last-generation graphics, with the level of detail on display surely no better than a mid-range PS2 title running in HD. In fact the only redeeming feature really is the menu interface, which uses a neat sideways swiping system and didn't once cause me any grief.
If you want to work up a sweat pretending to be a superhero, you're probably better off dressing up and running around the local park saving endangered squirrels. Ubisoft's Kinect game means well, and will certainly appeal to younger gamers, but its execution is sadly what we've come to expect from Kinect titles - a bit too messy.