Everything you need to know about the weird disconnect at the heart of Ubisoft's "Marvel Avengers Battle For Earth" can be found in the review package the publisher sent along for the Kinect release. The T-rated motion-controlled fighting game included a pair of those rubber Hulk hands you may or may not see kids smacking each other around with.
What do I, allegedly a grown man, need with a pair of Hulk hands? I mean, sure they're fun to slip on, and alright, I posed for them in a couple of pictures, but who wouldn't? Alright, so maybe I'm loving the fact that I have a pair of the Hulk hands, but so it goes with the game: with its shallow fighting mechanics and barely-there storytelling, it doesn't make sense that this is a T-rated game, and might not offer much for that audience beyond a few furious opening minutes. But this is a game aimed squarely at younger players, and I'm not really sure how "Marvel Avengers Battle For Earth" squeaked out of Ubisoft HQ with a T instead of an E.
I'm going to get to the bizarre psychology behind having what should be a kid-friendly Avengers game go out with a T rating momentarily, but let's start with the story, based on the Brian Michael Bendis-written "Secret Invasion," the six month 2008-2009 miniseries which pitted the heroes of the Marvel Universe against the shape-shifting Skrulls. The broad outlines of the story: having lost their home planet in a massive war, the Skrulls kidnapped and replaced humans and superhumans on Earth in order to ready the planet for their worldwide invasion.
That plays out in Ubisoft's game by offering players two on two tag team fights as the Marvel heroes and villains against the Skrull-ized versions of their allies and enemies. Interesting note: a Skrull version of the Hulk is just a deeper shade of green. This story plays out in the game's campaign mode, which switches up the different two-on-two teams across five locations from the comics including the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and the Savage Land.
Players will switch between the initial batch of nine characters with 11 more unlocked through the course of the campaign along with variant costumes. If you've played "Dance Central," you'll understand the flow of a typical "Battle for Earth" matchup (which isn't as weird or unwelcome as it sounds). using an over-the-shoulder display for the action, each character has their list of moves displayed in the lower right corner of the screen as silhouettes, with the target limb(s) to be used highlighted. Across each of the characters, many require essentially the same actions to execute their moves, but with their own unique timing and animations.
The fighting, while not deep, has depth, if you get my meaning. Moves have their own priority and you can--if you have the dexterity for it--string together combos. "Battle For Earth" provides some pop-up/juggle opportunities with the ability to strafe away from enemy attacks by tilting your body left or right. Using a mix of jabs and extended arms, you can execute the fairly small list of moves.
But everyone will be aiming for the Ultra: filling up this special attack meter and jumping up will launch the opponent into the sky where a voice command one of the fighters' high-pyrotechnics Ultra attacks, followed up by a flurry of furious punches. Suffice it to say, by the end of a few rounds, my shoulders were worn out.
Some of the inputs seem clear on the screen, but unclear in how to execute. In particular, one combo follow-up attack which required both arms down and in front of my body never triggered, offering the only real point of frustration in the game. I don't have an especially large Kinect play space, but nonetheless was able to execute the majority of the game's moves without issue. Similarly, the voice commands for the Ultra moves and many of the menu options were pretty responsive (in a cute move, the Kinect sensor is activated by saying "Avengers assemble!").
In addition to the story-based campaign, "Battle For Earth" also offers an Arcade mode, split-screen and online multiplayer, and local co-op. Unfortunately, a lack of willing and available friends meant not being able to test out that last one, but it's in there. The flow of the campaign is frankly a mess: you'll select a mission from one of the locations multiple times to complete that leg of the story, interspersed with panels from the miniseries with voice over by cosmic voyeur Uatu the Watcher. Why Ubisoft's team expected players to drop back into a menu each match is beyond me, but it really breaks the flow for the game. Graphically, it's not much to look at either, and I'm guessing, based on the low-detail character models, the Wii was the lead development console when "Battle For Earth" was being built.
"Tekken," it ain't. But it's also not a bad fighter for what I suspect was the intended younger audience. With some well-animated moves and easy to execute actions, this could be a great game for the young Marvel fan in your life. For older players, it might be a pleasant diversion for a few minutes, but the lack of depth and the lackluster story are worth about half an hour of fun before it's time to take your sore limbs somewhere else.
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