When the world's in danger and aliens are invading, Ben Tennyson is called to duty. Using ten alien forms, and the aid of his two best pals, Ben fights off threats from both Earth and across the universe. Now Ben finds himself on the Wii with Ben 10: Alien Force. Is his adventure out of this world, or should we be referring to our hero as Ben 0?
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Licensed games have been around longer than most of our readers and they will continue to be made long after we've uploaded ourselves into robot bodies. Based off the television series of the same name, Ben 10: Alien Force is aimed squarely at fans. Touting a brand new story, Ben 10: Alien Force doesn't waste time with exposition, or even a few lines of dialogue explaining who these characters actually are. As someone new to the series, when Ben, his cousin Gwen, and their friend Kevin mention "Plumbers" I thought the game was a strong endorser of trade professions. Thanks to an Internet search, I learned plumbers actually protect the galaxy. Something about keeping the pipes of the universe clean. Before I get into the gritty, I'll say that I did enjoy the story, bare bones as it was, and the actual voice acting of the characters was done by the original cast. None of the actors sounded like they were spending more time thinking of their paycheck than the actual characters. Perhaps I'll check show after I finish this review.
Ben 10: Alien Force mixes platforming, simple puzzle solving, and old fashioned beat 'em up gameplay into a package that doesn't excel at any of them, but doesn't fail either. You play as Ben, Kevin, and Gwen, who specialize in alien transformation, body composition altering, and magic respectively. It was clear that the developers hoped to expand the game beyond featuring only Ben and his inner aliens, although you will spend the majority of your time in his shoes. As for his ability to transform, in the show Ben can change into ten different aliens, each with their own abilities and personality. In the game, Ben begins with two, and eventually learns three more forms, for a total of five. Ummm... I thought the game was called Ben 10? These forms allow Ben to spit fire, freeze enemies, travel underwater, climb walls, among other abilities. Each form can also be leveled up to learn new moves, which are pulled off using the A, B, and down buttons on the Wii-Remote. While the later forms are good for specific puzzles, I found myself sticking with the starting plant-fire hybrid form. I don't know if this was intentional or a glitch, but it is almost impossible to be defeated when playing as Ben. His health bar refills every time he switches to and from forms, which is done with a single button press. Kevin and Gwen pop up at specific points to help Ben through a locked door or some other manufactured obstacle. Their segments ramp the difficulty up slightly thanks to a single health bar and no exploits to extend their own lives.
Actually beating up enemies is enjoyable for the first three minutes each level. Then tedium sets in. Enemies are pallet swaps, with the addition of a sword or gun for extra variety. You can play using the buttons on the Wii-Remote or just start shacking and hoping for the best. People who complain that the Wii's controller isn't sensitive enough to movement should really try this game out. At one point I lifted the nunchuck up to scratch my head and found Ben performing a special move on-screen. Either go full on with waggle or stay perfectly still when playing. Anything in the middles leads to random punches and kicks. A huge problem is that the levels drag on far too long. I was trying to play a quick level before I headed out to dinner one night and ended up having to leave the game paused because saving mid level sends you back to the beginning and I didn't want to sit through another 45 minutes of mindless alien smashing.
Translating an animated series over to the video game format can be a visually tricky experience. Most developers go for a cell-shaded design that stay true to the source material while translating the normally 2-D characters into a 3-D space which the Naruto and Dragonball Z franchises have found success with. The people behind Ben 10 have decided to try melding flat-shaded graphics onto a three dimensional world. The results are a mix of dull, jarring, and creepy. The world Ben and his pals fight in are empty of all life save for villains and the hero. You never know exactly how far you've progressed in a level because every background looks exactly the same and actually seems like a copy and paste job. Smashing every destructible object only makes the world more devoid of life. Nobody will ever know about an alien invasion because nobody comes withing 30 miles of where the action is at.
The character models for the three heroes and Ben's transformations are distinct but uninspired. There are a few instances when lazy design actually effects the gameplay. The first is Kevin's ability to absorb materials and transform his body into living metal, stone, and wood. The problem is that it doesn't matter what material he touches, Kevin's coloring turns into a muddy brown color. Perhaps a bit of texturing on his character model would have alleviated this problem. The other big offender is during co-op gameplay. When another player joins in, they don't play as an unused character, but rather a clone of your current hero. When I say clone, I'm talking the exact same character. There are no differences in color to speak of, so keeping track of them is like playing that game where you try and follow the cup with a ball underneath it.
The story is told through a mix of in-game cut scenes as well as prerendered sequences. I'd much rather have kept them all rendered in-engine because they looked closer to the television series than during the CG scenes. Everyone is strangely blocky with lips that would make Angelina Jolie jealous. I think I'm going to start a petition to make it mandatory that games based on animated shows should have animated cut scenes.
When it comes down to it, Ben 10: Alien Force seeks to give gamers a varied gameplay experience based off a hit tween show. What the game actually delivers is an episode of the animated series stretched almost to the breaking point. Repetitive gameplay and uninspired visuals hamper what could have been an enjoyable romp. If you ever thought fighting to protect the Earth was a bucket of laughs, Ben 10: Alien Force will crush your hopes and dreams. Fans and younger gamers will enjoy the story and chance to play as Ben, Gwen, and Kevin. Everyone else should look elsewhere for their beat 'em up fix.
5.5 out of 10