When the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance came out in 2006, a DS SKU was noticeably absent. There was a PSP game that was more or less a direct conversion of the PS2/Wii game with the usual compromises, but if you wanted to play MUA on a Nintendo handheld, you had to stick with the watered down beat-em-up that was released on the Game Boy Advance that beared little to no resemblance to what is found elsewhere. After finishing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 on the DS, I can see why. Developer n-space did an admirable job of squeezing the Marvel Ultimate Alliance experience onto the DS, however it’s clear that the system was just never powerful enough to run the game in any way that’s fun.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 like very other version features a story that starts off taking inspiration from the Secret War story about Nick Fury taking a group of heroes on an unsanctioned mission to the country of Latveria, which then bridges into a loose retelling of the famous Civil War event and then finishes off with the same conclusion crafted by the developer of the console game, Vicarious Visions. The story is perhaps the part of MUA2 that survived the transition to the DS the best. This version lacks both full-motion video and voice, instead telling its story through talking still, comic panel art and dialogue boxes. Even if you haven’t played this game on anything else nor read either story that this game is based on, you won’t have any trouble understanding the plot which is a good thing as it’s a compelling one to play through.
The last time Marvel Ultimate Alliance graced a Nintendo handheld it was in the form of a pretty generic beat-em-up but the sequel on the DS is more faithful to the console games, for better of for worse. Mostly worse. You pick from a team of four playable heroes at a time and crawl through dungeons punching bad guys, solving some basic puzzles and fighting the occasional boss. When boiled down to its most base elements, the DS version sounds like an exact carbon copy of the same game elsewhere, but the similarities end at the basic description.
It’s understandable that Activision would’ve wanted to bring this game to the DS as at the time, as it was the one of the best-selling devices at the time, however to bring it to the DS as a 1:1 conversion was a pretty terrible decision. The system struggles with having four heroes on-screen at once and the ones not being controlled by you are pretty useless most of the time. Too often you’ll find a character stuck in a wall or lingering far behind your group not being helpful in the least. As the game has difficulty keeping four characters in your group together, that only leaves room for around one-to-two enemies at a time. To compensate for the lack of fodder to beat down, the enemies take an excessive amount of time to kill, even when you reach your max level of thirty, and are never fun to fight which is a problem with a game that is made up of nothing really but fighting wave after wave of enemies.
N-Space put a lot of effort into giving the player a lot of options in which to combat enemies from a light and heavy attack; four selectable powers that can be leveled up as you progress and the touted team-up attack where two characters combine their powers that was a big selling point for the game. Despite having a myriad of ways in which to fight evil, the best way to progress through the game is hitting one attack button over and over, and even that doesn’t feel that good. Basic attacks lack the appropriate amount of collision detection to give you any meaningful feedback, and combined with how long it takes to bring down the average henchman, it makes grinding through each stage a chore. Selecting your super powers are easy enough: You can either type a corresponding icon on the touch screen or hold the R-trigger down to use it as a modifier with a corresponding face button, but whether it’s Captain America’s mighty shield; Iron Man’s repulsor rays or Spider-Man’s web-shooters, nothing is as efficient as pounding on the attack button.
The same can be said for the team-up manoeuver which I didn’t even use once throughout the campaign and still managed to complete it with little to no difficulty. You build up consumable tokens that can be used to either perform the team-up move or bring a hero back to life by dragging an icon on the touch screen from one character to another. I always used my power for resurrection purposes, throwing my heroes into danger with little regard for their safety and with the exception of one gauntlet of giant robots towards the end of the game, this was a sound strategy that worked pretty well. On a side-note, I played this game on the 3DS and used the control slider for movement which I feel is the ideal way to play this game. Back when it was released in 2009, players didn’t have any option in how they played and for that I feel bad for them. I tried to use the d-pad to move around for comparison sake and had to give up after a few seconds because it hurt my thumb so much.
In contrast to the amount of ways you can go about hitting things, the roster of characters you can pick from is pretty paltry. Like the console game this is meant to be played twice to experience both sides of the pro/anti-registration argument, but no matter what side you pick, it never seems like the playable characters really opens up until the very last couple of stages, and by that time you’re not really going to want to experiment with anyone new. For that matter you’re not really going to want to play through this game twice to see both sides of the conflict despite being a pretty short game overall, only taking me about two or three casual sitting over a one day period.
Given all that’s happening at any given moment, it’s not surprising that MUA2 on the DS would take a hit in the graphics department. Each character looks fine and are easily identifiable but don’t really pop off the screen in any meaningful way either, especially given how bland the environments look most of the time. Yes, the DS was never the most graphically intensive system, but it still is the home of some might fine-looking games at the same time. The volume should also be kept down at all times as the music for each level is some of the worst I heard and plays on an endless loop.
I’ll give credit where credit’s due and say that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is technically impressive on the DS as the fact that it works at all is pretty astounding, however technical prowess doesn’t make a good game. From the average at best graphics, the poor AI on your teammates, the terrible collision detection and overly monotonous gameplay, n-Space may have perhaps been too ambitious in what they could pull off on the DS hardware. If anything this game should have taken a page from the Lego series or Justice League Heroes and limited the characters on-screen from four down to two to make things run better. If you’re looking for a Marvel themed dungeon crawler to play on the go, you’re much better tracking down a copy of either the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance or X-Men Legends 2 on the PSP.