Another summer movie season is upon us and that means more movie-based games. This summer has been a bit disappointing in terms of movies and the licensed games have been even worse. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Madagascar have been awful and Batman Begins was also underwhelming. The Fantastic Four film was something I planned on avoiding like a plague, so I was surprised that the game turned out to be a beat ‘em up done right.
“Lets clobber the generic bad guys!”
Don’t even get me started on how much the movie is changing the Dr. Doom character, who happens to be one of the best Marvel Villains around. Ignoring the disappointing changes to the comics, the plot is actually handled fairly well. I can’t compare it to the movie since I haven’t seen it, but the whole thing is actually coherent. While the Episode III game jumped around incessantly and ignored the plot, The Fantastic Four progresses in a well-paced manner thanks to decent cutscenes and the inclusion of some classic villains.
What really matters in a game like this is the clobberin’. Not just any old clobberin’- the kind with four different characters that should each feel unique. Fortunately, Fantastic Four delivers in this area. The Thing has a huge amount of health and some powerful moves, but his lack of speed leaves something to be desired. The Human Torch is exactly the opposite, except he has the power of fire on his side. Mr. Fantastic is pretty much in the middle in terms of skills, though his stretch skills prove he’s no slouch in the damage department. Invisible Woman is rather weak, so her stealth kills and force fields help her hold her own with the boys. Even though my personal favorite is the Thing, each character is balanced so well that it’s never a bore controlling any specific superhero.
“I am woman, hear me roar!”
Although it’s possible to get by with simple button mashing, there are actually a reasonable amount of moves. There are three and four button combos, various special moves unique to each character and the standard assortment of basic attacks. Special moves and combos can also be upgrading by completing bonus objectives and finding items. It’s all far from revolutionary, but the many cool-looking moves keep things interesting.
Some of the levels are solely designed for one specific character, but there are moments where you can have all four heroes fighting at the same time. Simply hitting a directional button switches to any of them on the fly. This doesn’t just make for some exciting free-for-all brawls; it’s required during some of the boss battles. For example, the Invisible Woman will trap a boss’ hands with here force field, and then switching to the Thing will make inflicting massive damage no problem. This sense of teamwork is especially rewarding in the two-player cooperative mode (more on that in a moment).
Throughout the whole game the level design is kept simple. There’s lots of fighting, some occasional civilians to protect and there’s even some very brief minigames unique to each character. Mr. Fantastic can hack terminals by completing a simple puzzle. For the Thing to destroy a huge object it takes hammering the X button as fast as possible within a five second time limit. The minigames are equally simple for the Invisible Woman and the Human Torch. These little segments do little to spice up the gameplay, but since levels rarely last longer than ten minutes, it’s hard to become bored.
Playing solo is entertaining for a while, but Fantastic Four shines in the two player co-op mode. Busting out special moves that require teamwork is a joy, as is double-teaming some thug. The amount teamwork and communication required is very welcome even though this is still a mindless beat ‘em up. Co-op can turn a bad game into an average one, or make a good game even better- the latter holds true with this game.
“Who ordered a cab?”
The only problem with the co-op mode are some camera issues. It’s very easy to become disoriented since the camera is constantly trying to show two different characters. One time the camera froze for thirty seconds with absolutely nothing on screen. Problems like this were far less prevalent while playing solo, but every now and then a poor camera angle would still pop up.
At least the graphics are decent enough, although it’s hit and miss. The Thing and the Human Torch look great, but many of the enemies look bland in comparison. The lush jungle stage looks particularly vibrant, especially in comparison to some of the duller stages. Most importantly, the frame rate is kept consistent even with many people fighting onscreen.
In the sound department, respect was shown to fans by having original actors reprise their movie roles. There’s nothing more obnoxious than listening to a second-rate copy of a known actor. The generic rock music also gets the job done, although it’s hard to pay attention when you’re beating up things.
“Whoa there big guy…”
The bane of most beat ‘em ups is their short length and Fantastic Four is no exception. Fortunately, the developers took some steps to add replay value. There are hidden items and bonus objectives that encourage replaying through the level. There are also a bunch of unlockables including interviews, comic book covers, and so on. Best of all is an Arena mode where you can hone your fighting skills. You can even go head-to-head with a friend to see who can kill the most enemies. It’s not a bad way to spend some time.
Considering all the recent movies turned into lackluster games, Fantastic Four stands out. It’s an old-fashioned beat ‘em up done right. The co-op play is excellent and even going solo can make for an entertaining time. Some might complain about the lack of variety and the short length, but those two things come standard with the genre. It most certainly is clobberin’ time.