Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Nintendo Wii, 2006)
While comic book-based video games have traditionally been weaker than Tony Stark's ticker, Activision has enjoyed fantastic, amazing, and incredible success with its Marvel licenses. That trend continues with Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, a near dream lineup of heroes and villains in classic beat-'em-up action. Fans of Gauntlet Legends, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and the developer's previous X-Men Legends series will want to run, fly, or swing to their nearest store and procure a copy for a clobberin' good time.<br><br>Players begin with a party of Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Thor, with the option to swap out characters at access points on each level. The game is divided into five acts, each offering multiple stages in an assortment of themed worlds. Dr. Doom has assembled a rogue's gallery of Marvel villains for his nefarious purposes, and Nick Fury has united the best and brightest of Marvel's superheroes to stop him. The design closely follows nearly every overhead-view action title before it, as players pummel throngs of enemies, throw switches, solve crate-sliding puzzles, and engage in cinematic boss fights requiring timed button presses to exploit specific weak points.<br><br>While there are light role-playing elements, they take a back seat to smashing crates, advancing through linear, maze-like levels, and whacking the stuffing out of enemies. That the action remains fun from start to finish is due to the characters themselves, whose moves are diverse enough to make you forgive the game's repetitive nature. You can disarm enemies, grab them, throw them, use projectile attacks, perform air smashes, unleash different super powers, and much more. How you fight is dependent on the character's core abilities, which can be customized to a degree by picking up new costumes and purchasing enhancements with credits found throughout each stage.<br><br>The distinguishing aspect of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, other than the huge amount of cameos and assortment of playable characters, is its replay value. There are multiple difficulty settings and side objectives to complete that shape the storyline in surprising ways. In addition, the game features hidden characters, timed challenges, and character art to unlock, and there's always the added incentive to create new teams to improve their stats and gear. Genre enthusiasts won't find much new here in terms of structure and design, but those who appreciate a fast-paced, four-player brawler with plenty of moves, levels, and customization options will thank their stars and garters for the effort.