Every now and then, I break down and buy a straightforward, action-packed, shoot-and-slay 'em video game, like the side-scrollers of yore. Just something to let my brain gawk at while I download and relax after a full day of data mashing & student bashing.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance certainly scratches this particular itch. Released in 2006 for pretty much every platform (PC, Wii, PS3, Xbox360), it received favorable, if not spectacular reviews. My typical M.O. for games is to wait a while after they've been released - sometimes years - before picking them up. This has several advantages. For one, I usually don't have to worry about a game pushing the specs of my system. Two, the bugs have been ironed out; PC games post-patch are sometimes an entirely different beast. Three, they're cheaper. If you're into Marvel characters and want a simple run and shoot adventure where you'll battle a ton of popular (and some more esoteric) villains, put this on your wish-list.
There are more than 20 playable heroes for you to choose from - although several (like Dare Devil) will require unlocking. You put together a team of four and run them through various creative, well-designed (but largely linear) environments on missions that ultimately end in loud and raucous boss battles. You know the deal. Here's a great team I had going at one point (can you name them all?):
Marvel Ultimate Alliance also has some nice RPG elements: as you defeat enemies and complete quests, your heroes will gain experience and level up. This unlocks more and more powerful special abilities, like Deadpool's "Merc's Revenge" where he jumps into the air and sprays all nearby enemies with dual-SMG's. You'll also unlock different costumes for your hero which aren't just aesthetic wallpaper but also carry specific advantages (enhanced armor, speed, etc.). It's pretty entertaining to see all the different outfits that characters like Wolverine have gone through over the years, and have this aspect of the genre well-integrated into gameplay.
You can only control one hero at a time but your team-mates will generally do their best to watch your back and kick ass. You can easily switch who you're controlling by pressing a single button, which means that you'll rarely get bored using the same punches, throws, and special attacks over and over again. There are times when you'll really want to do this to get past tough spots in the game. For example, you can use Ms. Marvel's ability to slow time and then immediately switch to Wolverine to claw your enemies to death before they have a chance to reload.
The gameplay is fast and furious, with some sparse dialog and periodic "R&R" sessions at places like Stark Tower. There are incredibly intense sequences, including a truly awesome battle with Galactus. Here's a montage from Gametrailers.com which captures some representative gameplay:
In general, I was very impressed with the level of detail and immersion that Marvel Ultimate Alliance offers. It's just a helluva-lotta fun to jump into your favorite comic book characters in a game that doesn't demand too much of you. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I played through the campaign twice. Given the number of unplayed games that line my desk, that says quite a bit for Marvel Ultimate Alliance.