We've all been kicked in the junk by Marvel superheroes before. Watching Elektra was like two hours of nut-pummeling by a relentless, sac-hating donkey. But superhero films -- even bad ones -- gross bazillions of dollars. So it's no surprise that Marvel is cashing in with a slew of licensed videogames. Some are walloping-good fun -- X-Men Legends and Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction spring to mind. Unfortunately, the latest spandex-clad melee lives up to its name: imperfect.
On paper, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects seems promising. The game boasts a tie-in comic book, original designs by big-name comic artists, and a slew of beefy villains created specifically for this game. But the new baddies include a walking Duracell named Johnny Ohm and -- I kid you not, true believers -- a cyborg ballerina. If "cyborg ballerina" doesn't scream "back to the drawing board," what does?
Dr. Doom and Magneto must have been vacationing in the Hamptons, because the plot centers on a mad scientist straight out of central casting. Your mission is to stop his generic plan to take over the world, playing a variety of marketable Marvel heroes, including the tenacious Wolverine, the rock-hard Thing, and the thongtastic ninja Elektra, last seen bumping uglies with Ben Affleck on the big screen.
Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects Manufacturer: EA Games Platform: Xbox, PS2, Game Cube Price: $49.99 ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) Score: 4 (out of 10)
While brawler games can be mindless fun, they get old quick, unless you're drunk, six years old, or both. This is especially true in Imperfects. The game's drab, clichéd missions include such scintillating tasks as "Beat up 15 enemies in two minutes" and "Kill this spiky guy, so we can move this damn level along." It plays like every side-scrolling arcade brawler of old: Brutalize endless hordes of baddies, until the Spider Sense in your thumbs isn't just tingling, but bleeding all over the A-button.
The difference here is supposed to be the cool superpowers, but they're as cosmetic as Clark Kent's glasses. Oddly enough, throwing taxicabs, couches, or telephone poles at enemies proves more effective than your heroes' special gifts. Throughout the game, Wolverine would do better to sheathe his indestructible, razor-sharp claws and just hurl a Barcalounger.
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Three-D brawlers usually employ a helpful "targeting system" that allows you to lock onto the enemies. Not this one. When Wolverine should be serving thugs their own entrails, you waste precious time swiveling the camera to see who's thumping him off-screen. It's especially frustrating when endless flocks of aerial enemies swoop down like Alfred Hitchcock's birds to peck you to death. Daredevil should not get his ass kicked by a glorified cockatoo.
Imperfects has been misleadingly marketed as a fighting game, but it offers none of the fun of, say, Marvel vs. Capcom. Two-player mode is just more of the same clumsy game play. Sure, there are "up-up-down-right"-style moves to master, but mashing buttons (and yes, throwing couches) is a more effective strategy for beating your friends.
It doesn't help that the characters are hopelessly unbalanced. Heavyweights like the Thing can easily snap waifs like Elektra in two. Sure, she can stall by throwing mailboxes from a distance, but once she runs out of junk, it's clobberin' time.
Young gamers may enjoy Imperfects for its four-color fun. But for everyone else, this cheap cash-in will be as transparent as Spider-Man's long underwear after its hundredth wash.