sunnuntai 24. maaliskuuta 2013

REVIEW - Fantastic 4 | GBA | 2005

GENRE(S): Action / Beat 'em up
RELEASED: June 27, 2005
DEVELOPER(S): 7 Studios, Torus Games (GBA), Beenox Shift (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

The Fantastic Four - Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm - were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, and these astronauts turned superheroes went on to become some of Marvel's most known stalwart heroes for decades to come. However, they lacked the push of many of their peers. Apart from a few short-lived cartoons, the Fantastic Four never had much extra to back it up; there was never a live-action TV show made out of it, and plans for a live-action movie fell through in 1994 - some bootleg copies of this somewhat of a cult flick are in circulation, though. Well, in 2005, the producer of the aforementioned movie, Bernd Eichinger, went on to produce another Fantastic Four movie for 20th Century Fox. Some days before the premiere of this highly anticipated live-action reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise, a few games loosely based on the movie were released as early promotion. After the movie was out, people found themselves struggling to decide which they hated more - the movie or the games. That bad, huh? Let's see how the Game Boy Advance version fares.

Not fantastic, but almost bearable

Four astronauts and their financier return from a space flight severely changed. Due to exposure to cosmic rays, Reed Richards' body becomes completely elastic, Susan Storm can become invisible and create kinetic shields by will, her brother Johnny is able to fly and engulf his whole body in flames, and finally, Ben Grimm turns into a hulking rock monster with superhuman strength. Using their newfound powers for good, they are given the nickname "Fantastic Four". Meanwhile, the fifth passenger, Victor von Doom, is silently witnessing his life and career crumbling down due to the failed flight, and upon discovering his slow transformation into organic metal and the ability to control electricity, he decides to have his revenge on the people's pet foursome.

The dialogue ain't for the serious.
My first Marvel comic book, and one of the most fabled treasures of my very early childhood was an Avengers/Fantastic Four split album I can't find anywhere on the net. My greatest heroes were The Vision and Human Torch, a.k.a. Johnny Storm. This was before I had even heard of Batman, that early. The dark, gritty direction Batman books had taken back then really wasn't for kids, and my parents took notice of that and bought me Marvel books instead. After I became a fan of the Batman TV show - which never aired in Finland before the late 80's - there was very little they could do to stop me from laying my hands on everything relating to the Dark Knight. Luckily I couldn't understand nearly everything that was really going on in those books, and even still, I forgot all about how great Marvel Comics were, up 'til the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons arrived to enlighten me. Fantastic Four, I forgot all about them. Never watched the 90's cartoon, I'm not even sure if it ever aired in these parts. (Yep, but as late as 1998. Thanks, iMDb.)

When the Fantastic Four movie was announced, at first I was kind of intrigued, but that passed quickly. I didn't believe the movie would have any potential to rekindle my relationship with the Fantastic Four, 'cause it looked fucking ridiculous. Not only did Michael Chiklis look ridiculous in that Thing make-up - it was Michael Chiklis. Perhaps you grew up with Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey in The Shield, I grew up with Michael Chiklis as Tony Scali in The Commish. I didn't exactly expect clobberin' time.

Clobberin' time! (Don't ask me what the
fuck's wrong with the camera.)
Well, I was wrong. Although, as expected, it didn't reignite any spark between me and the franchise like the best superhero flicks do, Fantastic Four turned out quite all right in my opinion. OK, next to Sam Raimi's vision of Spider-Man, it was bad. Come to think of it, even Daredevil was better. That's some heavy criticism right there, but as thoroughly unremarkable and borderline laughable as the movie was, it still managed to satisfy an old fan as a hangover flick, with my ex-fiancée on my side to "entertain" me through the dullest parts, and a huge pizza with a tall, ice-cold glass of coke for me to consume on the living room table. In that sense, it fared better than Hulk - the one with Eric Bana, not the Edward Norton movie which I found pretty good. I outright hated the sequel, which ironically got better reviews than the first one. If my memory serves me right, we couldn't even watch it to the end. It was so horrible. Many good movies have spawned bad games. Many bad movies have spawned even worse games. Here we have a movie that is neither entirely good or entirely bad, and it's about one of Marvel's milestone groups, who make their first video game appearance since 1997's ill-fated PlayStation game simply entitled Fantastic Four, and their third one overall. The plot thickens. What we have here is a mildly entertaining beat 'em up, with some good ideas followed by varying quality in execution. An isometric one - of course it is.

I've seen so many games of its artificial kind on the Game Boy Advance that it's hard for me to determine how nice it looks. Well, if we take two extremes - Terminator 3 (the ugly one) and 007: Everything or Nothing (the pretty one) - I'd say Fantastic 4 is closer to the latter. The level design might be bland, but character animation is superb, and well, at the very least it's one of the few games that doesn't have stills from the movie for cutscenes - I despise those. The game is based on the movie very loosely, anyway. Almost everything in the movie does take place in the game, there's just plenty more for gameplay's sake - like bosses ranging from Annihilus to Moleman, who make this game a curious trip for any Marvel fan to take, regardless whether they liked the movie or not. The sound's quite horrid. There are some good parts to some tunes, but basically, they all sound the same. The voice samples are produced pretty good, and what's most important, they're brief and rare enough.

And this is why they call me Mr. Faaaaaaan-
A standard level in the game features two of the Fantastic Four as a team. Reed is able to hack terminals, he has a long reach in both field and combat, and he can also use his rubber body to work his way around obstacles. Susan can shield herself and anyone behind her from projectiles with a force field, and turn herself invisible to avoid camera detection. Johnny can do just about everything with fire, from melee to ranged attacks, which makes him the best combatant in the game... or if you're more into contact and strength than fiery projectiles, you're definitely more into Ben, who can break just about anything with his fists and tear down whole balconies to prevent ranged attacks from vantage points. At a story breakpoint or a boss fight all members come together, and can perform a "Fantastic 4" special attack at the cost of all of their "mana". The group gains more special abilities as you go, and the control scheme is not only diverse, but surprisingly clever...

...But, the game is extremely dull. Every good idea there is besides the very basic beat 'em up is somewhat incomplete and unnecessary, like the hacking "puzzles" which are not really puzzles at all; finding a match to a figure with no time limit and plenty of tries from a short list is like a puzzle for a two-year old. The scripted special actions for each member turn up less often the further you get in the game, and it seems they're thrown in just to make the game look good and neat, and perhaps to divert attention from the fact that the levels are long, confusing, and copy-pasted to eternity. And another thing...

Back in your hole!
...The game is extremely easy, as well. No, scratch that - it's not easy. It's EFFORTLESS. Survival is almost automatic. Like in the scene on the bridge, where police choppers are firing missiles at Ben, and you're supposed to use Sue and fend off the missiles with a kinetic shield. Well, first of all, I had no idea what to do. The chopper turned up, fired a few missiles, but nothing was happening. I couldn't control anyone. Well, I still had Ben as the active character and he couldn't move - I was kind of pissed that the game didn't switch the character automatically once the scene started. Anyway, he ate a few of them missiles, and he was still perfectly fine after three to four shots as I was still trying to figure out what to do. At this point, I realized that this wasn't going to be a hard game. Just hard to bear. Even this level alone lasted for ten minutes, and there's nothing more to it than the few waves of missiles and a few waves of thugs on a loop until the game decides you've done great. Oh yeah, and by Stage 5, I hadn't lost one life during the whole game. Why? Because every time you're about to die or run out of mana, the game pretty much showers you with power-ups. Yeah, it's nice to have an easy time for a change, but the line's gotta be drawn somewhere.

The bottom line, though, is that people are being way too hard on this game. It's dull, bland and way too easy, there's no doubt about any of those things, but at least it's playable, unlike many similar Game Boy Advance titles I've played and outright hated. Clever and responsive controls, that's a good start for any game.

+ Fantastic character animation
+ Good controls in a clever scheme with a large moveset
+ An interesting supporting cast

- Difficulty level: effortless
- Every good idea beyond a standard beat 'em up is a waste
- The levels are long and dull, and there's not a map or waypoint system of any sort
- The camera acts very weird

< 6.7 >

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