The X-Men Legends series expands to the entire Marvel Universe, providing a robust, dungeon-crawling RPG/beat-em-up for your new Wii.
Despite the new cast of characters, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance plays almost exactly like its predecessors, X-Men Legends 1 and 2. That's mostly a good thing, because the X-Men Legends games were successful in providing extensive comic book fan-service in the form of lengthy dungeon crawls. Marvel: UA's gameplay additions are trivial, but it does look much nicer, and the voice-acting is abundant. More interesting are the special controls for the Wii version, which at least prove that gestures can be used in place of the extra buttons found on other controllers.
The story of Marvel: UA is built upon the thin and tired premise of a particularly powerful villain (in this case, Dr. Doom) convincing all the other bad guys of the world to join forces. It was silly in the Super Friends cartoon of the 70s, and it remains silly in this game. We can believe that super-heroes might cooperate on a large scale –after all, they tend to be idealists—but super-villains are selfish, egomaniacal types who should be as likely to fight each other as battle the heroes. The story is told in episodic fashion, with the Masters of Evil (really, who would call himself "evil"?) raiding one iconic Marvel location after another for some magical trinket or to kidnap an obscure character. These situations seem mostly contrived to throw the maximum possible number of Marvel trademarks at the player, and the melodramatic CG cut-scenes between chapters do little to defend the conceit. In short: don't play this game expecting a well developed plot similar to what you might find in the comic books themselves. If you want an interesting take on what might happen with all of Marvel's greatest heroes and villains put into a giant war against each other, track down the classic Secret Wars mini-series.
Luckily, the game can be enjoyed despite the lack of a strong storyline, and for that matter, it could be enjoyed by someone who knows little about these characters…which is rather likely, given the number of minor heroes and villains which make up a large portion of the game's cast. Even among the playable heroes, there are relatively obscure stand-ins such as Luke Cage, Moon Knight, Spider-Woman, and Ms. Marvel. Some credit is due to Marvel and Activision for providing a considerably different line-up than in the two X-Men Legends games, but these characters are not necessarily cooler or even more diverse than the already large and distinctive assortment of X-Men characters. There is also too much overlap with other games, as several X-men and all four members of the Fantastic Four hog the lineup despite having already starred in their own games from the same publisher, while the Incredible Hulk, the Punisher, and others are conspicuously absent. Despite the strange assortment of playable characters, any player even remotely familiar with Marvel Comics should be able to create a team of four recognizable superheroes.
The gameplay still involves mashing buttons (in this case, just the A button) to plow through hordes of nameless enemies and the occasional boss battle against one or two super-villains. Unfortunately, the enormous levels are still repetitive, generally not very interesting, and there are usually just one or two types of normal enemies per level. The game manages to stay afloat thanks to its RPG-like underpinnings, in which your characters constantly gain experience to become stronger and unlock new super-powers. You are also kept busy by smashing up environmental objects to collect money (used to buy certain upgrades) and special equipment. All of these elements are too simple to make the game a true RPG experience, though it's nice to have the option to manually select upgrades or let the game automatically handle level-ups, effectively allowing you the choice of PC or console-style character development.
Since the Wii remote does not have enough buttons to enable all the different attacks and super-powers of the Marvel characters, the developers at Vicarious Visions have devised five simple gestures to activate various moves. Holding down the B trigger toggles between a normal attack and special move for each gesture. This system is not precise, but it usually doesn't need to be in this game, so it works well enough most of the time. You can still frantically tap the A button for the most basic attack, and you can also set one super-power to the A button for easier access if you have trouble with one of the gestures. The only problem here is that the gestures, while functional, don't really make the game more fun or immersive because they don't correspond at all to what your character is doing. It makes no sense that I would move my hand/arm downwards to perform a stun attack, and in this regard, Marvel: UA manages to work passably on Wii while still missing the whole point of the system's unique control features. It's obvious the game was not designed for the system but rather retrofitted to the remote and nunchuk, and although the game works and is entertaining on its own merits, you can't help but feel that all the waving and swiping in the air is just goofy and pointless. One last note about controls: the camera is rotated by tilting the nunchuk left and right. This is a simple but effective workaround for the Wii's lack of a second joystick. It takes a while to get used to, but there is a large dead zone for the gesture which helps to avoid accidental camera movement.
Even with this unorthodox control scheme, playing Marvel: UA alone can drag after an hour or two. Luckily, the game supports up to four players at a time, so you and your friends can cooperate by each controlling a superhero. The usual single-screen multiplayer camera issues apply, but this is definitely the best way to play the game. It's just more fun when you can discuss strategy, fight over the loot, and bicker about which way to go in the maze-like environments. As in X-Men Legends, additional players can join or drop out at any time, which is a great feature. Unfortunately, the Wii version still lacks the online feature found in every other console version of the game, and this is particularly troublesome since many players may have difficulty finding additional Wii remotes and nunchuks for local multiplayer.
Overall, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a solid continuation of the X-Men Legends series, this time with fresh faces and new places. The Wii version is definitely not the best one available, but if you have no alternative, this is a fun and very lengthy adventure to enjoy on your Wii after Zelda has been exhausted. I would more strongly recommend it for players who can consistently drum up one or two friends (and enough controllers) to play through the game cooperatively, as it does get boring as a single-player experience.