It's like the last game, but vastly improved.
It wasn't long ago that I reviewed both the Wii and Nintendo DS versions of Ben 10: Alien Force. Both games were fun but frustrating, featuring inconsistent 2D platforming and shallow combat. This new Ben 10 entry for the DS works out almost all the problems with the previous game. It's not perfect, but it's clever and very pretty. In case you've never heard of Ben 10 before, he's a Cartoon Network character who has a special watch that lets him transform into a variety of aliens and robots. The gameplay is basically similar to Kameo: Elements of Power or Shantae: Risky’s Revenge in that you switch forms to move through the environments and defeat enemies. In this game, Ben 10 and his friends must stop Evil Way Big (yes, that's his name) from finding his own transforming watch with which to take over the universe.
This game has a larger focus on platforming than brawling, in contrast to Alien Force. The different alien powers come up in interesting ways: one form can tunnel underground, one can burn down roots and wood, one can climb walls, one can fly, etc. All of these abilities are used quite well, and you'll find yourself switching between aliens pretty often to get through the levels. This leads to another improvement over Alien Force, you can switch between alien forms without having to first revert back to being Ben. This speeds things up significantly, especially in the heat of combat.
Speaking of combat, it's quite an improvement to how it was before. In addition to the usual three-hit combo, each alien has a special attack that drains some of his Stamina meter, and a super-attack which drains a separate green meter. Then there's the health meter, of course. All three meters are built up by defeating enemies and/or absorbing colored orbs. Each level is quite vast, and checkpoints are frequent. You can search the areas for health and special attack bar upgrades and extra lives, some of which are quite well hidden. What's a real shame is that the super-attack supposedly transforms your alien into its "Ultimate Form", but you don't actually see that. A piece of character art, showing your alien's Ultimate Form, flashes over the screen, and when it goes away, you've dealt the damage and reverted to your normal form. That's kind of a cheat, and I would've liked to control the Ultimate Form aliens.
The graphics are great. 3D characters move through 3D worlds rather than the pseudo-3D characters running around pre-rendered backgrounds used in Alien Force. Character models are surprisingly detailed (especially bosses), the levels are big and fun to explore, and there's never a hint of slowdown. The music is forgettable again, but the little voice samples for each alien are kind of funny.
There are just a few complaints about the game. First and foremost, the story sequences, which amount to static images and text, are way too long. Sometimes you'll get a chuckle out of them, but you can't skip them. Second, the game doesn't tell you what level still has pickups to find, so it's hard to know whether or not you should revisit stages if you're going for 100 percent item collection. Finally, Ben himself is still a useless wimp. It would've been nice if he had his own situational usefulness.
Even so, if you're itching for a decent platformer/brawler on the DS, this is about as good as they get. It's even challenging at times. While the game is obviously geared towards the younger set and Ben 10 fans, I sure got a kick out of it myself.