STAFF REVIEW of Ben 10 Alien Force: Vilgax Attacks (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009.
by Randal Santia

Ben 10 Alien Force: Vilgax Attacks Box art Ben 10, for those not familiar, is an action cartoon that runs on The Cartoon Network where a boy finds a wrist device that is attached permanently to his wrist allowing him to transform into 10 different alien forms, and like all cartoons, he ends up saving the world doing it. It's important to know this going in, and it's also important to get some background on show as the game doesn't do a great job of filling in those blanks. I spent the better part of this adventure scratching my head trying to find out who was who, and where I was going. This game is definitely geared towards fans of the series, and if that's you, I think you're in for a treat as the game puts you in control of the action. Those on the other side of the fence will find a game with a spotty story, and a lot of time spent watching a cartoon rather than playing the game.

Lets start with the good. From what I can tell the game sticks pretty well to the show, which has to be the point. Players already entrenched in the story of Ben 10 will have little trouble keeping up. The game puts the player in control of Ben Tennyson, the series star, and his morphing inducing wrist watch, The Omnitrix. The world is ending, and you're their last hope... well, you and your cousin, sarcastic friend, grandfather, the time traveling professor who keeps appearing on queue and The Plumbers, whomever they are. Vilgax, the evil alien nemesis of Ben 10 is invading the earth, and the only way to stop him is to travel back in time and stop Vilgax before h gets started. They spend a lot of time advancing the story using cartoon cut-scenes but I had two issues with them. They're long, which is ok for this type of game, but they don't do a great job of filling in the non-fan of what's going on... so again, if you're not familiar with the story lines, you're lost and getting frustrated. Second, some of the cooler things, like killing off one of the first bosses, is actually done in a cutscene, I worked hard to get his health down, and then the game finishes him for me!

Moving on! As you go about traveling to different planets on your faithful alien ship called... um... "Ship" you're faced with puzzles and obstacles that require you to use the different abilities from each of your aliens to get past. They do a good job of showing the ropes, and then leaving it up to the player to figure out what to do next time a similar puzzle comes up. While they do get a little repetitive, and I found myself walking for long periods of time with an occasional "hit the door with the fire" puzzles, there was some variety that kept it fresh enough.

Where the game really broke down for me was on boss fights... there are puzzles built into them, however they're really poorly designed. For example one of the early fights was against two snakes... I'm blasting away with fireballs and there's nothing happening. I stood in one spot for literally 5 minutes and nothing was hitting me, they kept swiping at me, and snapping at me and nothing. I'd fire back at them w/o moving... nothing. I kept noticing these green clouds from the snakes, the same ones on the doors I was blasting but it wasn't doing anything, until I moved. Once I moved to another spot, and timed the fireballs perfectly, I damaged the snake. There were lots of instances of combat where it just didn't make sense, and I can easily see players getting frustrated. Suddenly my laser beams do no damage, my fireballs do no damage, but if I ignite the gas coming from the around the bosses, I score big time. I'm familiar with the old "you have to shoot him in the eye" type of boss puzzle, and that's not what this was, and this wasn't the only instance of it. Clearly my special powers should be damaging bosses or enemies, but because it's not the right way, it doesn't work. They missed the mark on the boss fights by trying to make them too simple, they make them boring, drawn out and often frustrating.

I hate to rile on complaints, but there are a few more that are really game changers. They have this hint system that pops up and tells you what to do now and then, but the sound of the guy talking it just brutal. They've recorded things like "the B Button" or "right trigger" outside of the line being spoken, obviously to make it easier to port to different consoles, but it just sounds so broken and cheap. Hurts the presentation quite a bit. The other is the constantly appearing "Point of Interest". Again, it's a hint system that just hinders more than aids at times. When a Point of Interest comes up, the game asks you to push the LT, and it moves the camera as to highlight a certain ledge, pole or car and let you know that "Hey... you need to interact with this thing". The problem is, on many occasions these Points of Interest are on the other side of a building, or in another room through a window etc... and pressing the LT ends up highlighting something that isn't even relevant. I spent a good amount of time trying to get up on a ledge that I though I needed to be on, when it turns out the Point of Interest was actually a pole, on the backside of the building I was trying to climb, and only once I got around the corner did the camera seem to highlight the correct point. Same with a lift that was outside a room I was in, but the LT was highlighting a computer I though needed to be smashed. Couple with some odd behavior around boxes that I can sometimes climb, and sometimes can't or ledges that I can sometimes grab and sometimes can't and ramps that appear out of thin air... it's an exercise in frustration to figure out just where to go next, which shouldn't be the case in the game of this nature.

If you can get by the glitchy camera and learn to work the hint system to make sure it's pointing to the right place, fans of the game should be able to enjoy their time with Ben 10. It's not very difficult, and there is health items inside every breakable piece of the environment so unless you fall down a well, dying isn't going to happen to often. Enemy swarms appear through your adventures through the puzzles and having a wide range of aliens to do away with them breaks up the monotony of walking around solving the same puzzle for a minute stretch. I wound up find a group of favourite aliens, and used them over and over again, though the achievement system involves achievements for killing 150 baddies with specific aliens, so there's an added reason to switch and try them all, which if you care about those things, is a great way to keep you interested in moving forward.

The Way I See It: A fun, simple though at times frustrating romp through the adventures of Ben Tennyson which will keep young fans of the series entertained, and the rest a little lost and confused.

Overall: 6.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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