STAFF REVIEW of PowerUp Heroes (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011.
by Adam Dileva

PowerUp Heroes Box art Remember pretending to be a super hero (or villain) as a kid, waving your arms around mimicking how to use your special moves? I?d raise my hands in the air and slam them downward as if I was summoning lightning bolts from the sky, conjuring magic in my hands, or even throwing fireballs by imitating a Hadouken from Street Fighter (and yelling it out loud of course). PowerUp Heroes attempts to give you this feeling once again while you punch, kick, and flail your arms about to defeat your enemies in this Kinect enabled fighting game.

Obviously this isn?t going to be as robust or technical as your modern day Street Fighter IV or Mortal Kombat, but it?s not trying to be either. This is Ubisoft?s second attempt at a fighting game, and after the first, I honestly wasn?t getting my hopes too high. Remember how terrible that Kinect fighting game launch title, Fighters Uncaged, was? That?s what had me nervous about PowerUp Heroes before even playing it, though I went in with a blank and unbiased slate. PowerUp Heroes feels like a super power kid?s version of what Fighters Uncaged was trying to be. While it seems they have learned from their mistakes, you know, since it actually works, know right away that you?ll need the recommended amount of space Kinect suggests to play accurately (as possible).

Geared towards a younger audience, your avatar will fight the bad guys, but instead of mashing the buttons like in standard fighting games, you?ll essentially be doing it with your arms and legs. It?s entertaining to see how many of the characters, costumes, and moves are inspired (and sometimes blatantly ripped off) by current characters in modern fighting games. You?ll see a character that clearly resembles Scorpion and Reptile (and there?s even Scorpions signature spear-pull ?Get over here!? move included) and even move your hands to the side of your waist before unleashing a fireball towards your enemy in classic Hadouken fashion.

While there is a plot in PowerUp Heroes, it?s so thin and cliché that it won?t even matter. Since when do you play a fighting game for the story anyways? An extremely powerful villain, Malignance, is on his way to Earth in his quest for absolute power which will turn humankind into minions for his growing army to take over the while universe. Volta happens to crash on Earth the same time as Malignance and as he dies he gives all his powers to the closest human, that being you. Now with Volta?s costume and powers inherited, it?s up to you to save not only Earth, but the whole galaxy. Yes, cheesy but it?s meant for kids and it?s a simple enough premise as to why these guys are fighting one another.

You?ll need to use your entire body in this over the shoulder brawler. You?ll be striking with punches and kicks and dodging my titling your torso from side to side. When you throw your arms out in a punching motion you?ll throw projectiles that are low damage but is used to interrupt certain super powers that need time to charge up. Lift a knee and you?ll rush into close combat melee range which you?ll then have to punch and kick to make a combination of five attacks before doing a finisher to end the combo. The finisher needs to be an uppercut or a knee but you?re told exactly which move to use to complete the combo successfully. The problem is that you don?t know which move it?ll be beforehand and you need to perform the move very quickly or the enemy can counter and use the finisher against you. It?s almost a guessing game, as you need to prepare your balance to throw a knee that fast or get an uppercut ready in time.

If you get a combo chained against you, blocking is possible if you mimic the moves that show on the screen in time. You?ll essentially be copying poses but you need to really exaggerate the motions and poses for them to register, on top of being very quick to be successful. In regular combat you can lean side to side to strafe quickly and dodge incoming attacks and projectiles, though some moves will hit you no matter what if you don?t interrupt them by lifting your knee and rushing them to start a combo. As you take damage (and you will in the last part of the game) your Rage meter will slowly fill .Once full you?ll take less damage and deal more yourself. Your super moves will also instantly be ready for use and will refresh twice as fast.

The real fun in the fighting comes from using your super powers which are based on whatever costume you are currently wearing. Certain moves will have you replicating how you would perform them in real life if you could. Fireballs are usually done just like how Ryu and Ken would in Street Fighter, hold your hands above your head then bring them crashing down for a black hole or lightning (again, depends on which suit you are wearing), or even jump up to quickly teleport to your foe and uppercut them. Your special moves have cool down timers so that you can?t spam them repeatedly, so you need to vary your attacks as you wait for the big moves to refresh. The first of three moves listed are used for damage but to also setup a chain of super moves for devastating damage. While it is possible to do Ultimate Chains (by using three super powers and switching costumes twice in between) it?s nearly impossible to do them with certain accuracy. Holding your left hand above your head will make you switch costumes (you pick two before battle) on the fly so that you can vary your attacks. Most moves work just fine where others seem less simple to use and even harder to chain into a combo.

You gain experience for winning (and losing) battles which goes towards your overall level. As you gain levels you?ll unlock power-ups like better projectile damage, starting the match with a full rage meter, and more that you can freely swap between battles depending on your play style. There are ten levels in all but you?ll need to grind for quite a few hours if you want to max your level. You?ll actually finish the game (if you?re able to beat Malignant X) around level three or four where your enemies will be more than double your level for some reason. Maybe this is to promote versus matches with a friend or online matches to level, I?m not really sure.

As you defeat Malignance?s minions you?ll collect their suits and powers to be used if you wish. With twenty suits in all to collect there?s some variety to mixing and matching certain powers but once you find a few you like you?ll stick with them throughout the game. There are even a few special unlockable Ubisoft suits such as a Rabbid suit and even an Ezio costume in tow with his abilities. The only downfall is that once you beat Malignance you?ll need to run the gauntlet again against their X-forms. They have one or two new powers but are much more powerful the second time around and is a shallow pool of actual enemies you?ll face against.

At first I couldn?t figure out why my avatar looked so terrible. When you pick which costume to wear it puts the suit on top of whatever your avatars clothing is. What this means is that if you?re like myself and have some odd clothing that is larger than regular clothing, it?ll constantly be clipping through and looking terrible. If you play wrestling games and create custom wrestlers, you?ll know exactly what I?m talking about.

There is a multiplayer component to PowerUp Heroes with quick match and ranked choices, but each time I tried to find a game online it never would. I tried multiple times and let it sit there searching for a game but it seems no one else was wanting to play when I tried, so unfortunately I was unable to test this feature properly (and couldn?t get my achievement for winning a ranked match).

Menus control just like how Dance Central does with side swipes of your right hand but you?ll sometimes need to be very precise with your selections. Just like in combat, the controls work but you need to be very deliberate with your movements for everything to register properly. When moves don?t register properly the first time you?ll sometimes end up flailing around your arms and legs trying to do multiple things at once. While annoying at times, it?s definitely a workout that breaks a sweat and would make for an entertaining party game for kids.

In essence, it feels like you?re playing an embellished version of rock-paper-scissors since one move or motion is always the counter to another. It?ll succeed and making your kid feel like a super hero at times (and yourself when you start using the super powers) provided they have the balance and dexterity needed. If this was meant to be a serious game for the hardcore crowd, then I could dock it points for missing features, bare boned campaign and more, but it?s not, it?s meant for the younger audience and I could really see them enjoying this if they are into super heroes

There are really only two gripes I have with PowerUp Heroes. The first is the preciseness needed to do a good portion of the super moves (and balance to chain them all together); great premise, frustrating controls at times. The second; it?s incredibly short. You?ll finish the game and unlock the suits in around two hours or so, so be warned the replayability comes from combining different costumes and trying new moves out more than the campaign itself. Also, I was actually unable to defeat the final boss (at level 5) and tried for about two hours total combined. This is supposed to be a kids game and the longer you play the more tired you become, making moves harder to do since you?re reacting slower.

When you?re fighting the same ten guys twice, it doesn?t seem like there?s much value within. To a kid who wants to throw fireballs and beat up the bad guys, I don?t think they will care, especially since two player support is there for siblings and friends. It feels more like a premium XBLA game and I?d actually really like to see this idea taken to the next level with a PowerUp Comic Book Heroes. Imagine the possibilities with characters from Marvel, DC, and more. For what it is and who it caters towards, kids that have lots of energy should really enjoy pretending to be a super hero with a plethora of super powers.

Overall: 6.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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