Can't live up to the original, but still provides plenty of fun.
It was around this time in 2006 when the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance was released, and at the time it was perhaps one of the finest examples of mindless action-RPG fun and shameless fan service going around. It was a riotous romp through some exotic locations, where you fought alongside and against some of the Marvel universe’s most well-known and obscure characters alike. All of this was tied together by a ridiculous story that essentially served as a means to cram as many characters in as possible. Three years on, Vicarious Visions (who handled the PSP and Wii ports of the original MUA) have been handed the reins to produce a sequel.
In terms of gameplay, the fundamentals of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 are much the same as its predecessor: a cooperative 3D brawler with RPG leveling elements, in which you take control of a team of four Marvel superheroes (and the occasional supervillains) of your choosing. The roster boasts a solid 24 characters, roughly a quarter of which were not playable in the original MUA. You’ll find that the characters aren’t exactly well-balanced, with Wolverine being the most notably overpowered character with his ability to deal massive damage and regenerate health over time. But none of the characters seem weak either, so any character is viable to use for the duration of the game. Your team can be swapped around on the fly, so it’s very easy to experiment with combinations to find a team you like. Also returning is the ‘team bonus‘ feature, which grants small stat boosts to your team for certain combinations. However it would have been nice if there were more different combinations available, with only half a dozen or so to choose from.
There are a handful of additions and tweaks to the gameplay mechanics that differentiate MUA2 from the first. You can now find health tokens that can be used to heal or revive party members at any time you see fit (your team can only carry two at any one time though). The old system of picking up items and equipment to buff your characters has been done away with, now replaced with badges that apply stat boosts to your entire team. But by far the most significant addition to MUA2 is fusion attacks. These moves involve you combining the powers of two of your party members to unleash a devastating attack that cause massive damage. These fusion attacks come in three flavours: targeted (massive damage on one target), guided (attack that can be directed onto multiple enemies) and clearing (one big area-of-effect attack). Even though with 24 characters to combine this theoretically means 276 different fusion attacks, you’ll find the majority of them are rehashed across different characters, but it might be a tad unreasonable not to expect that shortcut be taken.
On the technical side, MUA2 is a much prettier game this time around. Although the game is far from being a graphical masterpiece, it is a definite improvement. It’s just unfortunate that the majority of the levels take place in city and industrial areas, and it’s not until the last couple of levels where you get to see some really vibrant scenery. The music and sound effects are solid, and the voice acting is a mixed bag at best. Some of the characters are voiced quite well, but then there are others which are cringeworthy. As you hack and slash your way through enemies, your characters will occasionally drop their own personal one-liners. This had the potential to become extremely annoying, but pleasingly the one-liners change as you progress through the game. As soon as you’ve just about had enough of hearing Wolverine say “I’ve got a point to make about registration... Make that six of them!”, it’ll be out of his repertoire and replaced by another line.
The storyline for MUA2 certainly has a much larger impact on proceedings than it did in the original. The plot this time centres around a superhero civil war, brought about by the introduction of new government legislation called the Superhero Registration Act. The superhero world is divided when Iron Man takes the side of pro-registration, and Captain America leads the charge for anti-registration heroes. At the start of the second act of the game you’re forced to make a choice which side you’re on. This choice affects (albeit only temporarily) which heroes are available for selection in your team, and also which heroes you’ll be fighting against. It doesn’t change which levels you play through however, only the objectives you’re given. The storyline for MUA2 certainly takes itself much more seriously this time around, but whether this is beneficial to the game or not is questionable. Some might argue that the very idea of a game with an all-star Marvel cast is impossible to take seriously anyway, so why bother? At the very least, it’s kind of a downer that you’re being told what characters you can and can’t use for a decent portion of the game. If you wanted a team that has both Iron Man and Captain America for the entire duration of the game, you’re out of luck.
It’s hard to look at MUA2 without drawing unfavourable comparisons to the original. The decision to add a more serious tone to the game resonates pretty strongly throughout. And if I were to recommend one or the other to someone who had never played either, I would heavily lean towards the first. But this would be selling MUA2 well short of what it deserves. On it’s own, this game is a lot of fun and worthy of recognition. If you have 4 controllers and 3 friends, this is where MUA2 really shines. It might be taking itself more seriously this time, but the fundamentals of mindless action RPG fun are still well in tact.