Game Picks: 'Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth'

November 15, 2012 

As a kid growing up on a steady diet of X-Men and Avengers comic books, I naturally emulated my heroes in many an imaginary backyard battle. Wolverine was my favorite, and I recall happy summers walking around the house with plastic butter knives taped to the back of my fists. These were my well-nigh indestructible adamantium claws, you see. Mom, to her credit, never complained, though she did draw the line at duct tape and steak knives.

Comic book fans young and old have reason to celebrate, thanks to this weekend’s NC Comicon 2012 at the Durham Convention Center (see story, page 1D), and the long-delayed release of “Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth” (X360 Kinect, WiiU; $49.99; rated T), the kinda-sorta video game tie-in to this summer’s blockbuster movie.

“Avengers” isn’t your typical tie-in title. For one thing, it’s awfully late. For another, the game isn’t related to the film in any sense other than a marketing one. Instead, “Avengers” is a polished, graphically sophisticated fighting game based on the “Secret Invasion” storyline from the actual comic book series. The characters don’t look like the heroes in the movie. They look like the heroes in the comic books, and that’s a good thing. (Except maybe for the Scarlett Johansson factor.)

“Avengers” works like other Kinect fighting games in that it uses the Kinect voice-and-motion recognition system to do away with the controller entirely. Facing the screen (and the Kinect camera), you fight by actually punching, kicking and jumping around. Lean left or right to dodge. Swing your arms to throw Capt. America’s mighty shield. Jump straight up to fly into the air and pummel your opponent with a flurry of in-flight jabs and hooks.

You can fight as any of the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes, or select from a dozen more Marvel characters including Magneto, Phoenix, Storm, Venom and yes, Wolverine. Each character has his or her own set of special moves, triggered by motion-control combo poses. Pull your hands up to have Hulk rip out a chunk of pavement, then throw them forward to hurl the deadly missile at your foe.

I like the way the designers have shifted perspective to a sort of modified over-the-shoulder angle. This gives you a clear look at both your own fighter and your opponent while maintaining a workable 3-D depth of field. Special attacks and interstitial events trigger cinematic sequences in the classic, exaggerated style of Marvel comic book art.

It’s a lot of fun, and quite the workout, I might add. (Striking the combat poses sometimes feels like speed metal yoga.) The control scheme is as good as I’ve seen for a Kinect fighting game. Motion recognition has improved to the degree where you can actually queue up four or five discrete maneuvers and execute them in sequence.

Menu navigation is still a problem with these Kinect games, though. The wave-and-swipe system is confusing and inexact – I wish they would standardize this system across titles. The game does support limited voice command navigation, and this worked surprisingly well in testing. It’s fun to bark out “Assemble! Tournament! Helicarrier!” and jump right into the action.

Storywise, there’s just enough here to stitch the fighting scenes together. The Skrull, a hostile alien race forever trying to invade Earth, has figured out a way to replace our roster of heroes with lookalike Skrull versions. So in any given fight, you’re squaring off against “Skrull Thor” or “Skrull Black Widow,” etc. The alien imposters have all the powers of the original heroes, only with green skin and generally bad complexion. It’s a good way to shuffle the deck so that good guys can fight good guys. In fact, characters can battle themselves.

“Avengers: Battle for Earth” has six modes in addition to the main campaign game, including online multiplayer and local player co-op. Additional characters and costumes can be unlocked later in the game, by way of an XP/ranking system that is way more complicated than it needs to be. But overall, this is a surprisingly fun game and safe for kids who are OK with frantic cartoon violence.

New This Week: Future war FPS action with “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” (PC, PS3, WiiU, X360); miniature Middle Earth questing with “LEGO: Lord of the Rings” (PC, PS3, WiiU, X360); and the latest installment in the fun and unique puzzler franchise, “Scribblenauts Unlimited” (PC, WiiU, 3DS).

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