Right, strap in people. This is going to be bumpy.
The Ben 10 franchise is not unknown to me. It was a huge thing back in the 2000s, and the fact that my son was a toddler during the same time meant that I was extremely well versed in the Ben 10 universe. I have photos of him both dressed as Ben 10 aliens, and standing next to some of them when they made their public appearances at a local shopping centre. But that was 10 or so years ago, so I was surprised that a new game had surfaced here in 2017.
So, I went to Google and found that Ben 10 has followed in the footsteps of most big franchises and has been treated to a nice new reboot. The original series followed the adventures of Ben Tennyson, a kid who has a device called the Omnitrix, which allows him to transform into one of 10 different alien species with different abilities. For example, Heatblast has fire abilities, Four-arms has super strength and Cannonbolt can roll like a cannonball. The original cartoon changed these aliens in later series, but the core ten remained the most popular, and these are the ten that feature in the new reboot on Cartoon Network. Obviously, Ben comes up against enemies who are hell bent on destroying the world, so his job is to stop them by using his alien abilities.
Before this review continues I would like to state that I have played many children’s games on the Xbox. Look at my game history and you will see I have played the majority of the early Lego games, Cars, Shrek and many more. These were great for father/son playtimes and were very important in training a young son how to be as good as his Dad at playing video games. I was successful, as at the age of 13 he is a much better gamer than his old man!
But, as you may have guessed by the review opening, all is not good with this game. I have to remember that it is a game designed for children, and it’s unfair to compare it against modern AAA titles. But I do think it’s fair to compare it against the current, and even older, Lego titles. And on that basis it falls woefully short. Even if I compare against titles such as the mediocre 360 title Kung Fu Panda, it’s still very poor. And I am going to be open and honest, and probably quite brutal in my review. Taking all that into consideration however, a Ben 10 mad child will still probably love this game!
This new game is developed by Torus Games and published by Outright Games, a company who specialise in franchise tie-in games. It is a very basic side scrolling shooter with some puzzle/platformer elements. I can see how it is inspired by the Lego games in it’s implementation of these puzzle elements, with certain areas of the levels containing collectibles only being accessible by certain alien characters. Switching between characters is quick and easy on a “weapon-wheel” brought up with a tap of LT. The rest of the controls are pretty straightforward as well. X to fire, B for a secondary power and RT to fire the super, all earned by defeating baddies throughout the level. They are also the obligatory cartoon cut-scenes between levels, featuring Ben, Uncle Max and Gwen, and the evil nemesis’ they face.
Lets start with the levels. There are just six of them. And there is no real incentive to replay them except to pick up the three sumo cards hidden in each level. The Lego games extend the longevity of their titles by hiding so many secret unlockables into levels that a character skill gained at the end of the campaign will be needed in the first ever level, so when your character roster is completed you’ll want to go back in. But not here. Apart from one thing in the first level, you will always have the alien skill needed. My total game play for all six levels was two hours. And at that point I watched the credits and got an achievement for completing the game. Two hours…really? The level design is also incredibly boring. Generic city was followed by generic street scene, with no real design apart from rocks and houses. Only the final level tries something different, with the level being designed around a tall tower and the platforms acting like a spiral staircase around them.
The 10 different alien skills are unlocked by doing absolutely nothing. They just appear half-way through levels. Some of the powers are interesting but ultimately underused. Wildvine is a plant based alien who is able to grow and reach hard to reach platforms by standing on a patch of leaves. But once introduced, the later levels have no implementation of this mechanic, which is a complete waste. Including his powers in the last level would have worked very well, and I am confused as to why it isn’t. In fact, I was able to complete the game only using 2 of the aliens, as Grey Matter has a laser gun, so spamming the X button killed all the enemies in half the time of other characters. I only needed to change into a different character in order to jump over platform gaps.
One of the achievements is to get a 100x combat multiplier. I did this on the first level without even trying. Their is also a counter attack mechanic, very similar to the Batman games, carried out with a quick press of the Y button (when prompted on screen). Killing enemies will earn XP, and this allows you to upgrade each alien’s ability three times, which essentially makes them more powerful, but in certain cases will add a stun or other effect to their power. So, to complete a level you move left, smash crates, defeat enemies. Rinse and repeat. Only the final level has a boss to defeat. Each group of bosses you encounter will have an additional objective, such as setting a time limit to defeat them in.
There is also a campsite area to return to between levels, which acts as a hub site. Within this area you can select a level, and upgrade your abilities. And there’s also the Rustbucket (Uncle Max’s RV), that has no use. I don’t even know why this Hub world exists as it doesn’t add anything to the game. For achievement junkies there’s the ability to go back in to each level after completion to collect the 3 sumo cards, and to get the 1,000 gamer score, but to me it just isn’t worth it.
It’s really easy to criticise the game’s many faults, and ignore the good points, but to be honest I am struggling to pick any out. The biggest problem is it’s price. At £30 (ish) it’s almost criminal. It feels like it’s been rushed out to meet a deadline, with no thought and care on quality. If I had purchased this for a young son for Xmas, and then played it with him I would have been disgusted. The current climate has a lot of gamers feeling ripped off about loot boxes in games, but releasing a game like this is surely a bigger crime.