Looking Back on… Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (Sony Playstation 2)

Review: Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (PS2, XB, GC) (I played the PS2 version, for reference, but this was during a point where we didn’t specifically need to highlight the version we’d played; this would change in about a year, I think. Anyway, we’re done with non-IP game reviews, so let’s drop my first actual IP review and make fun of how bad I sucked.)
Tagline: “I don’t think imperfect even begins to cover it.” (Basically.)

Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects
Genre: Fighting/Beat-em-Up
Developer: Nihilistic
(Research says this developer changed their name to “nStigate,” for reasons I cannot even begin to understand, in 2012. Wikipedia notes that the company changed their focus to mobile gaming at the time as something passing for an explanation, but that’s not really a good one. The change makes sense, though, since they were incredibly bad at developing games; basically nothing they developed broke a 75% average, and the only game that got close was Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption, which was their first fucking game. That said, they released two handheld titles in 2012, Resistance: Burning Skies, which was mediocre, and Call of Duty: Black Ops – Declassified, which was such an amazing shitpile I’m astonished it didn’t drive them out of business outright. Anyway, that’s what happened to this development team, so, now you know.)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 9/20/05

What do you get when you take Powerstone and stick Marvel characters in it? Apparently, you get Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects from Electronic Arts. (Though if Capcom had actually MADE a Marvel Superheroes Powerstone I think it would’ve been rad as fuck. I mean the Infinity Gems are right there.) Marvel Nemesis puts the player in the position of being able to answer the question: who would win in a fight between Spider-Man and Wolverine? (Whoever the better player is.) Or how about Magneto and Iron-Man? (In retrospect that was a stupid question.) Or maybe Daredevil and… Hazmat!

Wait, what?

For those who don’t know, Marvel Nemesis also introduces us to “The Imperfects”, a group of genetically engineered beings that are meant to give our favorite super heroes a challenge they’ve never seen before. (As opposed to “can having Marvel characters in this game make it not shitty,” of course, which was a challenge that Marvel’s heroes had faced for most of the nineties, especially when Acclaim released the game.) Will these new characters be able to defeat the Marvel Superheroes? (Narratively speaking, yes.) Or will Marvel’s finest defeat these new invaders? (Narratively speaking, no.) And most importantly, is it a good game? (Spoiler alert: not even a small bit.) Tune in here to find out, True Believer!

Okay. No more Stan Lee for me. Let’s get down to business.


STORY

The story is standard comic book fare: evil aliens are invading the world, and only the world’s super heroes can stop them. Of course, not all is as it seems, but I bet you figured that out. Through this, you are introduced to the various playable Marvel Superheroes, assuming you know who they are; if you don’t, the game does little to introduce them to you. (On the other hand, though, if you don’t, why in the fuck would you buy this?) You’re also introduced to the Imperfects, who are on the alien side of the invasion, and have FMV sequences to explain their motivations, as they’re EA creations and not a part of the Marvel universe. (Assume “motivations” should have been in sarcastic quotes there.) The problem here is that the actual storyline contained in Marvel Nemesis ultimately evolves into a showdown between two of the Imperfects (with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, of course), which effectively leaves the Marvel characters out in the cold. (That, in a nutshell, is some fucking corporate Mary Sue shit right there; we’ve rented the entirety of the Marvel universe to make a game, so let’s make our own characters to kick their ass. I kind of wonder if the point wasn’t to rent Marvel’s characters for a bit, establish the Imperfects as an IP, then drop Marvel and continue on with the brand that had been bolstered by Marvel, but since it fucking bombed we’ll never know.)

Now, without being overly fanboyish, if EA wanted to make its own super hero franchise, they didn’t need to abuse a bunch of Marvel characters to do so. Conversely, if EA wanted to make a Marvel fighting game, they should have done so without pushing their in-house characters to the forefront. (Well, that’s not even the issue per say; I mean, you can make your own characters important, but when you make an entire game based around Marvel characters and the end of it is “two of our own in-house characters fight with the fate of the Marvel universe in the balance, after every other Marvel hero got their asses kicked,” you’re an asshole.) It also doesn’t help matters that most of the new characters are largely uninteresting, poorly motivated, semi-generic retreads of already existing Marvel characters. EA states that the characters were created as a joint venture between them and Marvel artist Jae Lee, but I’d imagine that Lee most likely only supplied the artwork concepts, because I just can’t imagine being proud of creating something like Johnny Ohm. (By the way, I want to make it a point to note that, in the story, Spider-Man’s narrative arc is, and I’m not kidding, that he defeats a possessed Venom and an enemy called Hazmat, whose power is acid, before losing to the aforementioned Johnny Ohm, who is literally the shittiest possible version of Electro ever created. Memo to whoever legitimately thought that Spider-Man would lose to the super-shitty electric dude whose entire name exists so he can make a joke ninety percent of the audience for this, having not seen Johnny Carson or The Shining, wouldn’t get when Spider-Man already has an electric enemy and like a decade of experience fighting him: FUCK YOU, FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY IS BETTER FANFICTION. Jesus Christ.)

Of course, if you’re a comic book fan, you’re probably used to this. (That keeps being more accurate the longer the world goes on.)

So, what you’re ultimately given is a rehashed storyline chock full of characters you might like that are ultimately wasted, and characters that are established as being important that you aren’t really given a reason to care about. This, unfortunately, is a good indication of what the rest of the experience has to offer, so at least it’s consistent.

Story Rating: 4/10 (We used to place the scores at the end of each section; this will stop in about a year or so I think, but it works for a commentary break point. Anyway, I feel like this might be a little high, but 2-3 isn’t much lower so it’s fine I guess.)


GRAPHICS

Overall, the in-game graphics are quite good, if artistically odd. (In other words, the tech is good, but I don’t like the actual visual design.) For some reason, it was decided that the characters should have a shiny, semi-ethereal look to them, which does make them look larger than life. It’s also weird looking, and makes almost the entire roster look like they’ve been shrink-wrapped. (The logical reason I’ve come to for why this is this way is that the developers wanted to use this tool for the alien invaders, the possessed characters and The Imperfects, and they didn’t really know or care how to turn it off for the regular characters. Given the chain of work the developer has made since, that might even be giving them too much credit.) Otherwise, the character models look very good, and animate as you would expect them to.

There aren’t really any frame rate issues to be had in the game, though this can be attributed to both the minimal variety (and lower poly count) of random enemies in the single player missions, and the fact that there are only two characters on-screen at once in versus matches. The game environments all look fairly solid, and are nicely destructible, though this probably has a lot to do with the fact that they’re all fairly small. In short, aside from the well-rendered character models, the visuals are mostly serviceable and attractive, but there’s not a lot to them. (That said, the game was fairly low-tech comparatively for its release, and time hasn’t been all that kind to it, so expect that it won’t be doing anything to impress if you see it now.)

Graphics Rating: 6/10


SOUND

The in game music is fairly generic orchestrated music, and is slightly reminiscent of a Danny Elfman score. It’s all pretty average; you most likely won’t hate it, but it’s not going to stick with you after you’re done playing the game. (I honestly don’t remember anything about the soundtrack at this point, so.) The sound effects fare better though… from punches to explosions, everything sounds about as accurate as can be expected.

The voice acting is also fairly solid throughout the game, though some characters are notably better than others. Characters like Venom, Faultzone, and Wolverine have voices that are consistent with the characters, whereas Daredevil, as an example, sounds like his voice actor took the “lawyer” aspect to heart more than the “blind superhero”. The voice acting is brought down by voice distortion of the characters when they’re “evil”… most of the distorted voices sound a little silly, but when this is done to voices that are ALREADY distorted (Venom is a prime example) what you’re left with is absolutely horrendous. (I went back and looked up a couple Let’s Play videos for this, and yeah, the voice work not only wasn’t great, but seems worse now that we’re at a point where even cheap games have pretty good voice casts.)

I also wasn’t a fan of the Spider-Man voice actor, but that’s probably because I’ve heard something like nine different Spidey voices over the past ten years, so take that as you will. (I do believe I’m up to around fifteen at this point, and I still feel like the 90’s Fox cartoon voice actor is one of the better ones, honestly. NPH gave it a good go, though.)

Sound Rating: 6/10 (Given that I have no cognizant memory of the audio from the game at all, save that it was annoying at times, 5 seems like a better number here, but it’s not too far off.)


CONTROL/GAMEPLAY

Combat is a simple affair, and if you’ve played Powerstone or Kung-Fu Chaos, you’ll have an idea of how to play this. (Two things here. First, we didn’t go to “italicizing titles in reviews” for another couple years, I believe, so if you’re familiar with DHGF work, we don’t get “pro” for another year or three. Second, and maybe this is only something I wonder about but in case it isn’t, why did so many companies look at Power Stone as a game and say, “Hey, let’s do that thing,” when Power Stone itself wasn’t very well received? I get all the ripoff games that borrow from Smash Bros, because at least THAT game made a mint, so if you want to reskin that with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Evangelion, and yes THAT IS A THING and I HAVE PLAYED IT, go nuts. But Power Stone was a game that was critically well received and sold so poorly that Capcom has never tried to bring it back ever again, but people keep aping it, each time to diminishing returns, and I never understood that. If anyone had made a game like that which made millions of dollars at least that’d make sense, but for fuck’s sake, Double Fine made ANOTHER version of it THIS YEAR, after a decade and a half of it NEVER being a hugely successful formula, and I just DON’T UNDERSTAND.) You have an attack button which can be mashed to perform combos, a grab button that also allows characters to pick things up for throwing, a jump button, and a block/dodge button, which are all pretty self-explanatory. You also have a “super power” button, which usually simply enhances the effects of the previous four buttons, but can allow some characters a projectile attack or the ability to grab environmental items from a distance. (Because they’re super heroes and villains, you see.) Also, you have a fatality-esque grapple that can be done when your opponent is in danger status that finishes them off instantly, which is done by pressing the super power button and the grapple button simultaneously. And finally, you have a super movement, or “mobility” button, which enhances your character’s movement, depending on the character (Spider-Man and Venom swing on webs, Storm and Iron Man fly, Wolverine can run up walls, etc). And that’s about as detailed as the controls get. While this does make it easier to simply pick up the game and play, there won’t be anything here to hold the attention of fighting game veterans who are used to more complex games. (What I meant by this was that, while there are a bit more controls to keep track of functionally than, say, Marvel vs Capcom, the systems lack the depth of that game; this game is mostly “grab item/throw item/spam combo/use super power” more than anything, and it’s a lot less tactical than most normal fighting games. Though, on reflection, I feel like you could do an actual Power Stone style game with Marvel characters and make it pretty rad. Hell, you’ve got the Infinity Gems right there, it’d work.)

The actual gameplay itself, however, renders this all moot by being so spectacularly mediocre-to-bad that only the most hardcore fighting game or Marvel fans will find anything to like here.

The single player campaign is the worst offender here, which is a shame, because you HAVE to play through it to unlock the hidden characters and stages. The camera is unresponsive at the best of times, so you will either spend your time constantly fighting to keep everything in view or being blasted from off-screen. There’s no lock-on feature in the game, so you’ll be spending a lot of your time hoping your attacks line up, only to watch your character strike at thin air. (Ostensibly this is because the game was mostly focused around the big environment fighting game aspects, which is fine, but if that’s the case, don’t put a shitty third person platformer into your fucking fighting game, asshole, because the end result was a game that was just such a chore to play.) What targeting the game DOES employ is broken as well; thrown items and projectiles might go straight at an opponent, or at some random piece of the environment, which gets really frustrating. (Yeah, the game would try to throw your projectiles at something in the direction you were facing; you just didn’t know if it was the RIGHT thing because it wouldn’t warn you in advance.)

The one-on-one fights are improved dramatically by the use of a locked camera, but the lack of lock-on still leaves you throwing things at enemies and praying they don’t aim at something else. Characters with projectile attacks are also at a highly unfair advantage; not only can they attack from far away, but if your opponent picks up an item of some sort, a simple projectile shot will cause them to drop it instantly. (This was annoying as hell in the campaign, I should note, because it meant that when you were facing projectile users you’d get cheaped out over dumb shit, while when you were using a projectile user, it often became a game of hide-and-go-fuck-yourself. Playing against a human was a little better, but only when you were playing couch co-op, so you had the benefit of being able to smack the other player if they were being a dick; online, in comparison, was kind of a shitshow.) The game also seems to rely heavily on the use of environmental items to do damage, as throwing a barrel or a car does more damage than your fists. (Which makes sense, but the game made it a point to basically make the difference kind of a game-breaker at times, which made it unenjoyable to deal with.) This would be fine if your characters didn’t drop them at the slightest touch, which has a tendency to cause your own demise. This ultimately makes fights break down to who can plaster the other person with what first, which just makes the game more of an exercise in frustration than anything else. About the only thing I can really say positive here is that when I played it online, it was stable and didn’t give me any lag problems, but the online play didn’t really make the game any more enjoyable. (This is so often the case.)

Control/Gameplay Rating: 4/10 (Well it WAS playable, at least, so while there were a whole mess of problems, it worked well enough that I can nod and go along with this score.)


REPLAYABILITY

Once you’ve completed the single player campaign, you’ve seen just about everything the game has to offer. There are unlockable cards and comics you can collect, but most of them can be earned on your first play through, and none of them are really worth performing any additional tasks. The multi-player modes boil down to a versus mode which can be played on or offline, and that’s it. There’s little depth to the fighting system, and such a distinct lack of balance between characters, that I can’t imagine any but the most dedicated Marvel fan coming back to this after they’ve beaten it.

Replayability Rating: 4/10 (Probably a 3, honestly. Versus sucked and wasn’t fun and once the game was done, it was done.)


BALANCE

I can sum this up in one word: nonexistent.

Missions in the single player campaign range from insanely easy to unbelievably hard with no transition between them. Except in very rare circumstances, your characters cannot regain health during missions, so you’ll find yourself dying far more often than you’d like. (Yeah, that’s a big one for me; if I can’t heal during a single player mission, and I don’t even mean the versus battles but the “fight thirty robots as if it were a normal action game,” missions, then your game is super fucked.) Several of the grunt enemies do far more damage than they have any right doing, and the airborne enemies in particular do heavy damage, and are very difficult to hit on top of that. (Well, projectile characters like Spider-Man didn’t have this problem, but with Wolverine? Fuck you game.) Boss battles can be seriously cheap affairs (especially when you’re fighting against enemies that have projectile attacks) or cakewalks (when the battles are the other way around). In versus battles, aside from the previously mentioned projectile problem, some characters (IE Spider-Man and Venom) are just entirely too powerful, while others (IE Daredevil and Elektra) feel practically useless. (Well… I mean, look who we’re talking about.)

Balance Rating: 2/10


ORIGINALITY

Licensed games are usually low on the originality totem pole, and Marvel Nemesis is no exception. The in-game story is standard comic book fare, the actual game concept has been done before, and better, by Powerstone, and the “original” characters, with the exception of Brigade (body parts from one hundred marines sewn together to make one soldier is certainly an interesting idea), aren’t really that original. Everything you’ve seen here, you’ve seen in other games, period.

Originality Rating: 2/10 (Yeah, this is another 1 category for me. Absolutely nothing here was unique or fresh, and even the Imperfects were just using the same power sets of other Marvel superheroes. Hell, the “dude who’s assembled from hundreds of other guys” character had been done several times before that, and he was probably the most interesting “new” character of the lot.)


ADDICTIVENESS

The lack of depth combined with the frustrating play mechanics make it hard to really get addicted to Marvel Nemesis. The online play could keep you interested for a while, and there’s fun to be had with your friends in versus mode, but beyond that it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to play this any longer than a rental period. The single player mode is probably the deal breaker here though; having to go through the unbalanced and broken missions to unlock the multiplayer extras might put the player off of the game entirely. (To be honest, I’m mostly certain that, after a certain point, I just cheated in some way to unlock everything because I found the process of actually playing the game to unlock things to be too onerous a task, so if that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what does.)

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10 (I’d probably call this a 3 at this point, mostly because I hated the campaign, and the online wasn’t great.)


APPEAL FACTOR

Anyone who’s a Marvel Comics fan will definitely find something to like here, as a lot of Marvel’s franchise players are available in the game. (They’re also shit on by the terrible EA characters, so I suspect maybe not so much.) It’s also notable that most of the playable characters also happen to be in successful motion pictures, with the exceptions of Iron Man (who has a movie on the horizon) and Venom (who is rumored to be in Spider-Man 3). (It’s kind of interesting, in retrospect, that when the game came out, in 2005, the only Marvel characters in the game were the ones with movies based around them, save for Captain America in the PSP version and Iron Man in general. It’s also really funny to me that EA and Marvel ended their partnership in early 2008, right before Iron Man came out and essentially jump-started the MCU. EA essentially laid their hands on a franchise that, only a few years later, would be one of the hottest properties on the market, made one game with it, and dropped it after making the Marvel characters look like chumps. I bet they still have no idea why the game did poorly.) This will probably sell a lot of Marvel movie fans on the game as well. I don’t expect that too many people will be sold on the Imperfects, but with Spider-Man and Wolverine on the front cover, they won’t need to be.

Appeal Rating: 7/10 (Nah; if you picked up the box at the time and knew absolutely nothing else about the game except that Spider-Man and Wolverine were in it, sure, but if you spent ten seconds researching it on Wikipedia, you’d have known the plot was shit and the Marvel characters were treated like garbage. Call it a 5, and that’s at the time; these days, the number you’d have to use would basically be equivalent to dividing by zero, frankly.)


MISCELLANEOUS

It seems a little lazy to me that, with most of the characters in the game having been through two or three costume changes in their careers, not a single one of those costumes could have been rendered into the game as secondary outfits. (Yeah; say what you will about MvC3, they gave a bunch of characters alternate costumes and color schemes evocative of said costumes as fanservice, which, even if Capcom is batshit now, showed that they “got” the fans.) I also find the “evil” outfits to be lacking; taking the same costume design and turning it green, blue, black and/or gray is not “evil”, it’s cheap. Overall, that annoyed me, so I figured it deserved a mention.

I’d also like to point out that you’d probably be better served finding a copy of Marvel v. Capcom 2 for your console of choice and spending the $50 you’d have shelled out for Marvel Nemesis on that instead. (Alternately, buying MvC3 for ten bucks somewhere, since MvC2 was on the various arcade services, but isn’t anymore.) You’ll have a lot more fun, and the X-BOX version supports X-BOX Live, so you can even play it over the Internet.

Miscellaneous Rating: 2/10

The Scores:

Story: 4/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 6/10
Control/Gameplay: 4/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 2/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 2/10

Overall Score: 41/100
FINAL SCORE: 40% (POOR). (Probably closer to a 3/10 if we’re being honest, but then, I was new and I wasn’t as bitter as I am now, so, hurray for being nice to poor games I guess.)

The Final Word:

It’s a shame that Marvel Nemesis turned out the way it did. Given the right amount of effort, this could have been an amazing game, but simple controls and a poor single player mode will put off all but the most determined. This feels like a cash-in, plain and simple. (Given the developer in charge and the lack of effort from EA, no, this was probably always going to be a shitpile, sadly.)

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