PS3 Review: Ben 10: Omniverse



There’s always a potential for licensed tie-in games to be substantial, worthwhile interactive side-stories, providing fans their own well-written tale to fight and puzzle their way through. It’s a potential that few games actually deliver on, choosing instead to rush cheap, threadbare games on shelves with a familiar logo or character slapped on it to make a quick buck from kids. Ben 10: Omniverse, based on the most recent iteration of the Ben 10 animated series, surprisingly manages to buck that trend and sink a lot of effort into being a worthwhile story for fans of the show backed up by some fun gameplay, even if it does keep newcomers at arm’s length.

Unlike the majority of licensed kids’ games, which usually pare down the plot to bare simplicity, Ben 10: Omniverse weaves a surprisingly complicated plot. A mishap during a training mission leads to young superhero Ben Tennyson’s new partner Rook being hurled back in time. As the space-time continuum starts to get seriously fudged up and dark alternate timelines are created, Rook bounces between the past and the present as he and Ben’s younger and older selves race to defeat evil villain Malware and set things right.

There’s clearly been a lot of effort to try to make this a more complete, satisfying new story for fans of the show than the usual wafer-thin story you’d expect from a licensed game. Unfortunately, in the midst of weaving a well-told story for fans, the writers forgot about any wider appeal. The game makes no real attempt to introduce any of its characters or make the Ben 10 mythology particularly coherent for newcomers and even the basics of who Ben is and where his superpowered watch came from are absent. From the opening moments, Omniverse is thick with Ben 10 techno-lingo about Omnitrixes and Plumbers with almost zero explanation what any of it means or who anyone actually is.
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If you’re not already well versed in the Ben 10 series, you’ll find no welcoming explanations or recaps, with the only comforting bit of familiarity in the story coming when orders are heard over the intercom from Ben 10′s grandfather/boss – the gravelly voice of Paul Eiding, instantly recognisable to most gamers as Metal Gear Solid’s Colonel Roy Campbell.

But while the story is a fans-only affair mostly inaccessible to newcomers, it at least looks great all-around, with sharp, colourful, cell-shaded visuals really giving the dynamic look of a playable cartoon, and the gameplay itself is far easier to jump in to as well. Your standard brawler, you’ll trek through linear levels, busting up robots and other enemies with punches, ground slams and a variety of special moves. Ben has the ability to morph into various distinctly different aliens thanks to a souped-up wristwatch contraption, 13 of which you’ll put to use throughout the game.

Hitting the D-pad in either direction transforms Ben into one of his alien forms, giving him the use of new, unique abilities to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. Big, tough aliens like Four Arm (who has, well, four arms) and Diamondhead crush enemies with ease and can shift heavy objects around, XLR8 can zip around at high-speed, Cannonbolt rolls up into a ball and fire up ramps to hit far-off switches, and so on.

Since Ben 10 is, like so many other animated kids’ shows before it, largely a way to market toys to children, it makes sense that each of the aliens has its own cool, visually distinctive look that’s just begging to be an action figure. Bloxx especially is a pretty awesome, and a Lego lawsuit waiting to happen – he’s a burly gorilla alien made of coloured building blocks who you can use to bridge gaps.
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While there’s nothing that’ll prove especially taxing, here’s some clever use of the various abilities in puzzle-solving. Dog-like alien Wildmutt can sniff out enemy trails, making it a cinch to find out which order to push buttons in when faced with coded doors, since you can see which panels your foes have walked up to. Feedback can absorb energy, which comes in handy when you need to redirect energy from huge live batteries into empty ones to power up doors. Each attack or special action you perform as an alien uses up stamina, though, and you can only do so much before you’ll revert back to regular Ben while waiting for it to rebuild.

The puzzles are well put together, but the majority of the game is spent just punching enemies in the face. Like most brawlers, there’s a lot of simple, satisfying fun to be had knocking the spare parts out of everyone in your path, and a variety of combos and the ability to level up each alien to unlock a few more attacks helps keep thinks a bit varied. Naturally, though, the simplistic nature of the gameplay means it soon becomes repetitive, with not enough enemy variety to keep combat fresh, while some AI co-op foibles get pretty annoying.

If you’re playing alone, you’ll find that your AI partner Rook has some weird separation anxiety and will stay latched to your side whenever possible like a lost puppy. If you’re attacked by two bad guys, it doesn’t take reading Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ to realise that it makes a lot of sense to split up and take on an enemy each. But even if you leave him fighting one guy and head a few feet away to take on the other yourself, he’ll dash to your unneeded aid, leaving the other bad guy now free to shoot you both in the back. All the while, Rook bitches incessantly that you’re accidentally hitting him, since he’s now awkwardly standing in the way of your attacks.
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Outside of battle, he’ll often just wander off alone and fall off ledges, bringing up prompts that he’s been off-screen too long and will respawn in 10 seconds. In the show’s mythology, Rook is a “Plumber” (the game never remotely explains it, but like the Green Lantern Corps, the Plumbers are intergalactic cops policing the galaxy), which is pretty fitting – the guy’s clearly not cut out for saving the world and his time would be better spent fixing sinks. The camera placement can sometimes make the problem even worse, making it tough to judge the distance of jumps across gamps and ledges – you’ll die infinitely more from dropping off the edge of platforms than you will with the relatively challenge-free combat.

Naturally, if you have a friend handy, then two-player co-op fixes the problem, as a pal can grab another controller and hop in anytime to play as Rook, but if you play alone (the co-op mode is local only, no online option), you’re saddled with some unfortunately retarded AI. The lack of Lego-game-style dynamic split-screen multiplayer is unfortunate, meaning the second player will face that 10 second respawn fate if they stray too far, but levels are usually narrow and linear enough for it to not be a major problem.

If you’re a fan of the numerous shows in the Ben 10 series, then Omniverse offers up an unusually polished, well-made platform/brawler with some satisfying, if simple and repetitive gameplay. Unfortunately, it’s mostly a fans-only game that makes no attempt to welcome newcomers into the fold and if you fit into that category, the lack of variety and unfortunate issues will be a lot harder to overlook.

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Ben 10: Omniverse is available for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U, DS and 3DS.
Click here to buy the game from Amazon.co.uk.