Kinect games have almost always fallen victim to unwieldy controls and ill-advised design decisions dragging down a promising concept. At this point, the true successes are limited to sports and dancing, and more creative ideas are shaky at best.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth may not be the Avengers game people really wanted, but tries something different: a body-controlled combo-based fighting game. And it doesn’t completely fail.
The game plays out most similarly to something like Marvel vs. Capcom: each character has a punch, a kick and three special moves, and can use them to make combos if done well. There’s also a dodge and a super meter, and a tag-team system to switch in another character and let one rest and recover. Of course, the game’s Kinect-controlled, so all these moves are triggered by gestures. Want to slam Thor’s hammer? Bring your hands together over your head, then swing them down like you’re holding Mjolnir yourself.
There’s a bit of trickery to make things work; attacks that make you jump and swing have you reach up for the “rope” and then lift one knee, as, well, you’d fall down if you lifted both. The detection is fairly solid, though, and forgiving; if it doesn’t quite read when you reach up as Hulk, it’ll pick things up once it starts reading that your arm is descending and have the big guy slam the ground with his fist like he should. (Most of the time, of course; it’s still the Kinect.) There’s actual strategy to these elaborate moves, too. The ones that take more time to do are more powerful, and can be interrupted with a low-damage jab. You have to pay attention to your opponent and know when you have the opening.
Still, the combat’s largely super-move-driven, which makes sense. Jumping triggers the “Ultra” move for each character, dealing damage and letting you punch them as many times as possible in a short time. You get a bonus for saying a catch phrase during the animation, like “Hulk Smash” or “For Asgard.” This is… yeah, super-gimmicky. Thankfully it doesn’t get too particular in its pronunciation, but it really gets painful when you say “Witch’s Hex Wave” for the fourth time in a battle.
The campaign’s centered around the Secret Invasion storyline, so there are a lot of hero-mimicking Skrulls around, but the story’s not too important in this one. You play through the campaign to unlock nine of the game’s 20 characters for use in other modes. While it could use more structure than its “just do these 20 fights, then we’ll let you do another 20 fights” approach, it switches up your pairings and opponents enough to at least train you on each’s strengths and weaknesses. The Arcade mode lets you unlock costumes for your characters, which is somewhat less important in a game with somewhat-spotty Kinect-only menu navigation that you don’t want to much around in, but it’s nice that playing through unlocks something.
Somehow, Battle for Earth includes an online component. You can take on opponents for rankings in this living-room-flailing title, if you’d like, and the lag factor didn’t seem noticeably worse than the standard Kinect lag. It’s clearly made for local multiplayer, though, and the modes here are rather robust. You can play the entire campaign in co-op mode, splitting your team of two rather than tagging in and out. We do like the switch-and-rest mechanic, but working together (if you can call it that in parallel fights) is also fun. There’s also a head-to-head local mode, and a tournament setup for four to jump into.
I mentioned the menus, and yeah, they’re rough. Using the Dance Central-style reach-and-swipe approach is nice, but the detection isn’t great. Luckily, almost everything is voice-controlled (though you have to say “Assemble” first every time), but any navigation arrows have to be manually triggered, as well as in-game prompts. It’s fine, but there are definitely moments when you just don’t care enough to look at character stats or navigate levels in the way you’d want to in a game in which you’re really investing time.
There’s still not a lot of depth here, and no one expected it. If you like Avengers characters and want to really get into fighting with them, Battle for Earth isn’t the worst option. It doesn’t really scratch the “I loved the movie” itch with likenesses or aesthetics, though. But look: if you have a Kinect, you know how tough it is to make something different. Go in expecting nothing but silly fun with a thin veneer of strategy, and you’ll enjoy yourself.
Pros: Interesting balance of characters’ moves, fun roster
Cons: In-game voice controls, occasional detection hiccups