The good news: Marvel Alliance 2 doesn't feature nearly as much waggling as the first game. The bad news: almost everything else. This action/role-playing game set in the Marvel universe starts with a good foundation--namely, the excellent Civil War storyline, which provides a fitting backdrop for what could have been an all-star, superpowered frolic. Unfortunately, an unfinished and poorly designed button masher is wrapped around it instead. The action is awkward, the level design is messy and uninspired, and the minimal dialogue and inconsistent voice acting denigrate the source material. In contrast to its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 cousins, this version of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is wholly inadequate.
Nevertheless, there are some points of light twinkling in the murk that mainly come from the source material bringing the fabled heroes together. The story is based on two well-known Marvel storylines: Secret War and Civil War. A number of excellent prerendered cutscenes bring the imaginative plot to life and, more importantly, force you to make an important choice a short ways into the game. You see, our bastions of justice are split into two camps over a newly established law coercing superheroes into officially registering with the US government. Your decision impacts how the middle portion plays and which heroes from the sizeable roster you can include in your team of four before the two branching paths meet again for the final act. The divergent story is a great idea and, in theory, should provide a good reason to return for a second round to see what you missed if you were to have chosen differently. However, this bifurcated story is diminished by simplistic storytelling that fails to involve you with its characters. The thoughtful plot is thinned out by shockingly few (and sparsely written) character conversations in between missions--none of which involve multiple dialogue options, let alone divergent ones. The voice acting doesn't help matters either. While some heroes sound fine, other voice-overs are amateurish, and some spoken dialogue specific to the Wii--such as an exchange between two scientists--is just plain embarrassing.
The first half hour of the game introduces you to all you'll need to know to get you through the missions. From an isometric camera view, you lead a team of four Marvel stars through hordes of expendable henchmen, occasionally taking detours to perform simple tasks or solve puzzles. You lead one character at a time, while the other three are controlled by the AI or a buddy (or two or three) in local cooperative play. By hammering on the A and B buttons, you string standard attacks into combos that might trip or stun your foes. Each hero can eventually perform four different superpowers, and depending on your hero, you can jump, double jump, fly, or even teleport. If you want to squeeze the most out of the experience, you will do best to grab a friend: AI-controlled heroes are a real drag on the proceedings. They often stand around doing nothing in the midst of big fights and boss battles, so you may find yourself screaming at the Incredible Hulk to stop talking about smashing and actually do it. AI characters also have a habit of huddling close to you as you traverse the tight, cluttered hallways, as if villain-stomping were an excuse for team bonding. This can get incredibly vexing because they have a habit of fencing you into corners and not letting you escape. You can switch freely to other characters on your active team, so this isn't a game-ending problem, but it's one of many glaring issues that make Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 clumsy and frustrating.
Perhaps awkward clumps of heroes without regard for personal boundaries would be easier to handle if the levels were accommodating, but alas, you spend a good amount of time walking down narrow, flavorless corridors and encountering poorly placed clusters of enemies prepared to take advantage of your team's greatest weakness: a bad camera. It's bad enough that it will nauseatingly swoop around to give you a completely different view of the action than you need (this is particularly annoying in co-op play), but it has an even worse habit of positioning itself just above doorways where a cluster of collaborators will be waiting to deliver a beatdown. As if to give you a fancy cinematic view, there are a few sequences in which you watch the action from the side, but most of these occasions don't work out. In one case, you view through a series of windows broken up by slats, so you can't even see the action that well. Furthermore, the frame rate drops considerably during these sections, which breaks up the flow and destroys any visual appeal that may have been gleaned. You can control the camera manually by pressing the 1 button and tilting the remote, but this doesn't alleviate any of the aforementioned irritations. It seems that the camera was created to handle large, open-air environments--but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 doesn't feature any. Even the city-street levels--the largest in the game--suffer from these issues.
The action isn't all bad, but it isn't good either. At its simplest, the button mashing, superpower-infused mayhem has a basic appeal. Yet Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 seems to go out of its way to diminish the sense of flow and might that its combat should instill. Enemies love to perform knockbacks and stuns, and when you get enough foes after you, they can string several such attacks together. Even if you block frequently, your groove will be constantly interrupted by these types of attack. This is an even greater annoyance when using certain powers that entail longer-lasting animations that can't be halted, such as Human Torch's flame stream. These frustrations culminate in the game's bonus missions. If you want to expand your roster and add unlockable characters to your team, you have to take on these scenarios. It's too bad you don't unlock characters as you play the campaign (as in other versions of the game) because these missions are a hassle and therefore not worth the trouble. For example, to unlock Jean Grey, you have to perform a solo mission in which you must destroy a bunch of vehicles by telekinetically flinging self-destructing enemies at them. But this mission is the opposite of fun. The suicidal foes get stuck on objects and spawn in too few locations; when these issues are combined with the ungainly camera, your annoyance levels rise. Unlocking Penance involves defeating a certain number of enemies and then a final boss, but a huge enemy bottleneck that occurs right after opening a door puts the camera in a typically unhelpful position, and the ensuing madness might bring an end to the level. Few of these missions are enjoyable, and even if you make it through, you may not have earned enough points to unlock the character in question.
This sequel introduces a new type of skill: fusions. These two-character attacks do an extra amount of damage, and some of them light up the screen with vibrant special effects. But they aren't much fun to perform and are hampered by clumsy features. You must build up a fusion energy meter, indicated on the screen by stars. Once you reach four stars, you can unleash a fusion by holding Z, flinging the nunchuk to the side, and using the onscreen pointer to choose the hero you want fused with your active character. Because you normally don't have to keep the remote aimed at the screen, orienting the cursor can take a moment, which is a minor annoyance. A greater related issue is the character-revival mechanic, which is also tied to the fusion stars. Unless an enemy drops a fusion token, which immediately grants you four stars, your meter is slow to build. Reviving a downed character uses up a star, which prolongs the wait. And, those tokens have a bad habit of appearing where they're hardest to get to--in the middle of multicharacter melees. It's odd, too, that the bright visual eruptions caused by fusions aren't accompanied by energetic audio effects. They sound feeble, which makes performing them less than exciting.
When you aren't beating up minor criminals and Marvel villains, you will be leveling your characters and equipping teamwide upgrade medals that drop on the battlefield. These elements are sadly shallow. You begin with only one upgrade slot and unlock a few more as you play; this methodology is just a way of presenting a stripped-down progression system as a series of "rewards." You can spend skill points as you see fit, and if you choose to allow characters to auto-advance, it's nice that you can assign priority levels to various powers so that they may evolve more quickly. However, the fact that you must lock yourself into a leveling method (auto-level the entire party, manually advance party, or auto-advance party but manually level the player-controlled character) at the outset of the game is mind-boggling. Also mind-boggling: every attempt to provide variety by taking the player out of battle. An end-level puzzle in which you must activate a sequence of computer terminals stops the game dead in its tracks, and the way your AI-controlled party crowds near you as you move about the room makes it even more exasperating. You point the remote at the screen and maneuver a dot through a maze in a hacking minigame, but this tangent isn't fun and seems like an obvious "let's do this because we can" motion-controlled gimmick. As such, don't expect to plug in a Classic Controller or GameCube controller: This button masher requires a remote and nunchuk.
Some licensed games are a labor of love, exhibiting profound respect for the source material. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, on the other hand, doesn't exhibit the kind of care and reverence a beloved brand merits. It's inelegant and underdeveloped, and it represents a major step backward when compared to the original. Halfhearted dialogue, bad AI, unimaginative level design, stripped RPG elements, and all sorts of other factors make the game feel as if it were pieced together on an assembly line and quickly tossed onto store shelves. The Marvel License deserves better--and so do Wii owners.