Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, Electronic Arts' new fighting game, has already appeared on the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube--but it's a very different game on the PSP. The developer's compensatory measures for the lack of two analog sticks, the smaller screen, and the lesser amount of storage space are fairly effective, arguably to the point of making the core gameplay a little better on the PSP. On the other hand, the elimination of the game's online multiplayer really hurts, as does the removal of much of the console game's unique extra content. Though Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects is a competent portable beat-'em-up, it's not the best value the PSP has to offer.
On the PSP, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects' story goes from heavily garbled to completely incomprehensible, due to the lack of explanatory cutscenes. The basic facts are that The Imperfects, six superpowered thugs in the employ of evil genius Niles Van Roekel, are out causing trouble in New York City so their boss can get his hands on a heavily guarded suit of alien armor--or something along those lines. In any case, there's ample excuse for Marvel's superheroes, led by crowd favorites like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Elektra, and The Thing, to go up against the nasty ol' Imperfects in a series of one-on-one battles. The battles take place in fully destructible environments that are heavily seeded with objects you can turn into convenient missiles or bludgeons at the touch of a button.
Thankfully, the PSP version of the game dispenses entirely with the console game's lackluster single-player scenario. Instead, the game's campaign mode throws you right into the action--as either The Thing or human dynamo Johnny Ohm, initially--in a series of 10 one-on-one clashes against the game's other characters. As you beat the 10-fight scenario with each character, another of the game's 18 superbeings becomes available, eventually cycling through 180 unique confrontations. Along the way, you'll also unlock additional battle arenas and special cards, which factor into the game's brand-new card-battling system. In addition, all unlocked content becomes available in Marvel Nemesis' other two play modes, quick play and multiplayer. It should be noted that the PSP version of the game includes two characters not found in the console versions, Captain America and Dr. Doom, but it is also missing Daredevil and the Human Torch.
The developer has made a fair number of subtle additions to Marvel Nemesis' gameplay system for the PSP, and they're good ones. For example, the game greatly simplifies the process of hitting your enemy with an attack by introducing a formal lock-on button, which doubles as your block. With a bit of practice, this combination of commands will let you both fight and protect yourself much more effectively. Moreover, the PSP's smaller screen has forced the game's camerawork to behave in a much more consistent fashion, and at a closer distance, too. You'll also enjoy the presence of warning arrows along the edges of the screen, which will indicate which direction your enemy is trying to flank you from, if he or she flies off the screen. Most of the levels are saturated with things that can be picked up and thrown, and many of these things are also explosive--but the imbalance between environmental attacks and regular attacks doesn't seem quite as onerous as it was in the console game. The developer seems to have cut down on the sheer number of these objects, as part of the general initiative to simplify the levels, and it's more manageable now. Furthermore, finishing moves have been cut out of the loop entirely--which is a good thing, because they weren't balanced very well in previous versions of the game.
Marvel Nemesis' controls are still very simple, which makes even more sense on the PSP. There's a basic attack button that will create combos with repeated tapping, a jump button, a lock-on/block/dodge button, and a throw button. The left shoulder button controls movement powers, like Storm's flight and The Wink's teleportation, while the right shoulder button applies superpowers to whatever you're doing at the time. For instance, holding down the right trigger while attacking will trigger an extra-powerful combo, while performing a power throw can initiate a brutal finishing move in one-on-one combat (sadly, you cannot skip these animations, and some of them are on the long side). Using superpowers depletes your power meter, but it also fills up the rage meter, which will grant you temporarily unlimited use of superpowers when full. Otherwise, the power meter recharges slowly on its own, and you can accelerate the charge by holding down the right shoulder button while stationary.
With some practice, this system can prove to be both elegant and entertaining, even though Marvel Nemesis is basically a one- or two-button game at its core. While playing as Spider-Man, it's a great feeling to be able to snag a nearby statue with some webbing and send it hurtling toward an enemy. Each character has at least one mind-blowing maneuver like that, such as Venom's totally insane breakdancing-like attacks or Johnny Ohm's crackling lightning flight. Strangely, some of the characters appear to have been slightly tweaked for their PSP debut; their attacks and character animations work a little differently than they did in the console versions of the game.
As previously mentioned, the PSP version of Marvel Nemesis has added a collectible card-battling wrinkle, in lieu of online multiplayer. Here's how it works: Every time you defeat a foe in campaign mode, you are awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal, depending on the amount of time elapsed. Then, you're offered a choice of five facedown cards, the relative value of which will be determined by your medal ranking. Each card can be used in-game to perform a specific function, like refilling some of your health, boosting your rage meter, or causing your power meter to regenerate faster; they're further distinguished by their duration, usability (some cards recharge after a certain amount of time), and rarity. Some special cards can only be used by a particular character, and others simply signify that you've unlocked a new venue or character. By and large, the cards aren't a particularly interesting facet of gameplay, although they'll certainly help you through the campaign mode if you use them correctly. CPU players can't use cards at all, which is kind of a disappointment--there was an opportunity here for counters, card-stealing, and the like, but it's gone unused. The game also supports ad hoc networking for playing against a friend. It works just fine, but you must unlock any character you want to play in campaign mode first.
Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects has a good presentation for a PSP game. This is a very character-focused game, so it makes sense that much of its graphical flashiness resides in the character animation, which is absolutely top-shelf. The developer seems to have taken great pains to make the characters move and fight the same way they do in the comic books, and the effort has paid off. The faster characters, like Spider-Man and Fault Zone, flit about with a fluid grace, while big guys like The Thing and Brigade really look massive and can shatter the pavement with their jumps. All of the attacks, movements, and powers have a highly authentic feel to them, which is sure to please Marvel fans. At its best, this game really does look like you're playing through a comic book. The environments still look a little on the flat side, but they're pretty comparable to those found in comparable PSP games. The frame rate is generally very steady, and the load times, while definitely present, are about par for the course.
Marvel Nemesis' sound is pretty average for a game of its type. The sound effects are good enough to augment the onscreen violence--especially when you start zapping baddies with lighting bolts or throwing fireballs--but they're certainly not going to knock anyone's socks off. Overall, they're a pretty quotidian collection of beat-'em-up thumps, bashes, and breaking glass. The game's music is also on the forgettable side; it's standard-issue superhero stuff, with lots of tense-sounding synth orchestras and keyboards. It blends into the background nicely, which is probably exactly what the developer intended. There's no voice acting in this version of the game, but that's to be expected, given the space limitations of the PSP.
In essence, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects took two steps forward and a step and a half back in its transition to the PSP. It's nice to see that the developer has cleaned up many of the console game's nagging gameplay problems and that this style of beat-'em-up can indeed work on a portable platform. On the other hand, the inclusion of the card system isn't strong enough to replace the loss of the movies, animated comics, and online multiplayer. Also, painstakingly playing through the game each time you want to unlock a new character doesn't add replay value--it just gets old fast. The bottom line is that big Marvel fans who are also PSP owners may want to purchase this game, but everyone else should probably stick with a rental.