Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is a 3D Fighting game featuring 20 different characters from the Marvel universe. As a fighting game, the goal is to avoid sustaining damage from your opponent while you utilize a variety of moves to drain their life. Most fights involve each side with two characters that can be alternated via a tag-team mechanic to allow for tag-team combinations and health recovery. If one character falls, the round ends.
The game has several modes available: campaign, arcade, versus, and challenges. Each mode functions as follows:
Campaign: The game's story. There are five levels, and each one has eight stages, so completing the story involves fighting across 40 stages in total. You do not get to select your character team in story-mode (the teams change and are specific to each stage), but stage selection is not completely linear and you do have a degree of freedom in choosing the order of the fights (some stages do require previous stages to be completed in order to unlock).
The story itself is based off Marvel's Secret Invasion storyline, involving a race of shapeshifters called the Skrulls. More on this will be covered later in the review.
Arcade: This mode allows for co-op, and for choosing the two-person team from any of the unlocked characters. It consists of 10 battles to complete a playthrough.
Versus: Where you can play against another human (local or online). It offers a tournament mode, and the more traditional single-battle approach.
Challenges: There are three options here. Training is the tutorial for the game. Characters is more in-depth training, to familiarize yourself with every specific character's moves. Trials is what I consider a true challenge-mode, where you have to complete a stage based off very specific conditions (e.g., all damage must come from combos, no super attacks allowed, etc.).
So, let's look at the specifics.
Graphically, the game is nice. The colors are bright and vibrant, and with the use of cel-shading provides a hand-drawn style that evokes the comics quite well. Each location has its own unique look... it's just a pity there were so few of them to alternate between. During campaign mode, you are treated to still-form, comic-book style visuals to provide plot information. Graphically, it ties in well with the overall theme: this game wants you to feel like you are in a comic.
Sound is nothing special. Nothing stands out or becomes annoying. The sound effects when you land a blow or execute a power move all work well. The voice work is minimal (outside the guide voice it's pretty much just one-liners from the Marvel characters), which is too bad, as it sounds pretty good.
Controls are what tend to make or break a Kinect game. Thankfully, this one is pretty good. Most of the player's motion comes from the arms (there are a few moves that require leg movement), and you never have to walk front/back or side to side (leaning is as far as that goes). As such, the Kinect seems to fare pretty well in tracking your movements.
There are frustrating moments, namely when doing power moves. Some characters will have power moves that require starting arm positions somewhat similar. I never had a problem if I was perfect in my motions, but if you are sort of in-between, then the Kinect tends to guess at a power move (rather than just not doing one at all). Screwing up special moves in fighting games is common in controller-based versions as well (if I had a dime for every time I did Yoga Flame instead of Yoga Fire in Street Fighter 2...), but a special only fires if you actually pull it off (otherwise you get nothing).
The other annoyance on the controls was the menu system. Some days I really just fought with it. Keeping my arm steady to choose from a tightly-packed list of choices, and hold it steady as I swiped, was often easier said than done. Thankfully, the game's voice recognition system was pretty tight, and I started just navigating menus via verbal command, and had a lot better experience for it.
Fighting games really are a mixed bag when it comes to story. Historically, there hasn't been much story with them. However, some have really started to invest a lot of plot into their campaign modes, so times they are a-changin'. Overall, Battle for Earth does have a story, but it is sadly quite minimal, especially when you consider how long the campaign is.
I am not familiar with Marvel's Secret Invasion storyline. Battle for Earth has a great opening cinematic that introduces you to the Skulls. When you get to the campaign, however, it mostly becomes "Skrulls are attacking this place, you must stop them before they succeed in their plan." I like the comic-book image-style they use to tell the story, but they tell so little of it. Each stage opens with a brief plot-oriented explanation, but it's hard to make sense of it all. Especially since so many of the stages aren't linear, and you can end up jumping around as you play.
So, while I respect that they wanted to insert a full-fledged campaign into this game, and I appreciate it actually has the depth of 40 different stages, I think this mandated a lot better job on the story front. What we have here is serviceable but mediocre.
Replay Value (7/10)
There's some decent replay value in this game, depending on what you are after. Given the lack of character selection in the campaign, you will probably only play through that mode once. But, it is 40 stages, and given this is Kinect you'll probably space that play out and not just tear through it.
Arcade mode is the better choice if you like to build your own team and then go at what the computer throws at you. It adheres to the traditional Fighting genre's arcade approach, so if you like Arcade mode in other Fighting games you may want to play around with this one.
Versus mode can be great if you've got people to play with. Obviously, the local aspect offers some party-game potential (why bounce around like a loon in Dance Central when you can swing your arms like a loon in Battle for Earth?), and if you've got Marvel fans for friends they might actually enjoy spending a half-hour to an hour sweating in an attempt to beat you.
Challenges mode can be a massive time-sink, but for a lot of people the motivation would have to be for achievements rather than fun. Training is quick, but the Characters mode becomes very tedious (the move commands vary slightly, but this is so rinse and repeat you will become extremely bored if you try to do it all at once). Trials, however, is interesting. Some of them are easy, but some of them are extremely hard. People who have struggled with controller-based Fighting game challenges will be familiar with the frustrations of meeting very specific conditions to clear the challenge. It's a good thing Kinect doesn't record audio, because I well lost count of the string of profanities I was hissing each time I would, yet-again, make a tactical blunder and have what looked like a good two-minute run be destroyed in five seconds.
"Fun" Factor (6/10)
I had fun, but not as much fun as I would have hoped. I like the idea of Battle for Earth. I think the Fighting genre could have potential in the Kinect format. I think Battle for Earth is the best Fighting game I've played on the Kinect. However, if the goal is to win over hardcore enthusiasts of the genre, it will have to go further.
It gets a lot right. Tactical choices matter, you cannot just flail against the harder/better players. Dodging matters. Counter-attacks matter. Strategic use of your cool-down moves matter. When and how you swap your characters matters. A person who knows how Fighting games work will be able to exploit their knowledge in a game like this at the expense of someone who doesn't.
But, for all its depth, it is still very shallow compared to its controller-based cousins. Just having three power attacks is very limiting, not just in terms of offensive choice, but also in the ease by which the opponent can predict their counter-option(s). In my opinion, the best Fighting games are easy to learn and difficult to master. A great Fighting game lets an inexperienced player come in and make progress quickly, and most importantly have fun. But sticking with the game lets them master the specific character(s) of their choosing, and take their skills and gaming to the next level. Battle for Earth is easy to learn and easy to master. There's just not enough depth to the different characters to really require commitment. If you can learn Hulk, you can figure out the differences between him and Spider-Man in no time at all (and be pro at both).
This lack of depth makes it hard for Battle for Earth to stay fun for extended gaming. I generally only wanted to play for about 30 minutes at a time, and it wasn't due to exhaustion. If future Fighting games for Kinect can find a solution to this, then I think Fighting could join Dance, Sports, and Party games as a viable genre for the device.
All-in-all, I think kids and Marvel fans will get the most out of this. Fighting game fans looking for some exercise or just a different control scheme will find this interesting. Hard-core Fighting enthusiasts looking for something on par with their controller-driven games should take a pass on this title.
I don't rate on achievements, but for those curious about getting a full-clear, rest assured that most of this is pretty easy and straightforward. Completing the campaign can get you a lot of the achievements in the game just while playing, and Arcade mode is a fun way to clean up any particular team-based achievements that don't occur in the story. Achievements that state a need for co-op or versus can be done solo (you don't even need a prop, you can actually get them all with just you standing there). So yes, you can go into versus mode and easily get achievements against an opponent that isn't there and thus doesn't fight back. Nothing requires online play.
There are three frustrating achievements. All three are time consuming, but only one is "hard". Unlocking the highest rank is time-consuming and will need you to grind it out, but put it off until the end (you get xp for everything but the challenges, so do everything else first and then grind afterwards). Since you get xp in versus mode, it's easy to grind, just boring. Completing the character challenges is also easy, but there are 20 of them and they are all repetitive. Completing all 20 trials is also time-consuming, but in addition it is hard (all 20 aren't unlocked in the game just by playing, you have to spend UPlay points to get the final challenges and they are required for the achievement). The conditions force you to play in ways atypical to how the rest of the game operates, and it can be rough going to win some of them, so be prepared for frustration.
I completed the campaign, all challenges, and went through arcade-mode once. All achievements were obtained solo (including ones that required versus/co-op modes). I did not try the online versus mode.
Overall score average: 6.2
Score-to-Star Translation Guide:
5 stars: 9.01 to 10 (out of 10)
4.5 stars: 8.01 to 9
4 stars: 7.01 to 8
3.5 stars: 6.01 to 7
3 stars: 5.01 to 6
2.5 stars: 4.01 to 5
2 stars: 3.01 to 4
1.5 stars: 2.01 to 3
1 star: 1.01 to 2
0.5 stars: 0 to 1