It’s easy to be pessimistic about playing a handheld version of a console game on far superior hardware, as most of the time the handheld game will fail to reach anywhere near the quality of its console counterpart. That’s not always the case though: X2: Wolverine’s Revenge, Thor: God of Thunder and Batman: The Brave and the Bold are easily better than their older siblings despite being limited by the technology of the device that they’re on. Fantastic Four unfortunately does not fall into the category of the latter three titles and while it does pose some interesting ideas in its opening chapters, it quickly turns into a mindless action game that’s an eyesore to boot.
Inspired by the 2005 film of the same name, Fantastic Four on the GBA starts out with the origin of the team and generally follows the plot of the film where Reed Richards, AKA Mr. Fantastic, is trying to find a cure for Ben Grimm, AKA The Thing, leading up to a confrontation of with the nefarious Doctor Doom. As the movie had little in the way of super heroing, the plot is expanded with additional sub-plots involving popular villains from the comics including Mole Man, Blastaar, Diablo and Annihilus. None of the villains are integrated particularly organically into the plot, with each level starting off with the chief of police sending the team a message about an attack somewhere that they must go and investigate.
My biggest problem with Fantastic Four on the GBA is the perspective in which the game is played from: The 3/4 or isometric perspective, an example of this if you’re unfamiliar with it is Super Mario RPG on the SNES, MegaMan Battle Network and Superman: Countdown to Apokolips, also on the GBA. It works fine for RPG’s where the environment is first and foremost used for exploring, but when it comes to action games, of which this game is, its difficult to line up hits, especially with characters that fire projectiles like the Human Torch. This perhaps could have been with some sort of a lock-on mechanic, but one of those is disappointingly missing from this title. It also doesn’t help in deciphering what is a platform and what isn’t sometimes. You have lives in this title and around the midway point my counter was up to 6 until I was instructed to create a bridge, however I couldn’t see what I had to hit to make that bridge until I fell into a pit five times. The game auto-saves between levels with your last live counter so you can restart any level to get your number back up, but that involves you having to replay a level in this game which isn’t that appealing.
Starting out you’re lead to believe in the tutorial level that the action would maybe taking a back seat to puzzle solving using combinations of the Four’s powers as you’re either in a team of two or four at any given time, but all of the uses for the powers outside of hitting bad guys are shown in the opening vignette, which is a shame. Every level in this game simply tasks you with pounding wave after wave of either robots, aliens, etc until you reach a stage’s end where you’ll fight a boss and where you employ the same tactics, even with Doctor freaking Doom. I found this game the best when I had to light a barrel on fire as the Torch and then use the Thing’s brawn to throw it to remove an obstacle, or use Mr. Fantastic to make a bridge for Sue who has to turn invisible to to sneak past some cameras. I had hoped that I would see more advanced uses of this or even new creative puzzles but maybe I was being a bit too optimistic about what I was playing. The game will only unlock new attacking powers for your characters to use, like a screen clearing attack for the Thing or a stronger fire attack for the Human Torch, but I found it much simpler to just keep hitting the “A” button until an enemy died.
It’s great that in a game called Fantastic Four that you can both play as and have multiple characters on-screen at once, but given the limited buttons on the Game Boy Advance you really wish the developer, Torus Games of The Invincible Iron Man fame, had opted for a system where one took the place of the other. Each time a member of your team dies, even one not in your control, you lose a life and as there’s no way to tell your team to hang back or stay still, they’ll run into electric barriers or into fights that they have no way of winning. Your computer controlled allies often will steal energy away from characters that need it most which will cost you yet more lives and is incredibly aggravating.
On top of the boring gameplay, the dim-witted AI and the non-existant puzzles, Fantastic Four is also a very ugly game. The environments are never much to look at and with the perspective it makes it hard to determine at times what you can move on and what you can’t. The team themselves also look pretty bad, in particular The Thing who looks like a blob of clay moulded to look like rock, though to be fair, they didn’t do justice to the character in the movie either.
Starting out you think that maybe Fantastic Four will be something more than just another brainless brawler with some clever team-up powers, but very quickly the game just has you crawling through dungeon-like environments attacking waves of similar enemies. It’s nice that the developers allowed the use of more than one character at a time, a bit of a necessity in a team based game, but with no option to control your AI partners, they end up being a pain instead of bonus. There’s some pretty good handheld super hero games out there; Fantastic Four is not one of them.
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