When companies release video games based on super heroes, they’re mostly based on pre-existing heroes from the comic books such as Green Lantern, Captain America or Batman. But every once in a while, a developer tries something different, putting the focus on the player instead as they create — and shape — their ideal superhero, based on themselves. Ubisoft’s “Power-Up Heroes” is such a game.
Recently released for the Xbox 360, the title puts gamers squarely in the title role, providing the opportunity to choose your key powers and put them to use as you fight to save the day, then log on to Xbox Live and take on the world to see who’s the best in the virtual justice league. It’s a game aimed largely at kids, but it’s not a stretch to imagine a few comic book enthusiasts who would pick this up solely for the opportunity to live out their dream of being a costumed avenger.
The main story is on that could have easily seen life in a comic. An alien space ship crash lands on Earth and, since you’re the only witness, you proceed to find out what happened to it. From there, the alien passes powers on to you, a la “Green Lantern,” which you can then use for the greater good. You’ll need these new abilities, since the alien isn’t the only one looking to make a ruckus on Earth. A supervillain-powered force appears shortly thereafter, and it’s up to you to save your planet.
“Power-Up Heroes” doesn’t rely on pre-existing character models to put its heroes into action. Instead, you’ll use your virtual Xbox Live Avatar using pre-selected choices based on your real life likeness (or, if you prefer, someone you always wanted to look like). You then suit up and select from a variety of abilities including being able to herald lightning or snap an electrically-charged whip at your enemies. As you proceed through the game, you’ll face new enemies equipped with their own powers in one-on-one combat. Defeat them effectively and you gain access to their suits, which in turn grant you additional abilities you can switch to.
These characters vary, from a walking fighter jet that can fire missiles and machine guns on command (Bionic) to a Necro suit, which allows you to call upon the undead in battle. Trying out each of these abilities and finding out which ones you can adapt to the easiest that give “Power-Up Heroes” its surprising longevity, especially compared to other Kinect titles. Most of Kinect’s game library consists of repeating the same motions again and again.
Unlike most superhero games, “Power-Up Heroes” requires you to perform complex actions using your body — and, boy are you in for a workout. You not only activate your powers by waving your arms, but you also use motions defensively, such as when you need to block incoming attacks. You can also pull off quick attacks, should you need to knock someone back quickly or set yourself up for a more powerful follow-up attack. Though the motions do tend to repeat themselves (and exhaust some less-than-physically fit players), they’re more accurately read than some of the lesser efforts for Kinect. Ubisoft wanted to make sure that precision was everything with this game — and it pays off.
Along with its single player campaign, “Power-Up Heroes” also gives you the chance to go up against friends. You can play side-by-side in split-screen combat, or hop onto Xbox Live and compete against gamers worldwide in a four-player gauntlet. It’s pretty interesting to see what others can do against you in combat, and also what suits they’ll use in competition.
“Power-Up Heroes” is likely to appeal to two types of gamers — kids, or comic book fans who are tired of the same old beat-em-ups most licensed super hero games are based on. Its appeal may be somewhat limited beyond those groups, but we must give credit where credit is due to Ubisoft — the game is an innovative use of Kinect technology, and a great way to see how bad-ass you could be equipped with certain powers.
“Power-Up Heroes” is available now.