No doubt trading on the increased profile of the Avengers following last summer’s record-breaking movie, Battle for Earth is actually more relevant to fans of the original comic books. Based on the 2008 storyline ‘Secret Invasion’, the game sees assorted Marvel heroes fighting an infiltration movement of Skrulls, religiously motivated shape-shifting aliens who’ve marked Earth for takeover.
As such, there are a number of nods to comic readers – heavy use of illustrator Leinil Francis Yu’s art in cut scenes, background trivia in datafiles, references to even earlier continuity and plenty of unlockable extras. Sadly though, beyond the pleasant fidelity to the source material, there’s not a great deal here. The game takes a pass at being a fighting game, but sits awkwardly between delivering active Tekken-style brawling and dumbed down RPG combat. Each round pairs up two characters against Skrull imposters, with players selecting from a pre-set move list in roughly turn-based battles.
The roster of 20 heroes ostensibly boasts a fair number of moves, but you’ll soon realise they all fall into one of three categories, reducing encounters to a mildly glorified rock-paper-scissors mechanic. There’s little in the way of tactics or skill – once you’ve figured out the timing patterns, you’ll never lose. There’s a nice visual flair to it all though, and having to sketch out attack patterns with the Wii U’s stylus adds a touch more interactivity than there might otherwise be.
Conversely, those same touchscreen controls give rise to a frustrating technical limitation – all gameplay is confined to the gamepad’s built-in screen for solo players, rendering the game more like a handheld offering tethered to the living room, rather than a title worthy of the big screen TV treatment. The end result is something better suited to tablets, where short bursts of touch-based gameplay thrive. Versus mode does use the TV, albeit split-screen, but in shifting controls to Wii remotes becomes even clunkier.
Battle for Earth is style over substance, likely to appeal more to younger players or (easily pleased) comic readers than anyone hoping for a decent Marvel heroes beat-‘em-up.