This is what the Kinect was made for. Stand in front of the TV, pretend to be a superhero, and beat on evil enemies with special attacks unique to each character. In theory, it is gold. Even in execution, it is solid. In content, however, it is sorely lacking.
I like almost everything about Ubisoft’s Kinect-specific PowerUp Heroes. I like the simple comic book-inspired look. I like the use of Xbox avatars. I like the move set. As a franchise, the series has as much potential as any game on the Kinect. For the first hour of playing, it is hard not to have fun with this game. By the second hour, you will have seen everything the game has to offer. By the third hour most will have moved on to something else.
PowerUp Heroes takes two good concepts, mashes them together and throws them on the Kinect. It is a fighting game, but not a traditional one. It is slightly simplified, and yet it offers a ton of variety. The problem with a standard fighting game on the Kinect is the slight lag inherent in the design of the hands-free controller. It’s minor enough that it is easy to ignore in most titles, but with fighting games, where reactions are everything, can lead to frustration. This title mostly avoids that by having ranged moves lead into combos. The second thing PowerUp Heroes uses is the superhero genre, and combining the two to make a superhero-inspired fighting game that you physically control using the Kinect is not just a good idea, it is overdue.
The story is almost an afterthought. There is an evil alien robot named Malignance heading to Earth to enslave us because he is evil or something, but a good — and thankfully, superpowered — alien is on his tail. The good alien crashes, but gives you his powers. Using those, you then take on several enemies given powers of their own. With each victory you gain the suit of the vanquished foe, which gives you their powers.
The game uses your Xbox avatar as the main character, and unless you choose to have him or her wear a helmet, you will see your mini-me wearing each suit. At the load-out screen before each battle, you choose the enemy you wish to fight, then select two suits from a list of defeated enemies. As you level up you can also unlock special modifiers as well.
Once you have your two suits, the fight begins with the camera over your shoulder as you face the enemy. Each suit offers you the ability to rush the enemy and activate a close-quarters fight by raising your knee, but the real fun is in the special attacks. Each suit offers three special attacks that are unique to the suit. Some are straightforward enough (in the Volta suit, which is lightning-based, you raise your arms then lower them for an electrical attack), while others are a bit more bizarre (the Necromancer suit, for example, allows you to call up a few skeletons to hold your enemy for a second attack).
The special moves alone are fun, but they are far more effective when linked. Certain attacks stun enemies, allowing you to follow up with a similar attack, or switch suits by raising your left arm then unleashing a different type of attack. Certain attacks are more useful to help chain attacks than others, and picking two suits that complement each other can make a big difference. After each special move, that attack needs to recharge, so it is also important to pick suits that have other benefits, like a more powerful attack, or a better dodge — which can be activated by moving to one side or the other.
The mechanics are a blast, and chaining together several power moves can have a devastating — and satisfying — effect.
The problem with PowerUp Heroes is that there just isn’t much of it. There is a campaign that can be completed in around two hours, and while there is an online play (making the questionable assumption can find anyone else playing) there are only ranked and unranked matches, nothing unique or different. A two-player versus match can be fun, but the Kinect’s lag will eventually lead to people furiously motioning over and over until the Kinect registers the move, which it doesn’t always do.
In total, you can beat the game and unlock all the suits within a few hours. The enemy AI is also fairly predictable, so once you beat an opponent once, going back and playing them again won’t offer you much challenge. Once the campaign is complete, barring the odd versus or online match (which can be fun for a few moments but fleeting) you’ve seen everything there is to the game.
If there were more content — maybe twice as many enemies in the campaign, random levels where you fight several henchmen, or online mini-games of some sort — this would be one of the best games on Kinect. As cool as it is to pretend to be a superhero and attack with special moves, that alone can’t keep your attention for long and the game does nothing to help extend the fun.
If Ubisoft can take what works with this game and build on it in a subsequent sequel, and if the developer can give the game the content it deserves, then the Kinect may have a massive hit on its hands. As it stands, there just isn’t enough to keep your attention for longer than a few hours.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Ubisoft)