If you've been around any young kids, boys especially, you have probably heard of Ben 10. First a Cartoon Network show, the series has exploded in popularity and has taken over toy store shelves everywhere. Unsurprisingly, Ben 10 has made appearances in the video game arena as well. First was Ben 10: Protector of Earth, and more recently, Ben 10: Alien Force. Both of these games feature two player co-op, but are they any good?
If you look at the Co-Optimus home page, you'll see a list of top games for each system down the right hand side. Joining powerhouses like Left 4 Dead and Castle Crashers is Ben 10: Protector of Earth. Surprising, isn't it? You wouldn't expect a cartoon tie-in to be one of the better co-op experiences on any system, even the Wii. This high rating is likely due to the fact that the game is fairly old school, similar to classic arcade brawlers, and it has some wild character designs that are quite fun.
In case you aren't a Cartoon Network junkie, Ben 10 is about a young boy, Ben Tennyson, who discovers the Omnitrix, a sort of cosmic watch. The Omnitrix allows Ben to take the form of ten different alien creatures. This translates very well into a video game. In Ben 10: Protector of Earth, Ben is limited to five forms. One is a flaming, human torch style alien. Another is a four armed, super strong, red humanoid. My personal favorite is Wildvine, an odd, malleable plant with all sorts of wacky powers. A bowling ball shaped alien and a blue, skate-footed speedster round out the mix. Each alien has upgradeable powers, allowing for some visually interesting attacks and even helping to solve the game's light puzzle elements.
The co-op feature allows another player to pop in as another Ben at any time. Each player is delineated by a colored circle on the ground. This makes it very easy to tell who is who in the thick of battle. I would have like to have seen more combo attacks when two players team up, similar to the upcoming Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2: Fusion. Still, the old brawler standby strategy of "you take that side, I got this one" works as well as it always has. Enemies are fairly repetitive, but since Ben can change alien forms all the time, it's hard to get bored. Boss fights in particular are well done. The cel shaded graphics are crisp and slick. Ben 10: Protector of Earth is a fun game, even for those who may not be fans of the cartoon itself.
Unfortunately, the sequel falls short of the original. Ben 10: Alien Force is based on the sequel cartoon of the same name. Ben is older, now a teen, and the Omnitrix allows for a whole new set of aliens to shapeshift into. I found these characters to be a bit lacking compared to the offerings of the previous game. The real standouts are a batwinged, frosty guy called Big Chill and the appropriately named Humongosaur. The other three are redundant (another flyer, somewhat quicker, but without the awesome freezing abilities), underwhelming (a small hybrid of a spider and a monkey), or derivative (a plant man who shoots fire, like a cross of two better aliens from the first game).
Graphically, Ben 10: Alien Force is sorely missing the cel shaded comic book style of its predecessor. The more realistic graphics don't hold up well given the Wii's lack of graphic horsepower. Often, the game had obvious slowdown and flicker issues, particularly when playing as Humongosaur, due to his large size and higher poly count. Worst of all were disappearing walls and floors, which in my opinion is inexcusable for modern consoles. To the game's credit, there were several sections where players took the role of other characters from the show, each of whom have special powers. This adds a bit of variety, which was sorely needed.
Clearly, the first Ben 10 game is the best of the two. I'd go so far as to call it very good, for what it is. Having played many a movie or TV tie in that was just awful, I found Ben 10: Protector of Earth a nice change. Ben 10: Alien Force isn't quite as good, but it does feature co-op and cool aliens, which is a winning combination. If you have the chance to play one of these games with a younger gamer, you'll find enough to keep yourself entertained, and not irritated, while playing. For games based on kid's cartoons, that's saying quite a bit!