There was a point in time when licensed video games were notorious for being nothing but cheap cash grabs that publishers would throw together on short notice to take advantage of a popular movie or television show. In recent years though, games like Arkham Asylum, South Park and Mad Max have shown that when given enough time and care, licensed games can be amazing and faithful representations of the properties they’re based on. My daughter and I sat down recently to play Ben 10, which is a new game based on the Cartoon Network series of the same name. Would we get lucky and find another great game that bucks the trend of mediocre licensed games? Hmm… well…..erm…. not exactly.
My daughter had seen the game on the Nintendo Switch eShop and had been begging me to download it, as she is apparently a big fan of the show (I had no idea). So when I told her that I had a copy for us to play for Family Game Night, she let out a squeal of joy and ran for the Switch. We loaded up the game and watched the intro, and the first thing that I noticed is that if you aren’t familiar with the characters or the basic premise of the series, you’re out of luck. The game really doesn’t explain anything about who these people are or why Ben can transform into a bunch of weird creatures. They just assume that you’ve seen the cartoon (of which I have not), so I had to rely on my daughter to give me a quick refresher course.
Once the game itself started we decided to let her get first crack at it since she was obviously way more excited about this game than I was. The game is a very straight forward 3D brawler like you’ve probably played many times before. You walk from one end of the level to the other, stopping to beat up a specific number of enemies before being allowed to move forward and repeating…. and repeating… and repeating. Oh, and obviously there are plenty of boxes to smash, because video games. Inside these boxes you’ll find points used for purchasing upgrades for your various alien forms that you unlock as you progress through the game.
The different aliens that you can transform into are presumably the hook that the developers use to try and differentiate this game from the rest of the pack, unfortunately there is so little difference between them that it really doesn’t matter which one you use. Just pick whoever you think looks the coolest and go. Their attacks are only slightly different from each other and it never gets more complicated than just “smash the ‘A’ button”. The game tries to change things up by throwing obstacles in your way that you need to use a specific alien to get past, but even then all you have to do is stand in the glowing circle and press ‘A’ to get past it. It’s a bummer that the one feature that should be the games biggest selling point is painfully uninteresting.
The enemies that you face unfortunately aren’t any more creative. You sit and tap the attack button repeatedly to punch the same boring enemies over and over throughout the level. We faced a couple of bosses during our time, but none of them did anything to shake things up in an interesting way. You do occasionally build up a meter to unleash a special attack, but to call them “special” is really fairly misleading as they all boil down to “watch a short cinematic that deals damage to all enemies”. The upgrade system is also lackluster, failing to improve your characters in any noticeable or meaningful way.
Visually, the game feels like it could be an HD remaster of a PS2 game. With simple characters, poor animation, and bland, mostly barren levels. At least if the game was pretty you could give it some points for capturing the look and feel of the cartoon, but if this is what the show looks like I guess I should consider myself grateful that I’ve never seen it.
After a few hours, our play time came to a merciful end. I have to admit that it kind of pains me to be so harsh with the game. I know that no developers set out to create bad games, and I’m sure that there are people who worked really hard on this, but I just can’t sugar coat what is a completely disappointing experience.
The weird thing though, is that for as much as I was not enjoying my time with Ben 10, my daughter was seemingly entertained and I’m not sure how to feel about that. I’m sure a big part of it is due to the fun of getting to control characters that she likes from the show, but it made me question what role I should have in steering her towards certain games. Should I be telling her “Sorry dear, this game is bad. Let me show you this selection of high quality games that you should be playing instead.” or do I just shut my mouth and let her play if she’s having fun? I’m really not sure what the correct answer is, but if nothing else this game has made me look closer at how I choose games for us to play.
Dad “Uninspired gameplay and visuals combine to create an aggressively mediocre game that would be hard to recommend to anybody but the most hardcore Ben 10 fan.”
Chloe “I liked to play as the different aliens. All their powers were cool.”
Ben 10 is available now on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC