You can always tell when a kid's TV show reaches a certain level of popularity. Within a few weeks of cracking a few million viewers, the merchandise starts to flow - toys, lunchboxes, flasks, quilts, t-shirts, and, for those few really popular shows - the official tie-in game. Ben 10 Omniverse, the follow up to last year's double dose of Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Cosmic Destruction and Ben 10 Galactic Racing, is the latest game to be based on the immensely popular TV series - and one that sticks to a tried and tested formula.
A two-player co-op platformer mixed with a beat 'em up, Ben 10 Omniverse lets you delve into the latest series of the show, where there's a strange, time travelling story going on. The game follows a similar-but-not-quite plot to the TV series, where, after an experiment goes wrong, the Omniverse ends up transporting new character Rook back in time, leading to a crazy, physics bending tale that ends up letting you play as both old and young Ben, along with 13 playable alien forms.
The game begins with a fairly lengthy tutorial to take you through the basics - and it seems there's plenty of basics to cover. Throwing information at you at a blinding pace, telling you how you can transform into various aliens, each of which have their own special abilities and powers, which match the TV show. The strange armoured ray crossed with an armadillo Canonbolt can curl up into a ball, and then spin in order to raise ramps, or activate switches, Feedback has control of electricity, and can zap bolts of lightning at his enemies, while Four Arms, well, he has four arms. Sadly, using their special moves isn't as easy as you'd hope, especially considering this is a children's game - requiring you to hold one button, then press another, it can be a little bit confusing in the midst of combat - or when it comes to solving a puzzle.
With 16 aliens to play as, each of which has three separate moves, there's a lot of different combinations you'll have to try and remember - and somewhat inexplicably, the game offers nothing in the way of hints. For a game aimed at children, and notably unlike similar games, like the LEGO series, Ben 10 Omniverse has no button prompts in it, whatsoever. Whether you're trying to figure out which character, and which move you need to progress through a puzzle, or even simply trying to leap up to and scuttle across a wall, there's nothing to ever tell you which button you need to press - which is more than a little bit poor. It also means it's never entirely clear what things you can interact with in the environment. While things glow slightly as you get near, it's still entirely possible to end up missing collectables altogether because you haven't noticed the minor glow coming from their container - having the button you need to press pop-up would make your job a heck of a lot easier.
Like in the LEGO games, the puzzles here never get beyond the fairly rudimentary, although that's not necessarily a bad thing - even if every puzzle does just make you wish the game included button prompts. One of the more common puzzles asks you to play as Feedback, and transfer energy from one terminal to another, in order to "power" the switch, which you can then activate. Again, though, things are needlessly complex, as rather than just pressing a button, it's a case of holding one trigger and pressing a button, moving over to where you want to deposit the energy, and then holding the trigger and pressing a different button, without anything in the way of instructions. While it's entirely possible to memorise every move in the game, it goes without saying that you shouldn't really have to - especially for a game aimed at children.
For the most part, though, Ben 10 Omniverse is a fairly enjoyable platform-cum-beat 'em up, with a few interesting ideas mixed in. The addition of co-op is a welcome addition, letting a second player take on the role of new character, Rook, who has a transforming weapon, but both characters have their limitations. When in a transformation, every attack you make, and every move you use will eat away at a meter, meaning you can only stay transformed for a short length of time, before switching back to normal, bog standard Ben. While you can still attack things as Ben, he's nowhere near as powerful as the aliens under his control, so switching to characters for short bursts is the way forward.
As you mash your way through the levels (and the enemies within them), each of the enemies you defeat will give off a number of orbs, which you'll automatically collect. Luckily, some of these replenish your Omnitrix, letting you stay as the transformations for longer, while others boost your health, or give you experience. Collect enough, and you'll be able to level your characters (and aliens) up, giving you access to new moves and combos to finish off your enemies - but that's not much use when your power drains so quickly. As you progress through the level, you'll mash your way through enemy after enemy, which is fun enough - but the fact you run out of power so quickly takes a lot of the shine off being able to play as the aliens. Some of your best moves drain the power bar so quickly you'll only be able to use them three or four times before turning back into plain old Ben 10 - and when the ability to play as the aliens is a large part of the game's appeal, that could be problematic.
While it may have its problems, it's safe to say that the amount of fun you'll get out of Ben 10 Omniverse will likely depend on how big a fan of Ben 10 you are. If you've got the world's biggest Ben 10 fan in your family, they'll likely lap up the story, the chance to play as 13 different aliens, and the authentic voice acting, although the awkwardness of the controls will likely disappoint younger players. If you know little of the series, though, and you're just looking for a co-op adventure to while away the evenings, it's difficult to recommend Ben 10. With less of an emphasis on puzzles, and more emphasis on smashing enemies until they collapse, Ben 10 Omniverse is a game for Ben 10 fans only - which is a shame, as games like this can often be so much more.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360