reviews\ Jul 6, 2005 at 8:00 pm

Fantastic 4 - GBA - Review

July 8th is the day when gamers and moviegoers alike will find out if Fantastic 4 can go the distance on the big screen. It's faced with competition, fan scrutiny, and an endless stream of TV ads that are sure to stop airing as soon as the movie's released. (Movie studios hate the idea of post-release advertising.) I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but not so tightly that I blindly assume that this will be the ultimate comic book flick.

I wish I had given the Game Boy Advance adaptation that same approach. We have an exciting, character-driven game that was made for PS2, Xbox, GameCube and the PC. Surely the GBA version will have the same components, the same zing. (Wishful thinking.)

Fantastic 4 isn't a bad game per se. It's a throwback to games like Streets of Fury, which was one of the reasons to buy a Sega Genesis in the early 90s. Final Fight was icing on the Super NES's multi-layered cake. Their appeal (and their major flaw) came from the same source: button-mashing beat-'em-up gameplay. The classic, long-forgotten X-Men arcade game was very similar, paving the way for the Sega-developed X-Men game released exclusively for the Genesis.

Which brings us to Fantastic 4, a beat-'em-up that melds ingredients from each of those games to form a title that's suitable for the GBA and (possibly) the movie's mainstream audience. Each of the fantastic superheroes are playable, and like the GBA version of Madagascar, players can switch between them whenever they please. The condition is that they must be highlighted to be controlled.

The game separates the characters throughout most of the levels to re-create specific scenes from the movie. By now everyone has seen the scene where The Thing stops a moving truck with his body. We don't have the luxury of interacting with that sequence, but we do get to explore the bridge and protect The Thing as he attempts to stop a truck from falling.

Due to the character separation, players don't have many opportunities to control more than two characters at a time. Later on you'll realize that having the whole gang on board for each level wouldn't have been necessary. At times only one of the four superheroes was necessary.

There are certain character-specific barriers – like body stretching, computer hacking (a timed puzzle-matching game. Very easy to complete), and enemy and environment destruction – that only one superhero can overcome. These were added to give the characters a little more importance. Otherwise you could get through the game by playing with whoever is given to you at the start of each level.

The Thing is the strongest, but each of them have similar combo lists (tap the A and B buttons to execute). Boss battles are challenging until reality sets in: they're just slightly stronger versions of the standard enemies, which can be defeated with repeated hits (punches, kicks, etc.). This means more taps of the B button which, by the time you reach the first boss, will have already been tapped several hundred times.

Fantastic 4's unique powers have been carried over to this game, but not with the best results. Invisible Woman has her psychic moves (she can make a force field and lift objects with her mind, etc.). The Thing is a powerhouse, breaking through walls that have unusually large cracks in them. The Human Torch is constantly hovering and is constantly engulfed in flames, but he can't hover over large gaps and becomes a bit of a party pooper every time it rains. He's good at burning foes to a fiery crisp, and has the same punching skills as everyone else.

Lastly there's Mr. Fantastic, who is the fastest, most elastic hero of the bunch. He's got his trademark moves, but none of them amount to anything that's hugely different from the rest of the cast.

Special super attacks can be unleashed by pressing the A or B button while holding the R button. This consumes some of your character's energy - replenish it quickly by collecting blue and green-colored gems.

Wide levels, a linear layout and an isometric view are not the best combination for a beat-'em-up. It helps to differentiate this game between Final Fight, Streets of Fury and the classic X-Men games, though I'm not sure that was really necessary. The idea is good, but the levels should be about half as wide as they are. The camera can't be altered in any way (not surprising considering it's a GBA game), leading to poor vision in some of the game's bigger areas. 

It's not difficult to walk through the entire level and explore every nook and cranny for an exit. It does, however, add to the boredom that began to mount the minute you realized that there isn't anything to do except beat up bad guys. Bad guys that look like robots, dinosaurs, and other odd enemies that have the same intelligence, same attack patterns, and the same weaknesses. Punch them repeatedly and they'll eventually die. This worked in arcades where prices were low and where games were short. It doesn't work so well here.


The puzzles are meaningless; the dialog is stale; and the superheroes aren't very super. Fantastic 4's story is told through short text messages, none of which are overly entertaining. I had high hopes for this game. By expecting the best, we set ourselves up for disappointment. I could've lowered my expectations, but that wouldn't have changed the outcome. At the end of the day Fantastic 4 would still be mediocre.

Review Scoring Details for Fantastic 4

Gameplay: 6.9
Isometric beat-'em-up action that never heats up. Fantastic 4 is a game where four superheroes must save the world from several super-villains. The majority of your time will be spent pressing the A and B buttons to punch robotic-type enemies. Long halls, rehashed puzzles, and a linear path fill out the rest of the experience.

Graphics: 5.0
Reminiscent of the Game Gear version of X-Men, complete with characters that are hard to decipher. If it weren't for a difference in shape, size or hair color, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart.

Sound: 3.0
A garbled mess of tiresome music and scratchy sound effects.

Difficulty: Easy
Geared toward the mainstream audience, Fantastic 4 was made to be playable for all. Consequently it's playable for newbies, which means it's too easy for anyone else. (Why don't game publishers get that newbies like a challenge too? We all started as newbies. Challenging games are what held our interest.)

Concept: 7.9
Isometric is a common view for Game Boy Advance games, but not the beat-'em-up genre. That addition, plus four superheroes with unique superhuman traits, could've made for an unforgettable gaming experience.

Overall: 6.9
More like Fantastic 2 1/2. Fantastic 4's ideas were good – it's the execution of it all that made the game fall apart. The poor visuals and horrendous sound effects are forgivable when great gameplay reigns supreme. When great gameplay cannot be found, those lackluster features do more than damage the game's image; they crush the game into tiny pieces and blast it into space.

Above Average

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