reviews\ Jun 15, 2008 at 8:00 pm

The Incredible Hulk - NDS - Review

“Find your inner hero and unleash incredible fury.” That’s quite a tagline. Though it immediately clicks and easily rolls off the tongue, it doesn’t do much for gamers jaded by the quality-deprived genre that is the movie-licensed game. They’re big, they’re scary, and not just when starring The Incredible Hulk.

Which is why it’s always refreshing to play a title that, while seriously flawed in the ways you’d expect from the average third-party DS game, still manages to bring elements of the comic to the really small screen. Two of them, to be exact.

Beat ‘Em Up, Up and Away

The Incredible Hulk is another side-scrolling action game. Are you surprised? It seems the DS’s 3D processor has been abandoned by most developers. You will notice a few three-dimensional backgrounds and characters, but they’re below PSone-quality and won’t turn any heads.

Unlike the big-screen adaptation, however, Hulk’s strengths on the DS are not in the visual spectacle. They are, however, literally tied to his strength. In this game, you never go without power. Bruce Banner won’t be seen outside of a few CG sequences (not from the film but appears to use the same actors). You won’t have to spend hours hunting for precious items to keep your Hulk abilities going. Tanks are no match for him, buildings crumble at his wrath, and even helicopters will be sorry they took a shot at the little (big!) green man.

Hulk’s controls are smooth and distinctly potent; though his flesh is vulnerable to missiles and gunfire, he is otherwise a walking time bomb. It reminds me of the last Spider-Man game for DS, and in a weird way, Donkey Kong Country. As you make your way through each stage – most of which are designed as a vertical/horizontal maze that’ll have you moving up and around the same large area – there are tons of Hulk-sized objects to destroy. Many of them reveal satellites that can be used as a slingshot to fling Hulk around the environment. It’s strange and makes no sense to this reviewer, who has yet to see the new movie. Based on the previews, however, I’m betting this is a game-exclusive feature.

The slingshot puzzles aren’t too extreme, and are downright simplistic (and sometimes useless) in the first few stages they’re encountered. There are 30 stages total, and toward the last 10 you’ll begin to get that Donkey Kong Country feeling. First you’ll have a couple of satellites – two directly apart from each other (vertically, horizontally or diagonally) – and must slingshot from one to the next to reach the next area. Buildings are destructible but are limited by varying degrees of destructibility. You may be able to bash your way through several floors or merely bash through the first and come out the other side. But when a building is made of something more solid (adamantium, perhaps?), you’ll have to look for another route – hence the addition of satellites.

As the satellites pile on, you’ll slingshot across three, four or five of them before touching the ground – a gameplay feature that closely resembles the barrel-hopping of Donkey Kong Country.

Hulk is also gifted with hints of Sonic the Hedgehog inspiration. With every ounce of destruction, Hulk earns points on his power meter. When full, the player can unleash a strength-enhancing ability that allows him to plow through everything that’s destructible. He can do that without the power-up, but that’s not why it’s cool. When first unleashed, the power rolls off his body in a giant circle, destroying all nearby enemies. By pushing the attack button, he’ll continue to destroy enemies and objects within his range. If you do this fast enough, his extra power will not deplete, allowing you to rush through the level by running and without much enemy interference – just like Sonic the Hedgehog.

Fury or Furious?

The Incredible Hulk is a lot of things. It’s part action, part adventure, part exploration… Individually, these features work well. The mechanics are fairly refined and are generally suited for the Hulk universe.

But as three parts of an entire game, they don’t always add up to a seamless and entertaining experience. Though it’s fun to bash enemies, it is not fun to die prematurely when a microscopic bullet hits Hulk in the leg. His life meter isn’t very large, and health replenishing items don’t appear too frequently. To make matters worse, there are no checkpoints in this game. You could make it all the way to the end of a stage and have to start over just because of one lame death.

And though the game isn’t very difficult, lame deaths are a recurring phenomenon. In addition to the near-invisible size of enemy gunfire, some enemies shoot continuously. This wouldn’t be an issue if you were playing Contra or Metal Slug. But as Hulk, a man – no, a beast – without any weapons, you have to get up close to attack. If an enemy is firing continuously, the odds of reaching him without getting hit once are not good.

If you can stomach these tiny droppings, there is one more thing to consider: The Incredible Hulk is incredibly short. Most stages can be finished in a couple of minutes – a goal you may not reach thanks to the array of bullet specks, but have the potential to do so nonetheless. Even so, judging by the film’s length, you’ll probably be able to finish this game faster than you can watch the movie.

That brings us to the final point of consideration. At 30 bucks, you’re essentially paying one dollar for every stage in the game. At a few minutes per stage, that isn’t too different from what you would have spent if you were in an arcade. Of course, it isn’t an arcade game, it’s a major licensed game packaged for a Nintendo handheld. All you have to do is decide if the arcade pricing is worth it.

Review Scoring Details for The Incredible Hulk

Gameplay: 6.0
An amalgamation of pre-existing gameplay types, both of quality and inferiority. Enemy-bashing is great fun – rarely does a DS game give you this level of character strength. However, premature deaths, boring exploration phases and a ridiculously (though not unexpected) short length make this game a costly investment.

Graphics: 5.0
Polygons are only as pretty as the characters they’re applied to. Hulk’s characters are small, lack detail, and their gunfire is nearly invisible to eyes that are distracted by the rest of the level (skyscrapers, tanks, other enemies, etc.).

Sound: 4.0
Not at all memorable. Repetitive music, cheesy sound effects, the sound of me pounding my head against the wall – all familiar stuff. The brief voice-overs aren’t bad but were not made specifically for this version of the game.

Difficulty: Easy
Frustration and cheap deaths are not the same as a challenge.

Concept: 7.5
The Incredible Hulk’s execution is far from perfect, but its ideas were profoundly inspired by the games that shaped the side-scroller action genre.

Multiplayer: 5.0
There isn’t much a Hulk game can do in the area of multiplayer combat. Thus, it didn’t do much. Two game cards are required for this one-on-one battle of Hulks.

Overall: 6.0
Fun and frustrating while it lasts. Rent it if you can, and definitely play it before buying.

Above Average

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